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The Story of Our Lady of Guadalupe

A Finding Near a Little River in Spain

     There was a statue of the Black Madonna reputed to have been carved by Saint Luke the Evangelist. The statue came to be in the possession of Pope Gregory the Great. Upon the Gregory's death the statue was given to Saint Leander, archbishop of Seville, with whom Gregory had become great friends years prior in Constantinople. When Seville was taken by the Moors in 711, a group of priests fled northward and buried the statue in the hills near the Guadalupe River in Extremadura. In 1326, Gil Cordero, a humble herder in an area near the Guadalupe River, went looking for one of his cows. When he found the animal dead, he began to skin it for the leather. Gil made the first cross-shaped incision, and the cow sprang back to life. At that moment, the Virgin Mary appeared to Gil. She instructed him to go home and tell the local clerics of his vision and to have them return to the place where the cow had lain. The men were to dig there, find an image of the Virgin, and build a shrine on the spot to house the image. When Gil went home, he found that one of his sons had died. Gil prayed to the Virgin Mary, and the boy came back to life. This helped convince the clerics that Gil’s story of the apparition was true, and they dug up an iron casket with a perfectly preserved statue of the Black Madonna, along with documents attesting her origins, in other words, evidence of the statue’s provenance. They then built a small sanctuary for her on the spot. In 1340, Alfonso XI had a Hieronymite monastery built there after his victory over the Moors at the Battle of Salado, which he attributed to the Virgin of Guadalupe. The monastery has been a popular pilgrimage destination ever since, and the Virgin of Guadalupe has come to be one of the most important religious figures in Spain.

Columbus and Our Lady of Guadalupe

It was at the monastery that the Spanish monarchs Isabel and Ferdinand signed documents that authorized the first voyage of Christopher Columbus to the New World in 1492. Isabella had prayed at the foot of the Black Madonna for guidance on whether to finance Columbus's journey. Columbus went to the monastery to pray for a safe voyage. He named his ship the Santa Maria in honor of the Virgin of Guadalupe. When Columbus returned to Spain, he traveled to the monastery to thank the Virgin for her help and protection. He also took with him Native Americans whom he had brought back to Spain. In the public square of the town of Guadalupe, with water from the public fountain, these first visitors from the New World were baptized. In 1494, Christopher Columbus brought paprika back to Spain discovered during his second voyage and served it to Ferdinand and Isabella in Extremadura and even though it was a bit hot and spicy for the king and queen, the monks of the monastery in Guadalupe passed it along to other brothers and it was spread from Extremadura all over Spain. 

The Vision in the New World

     The Miraculous Appearance in the New World is long-standing and constant in tradition, and in sources both oral and written, Indian and Spanish, the account is unwavering. The Blessed Virgin appeared on Saturday 9 December 1531 to a 55 year old neophyte named Juan Diego, who was hurrying down Tepeyac hill to hear Mass in Mexico City. She sent him to Bishop Zumárraga to have a temple built where she stood. She was at the same place that evening and Sunday evening to get the bishop’s answer. The bishop did not immediately believed the messenger, had him cross-examined and watched, and he finally told him to ask the lady who said she was the mother of the true God for a sign. The neophyte agreed readily to ask for sign desired, and the bishop released him. : 

Juan was occupied all Monday with Bernardino, an uncle, who was dying of fever. Indian medicine had failed, and Bernardino seemed at death’s door. At daybreak on Tuesday 12 December 1531, Juan ran to nearby the Saint James convent for a priest. To avoid the apparition and the untimely message to the bishop, he slipped round where the well chapel now stands. But the Blessed Virgin crossed down to meet him and said, “What road is this thou takest son?” A tender dialogue ensued. She reassured Juan about his uncle, to whom she also briefly appeared and instantly cured. Calling herself Holy Mary of Guadalupe she told Juan to return to the bishop. He asked Mary for the sign he required. She told him to go to the rocks and gather roses. Juan knew it was neither the time nor the place for roses, but he went and found them. Gathering many into the lap of his tilma, a long cloak or wrapper used by Mexican Indians, he came back. The Holy Mother rearranged the roses, and told him to keep them untouched and unseen until he reached the bishop. When he met with Zumárraga, Juan offered the sign to the bishop. As he unfolded his cloak the roses, fresh and wet with dew, fell out. Juan was startled to see the bishop and his attendants kneeling before him. The life size figure of the Virgin Mother, just as Juan had described her, was glowing on the tilma. The picture was venerated, guarded in the bishop’s chapel, and soon after carried in procession to the preliminary shrine.  

St. Juan Diego

    Juan Diego was born in 1474 in the calpulli or ward of Tlayacac in Cuauhtitlan, which was established in 1168 by Nahua tribesmen and conquered by the Aztec lord Axayacatl in 1467; and was located 20 kilometers (14 miles) north of Tenochtitlan (Mexico City).

     His native name was Cuauhtlatoatzin, which could be translated as "One who talks like an eagle" or "eagle that talks". The Nican Mopohua describes him as a 'macehualli' or "poor Indian", one who did not belong to any of the social categories of the Empire, as priests, warriors, merchants,...but not a slave; a member of the lowest and largest class in the Aztec Empire. When talking to Our Lady he calls himself "a nobody", and refers to it as the source of his lack of credibility before the Bishop. He devoted himself to hard work in the fields and manufacturing mats. He owned a piece of land and a small house on it. He was happily married but had no children. Between 1524 and 1525 he was converted and baptized, as well as his wife, receiving the Christian name of Juan Diego and her wife the name of Maria Lucia. He was baptized by a Franciscan priest, Fr Peter da Gand, one of the first Franciscan missionaries. According to the first formal investigation by the Church about the events, the Informaciones Guadalupanas of 1666, Juan Diego seems to have been a very devoted, religious man, even before his conversion. He was a solitary, mystical character, prone to spells of silence and frequent penance and used to walk from his village to Tenochtitlan, 14 miles away, to receive instruction on the doctrine. His wife Maria Lucia became sick and died in 1529. Juan Diego then moves to live with his uncle Juan Bernardino in Tolpetlac, which was closer (9 miles) to the church in Tlatelolco -Tenochtitlan. He walked every Saturday and Sunday many miles to church, departing early morning, before dawn, to be on time for Mass and religious instruction classes. He walked on naked feet, as all the people of his class, the macehualli. Only the higher social classes of the Aztecs wore cactlis, or sandals, made with vegetal fibers or leather. He used to wear in those chilly mornings a coarse-woven cactus cloth as a mantle, a tilma or ayate made with fibers from the maguey cactus. Cotton was only used by the upper Aztec classes. During one of this walks to Tenochtitlan, which used to take about three and a half hours between villages and mountains, the First apparition occurred (See The apparitions page), in a place that is now known as the "Capilla del Cerrito", where the Blessed Virgin Mary talked to him in his language, Nahuatl. She called him "Juanito, Juan Dieguito" , "the most humble of my sons", "my son the least", "my little dear". He was 57 years old, certainly an old age in a time and place where the male life expectancy was barely above 40. After the miracle of Guadalupe and with the Bishop's permission, Juan Diego moved to a room attached to the chapel that housed the sacred image, after having given his business and property to his uncle, spending the rest of his life as a hermit. There he cared for the church and the first pilgrims who came to pray to the Mother of Jesus, and propagating the account of the apparitions to his countrymen.

     Pope John Paul II praised Juan Diego for his simple faith nourished by catechesis and pictured him (who said to the Blessed Virgin Mary: “I am a nobody, I am a small rope, a tiny ladder, the tail end, a leaf”) as a model of humility for all of us.

Juan de Zumárraga

    Born at Durango in the Basque provinces in 1468; died in Mexico, 3 June, 1548. He entered the Franciscan Order, and in 1527 was custodian of the convent of Abrojo, where he received Charles V. Shortly afterwards he was appointed one of the judges of the court for the examination of witches in the Basque province. From his writings it would appear that he looked upon witches merely as women possessed of hallucinations. By this time more detailed accounts of the importance of the conquest of Hernan Cortes began to be received, and on 20 December, 1527, Zumárraga was recommended by Charles V for the dignity of first bishop of Mexico. Without having been consecrated and with only the title of bishop-elect and Protector of the Indians, he left Spain with the first civil officials, auditors (Oidores), towards the end of August, 1528, and reached Mexico, 6 December. Bishop Zumárraga, as Protector of the Indians, endeavoured vainly to defend them. His position was a critical one; the Spanish Court had not defined the extent of his jurisdiction and his faculties as Protector of the Indians. Moreover, he had not received episcopal consecration, and was thus at a disadvantage. The Indians appealed to him as protector with all kinds of complaints, sometimes greatly exaggerated. His own Franciscans, who had so long laboured for the welfare of the Indians, pressed him to put an end to the excesses of the auditors. It was clear that he must have an open conflict with the civil officials of the colony, relying only on his spiritual prerogatives, which commanded no respect from these immoral and unprincipled men. Unfortunately, some members of other religious orders, envious perhaps of the Franciscans, upheld the persecutors of the Indians. Bishop Zumárraga attempted to notify the Spanish Court of the course of events, but the crafty auditors had established a successful censorship of all letters and communications from New Spain. Finally, a Biscayan sailor concealed a letter in a cake of wax which he immersed in a barrel of oil.

    Meantime the defamations spread by the enemies of Zumárraga and the partisans of the first auditor had shaken the confidence of the Spanish Court, and the bishop received an order to return to Spain. He set sail in May, 1532. On his arrival he met his implacable enemy Delgadillo, who, though still under indictment, continued his defamations. Owing to this no doubt, Charles V had held back the Bull of Clement VII, dated 2 September, 1530, naming Zumárraga bishop. Zumárraga had, however, little difficulty in vindicating his good name, and was solemnly consecrated at Valladolid on 27 April, 1533. After another year in Spain, busied with matters relative to the welfare of the colony and favorable concessions for the Indians, he reached Mexico in October, 1534, accompanied by a number of mechanics and six women teachers for the Indian girls. He was no longer Protector of the Indians, as the paternal administration of the new auditors rendered this office unnecessary. On 14 November, 1535, with the arrival of the first viceroy, Antonio de Mendoza, the rule of the new auditors ended, but Mendoza was no less paternal in his treatment of the Indians. According to Fray Toribio de Motolinia the number of baptized Indians in Mexico in 1536 numbered five millions. They were a flourishing community, but the difficulties of the situation must be borne in mind in order to appreciate the task that confronted the first Bishop of Mexico. The great multitude of Indians who asked for baptism, said to have greatly increased after the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe in 1531, forced the missionaries to adopt a special form for administering this sacrament. The catechumens were ranged in order, the children in front, the prayers were recited in common over all, the salt, saliva, etc., applied to a few, and then water was poured on the head of each one without using the holy oils nor chrism, because these were not to be had. So long as the Franciscans were in charge of the missions there was no question raised, but as soon as members of other religious orders and some secular ecclesiastics arrived, doubt began to be cast upon the validity of these baptisms. To put an end to dispute Bishop Zumárraga submitted the case to Rome, and on 1 June, 1537, Paul III issued the Bull "Altitudo divini consilii", which declared that the Friars had not sinned in administering baptism under this form, nothing being said with regard to its validity since on this score there could be no doubt, but decreed that in future it should not be thus administered except in cases of urgent need.

    The last years of Bishop Zumárraga's life were devoted to carrying out the numerous works he had undertaken for the welfare of his diocese. Among the chief of these should be mentioned: the school for Indian girls; he famous Colegio Tlaltelolco; the introduction of the first printing press into the New World; the foundation of various hospitals, especially those of Mexico and Vera Cruz; the impetus he gave to industries, agriculture, and manufactures, for which he brought trained mechanics and labourers from Spain; and the printing of many books. At the instance of the emperor, Paul III separated (11 February, 1546) the See of Mexico from the metropolitan See of Seville, and erected the Archdiocese of Mexico, appointing Bishop Zumárraga first archbishop and designating the dioceses of Oaxaca, Michoacan, Tlaxcala, Guatemala, and Ciudad Real de Chiapas, as suffragans. The Bull of appointment was sent on 8 July, 1548, but Bishop Zumárraga had died one month previously.