On December 12 Catholics the world over, especially in Latin America, celebrate the feast day of the Virgin of Guadalupe. In Mexico this is one of the most important holidays of the year. Our Lady of Guadalupe is the patron saint of Mexico. She is called La Reina de Mexico the Queen of Mexico and is quite a cultural icon. In 1999 Pope John Paul II proclaimed Our Lady of Guadalupe a patron saint of all the Americas.
When the Spanish conquistadors landed on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico in 1519, they encountered the advanced civilization of the Aztecs. The Spanish intended to convert the natives to Christianity. Their religious methods were drastic. The conquistadors gathered the Aztecs together and bellowed the fundamentals of the Gospel, ignoring the fact that the Aztecs did not understand Spanish. If the captives failed to kneel and repent, the Spanish enslaved them and killed many. They were not very successful and only succeeded in converting a few hundred natives in the next two decades.
On December 9, 1531, Juan Diego, a Native American in Mexico who had been converted to Catholicism, saw an apparition of a beautiful lady dressed like an Aztec princess at the Hill of Tepeyac, near Mexico City. The lady spoke to Juan Diego in his native language, Nahuatl, The lady said “I, your mother, am here. You are under my shadow and protection? I am the fountain of your joy.” Juan Diego then realized that she was the Virgen Mary. She asked him to build a church in her honor on that site.
Juan Diego told the Spanish Archbishop of Mexico City, Fray Juan de Zumárraga, about his visit from the Virgin. Fray Juan de Zumárraga told Juan Diego to return to Tepeyac Hill, and ask the lady for a “sign” to prove her identity. Juan Diego had a very sick uncle and the first sign was that the uncle was miraculously healed. The Virgin told Juan Diego go to the top of Tepeyac Hill and reap flowers. Juan Diego found Castilian roses that only grow in Spain. Even though it was December and the blooming season was over, and the top of Tepeyac Hill was normally barren Juan Diego filled his tilma or cloak with a profusion of the Castilian roses. Juan Diego returned to Fray Zumárraga on December 12, opening his tilma, the flowers fell to the floor, and on the fabric of Juan Diego’s tilma was the image of the Virgin.
Symbols and designs in the image told the Aztecs about Catholicism using their hieroglyphic writing. When looking on Juan Diego’s tilma at the image of Our Lady in the fabric, the Aztecs grasped the meaning of the Catholic faith and asked to be baptized. Because of the image approximately nine million Aztecs converted to Catholicism in the next seven years.
Fast forward five almost five hundred years to the present. Much scientific research has been done on Juan Diego’s tilma which is housed in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Marian shrine with the most pilgrimages in the world. First the fabric of the tilma is woven from ayate fibers and is very much like burlap. This fabric deteriorates completely in twenty years. Juan Diego’s tilma is still intact after almost five hundred years. Scientists indicated as far back as the 18th century that it is impossible to paint such an image in a fabric of that texture. Richard Kuhn, the 1938 Nobel Prize winner in chemistry, proved that the image does not have natural animal or mineral paints or dyes. Since there were no synthetic colorings in 1531 the image is quite mysterious.
The image imprinted on the fabric has been analyzed using the latest technology. Philip Callahan and Jody B. Smith studied the image using infrared rays and discovered that there was no trace of paint and that the fabric had not been treated with any kind of technique. Callahan and Smith studied how the image has a slight change of color when the angle of view is changed. This phenomenon that is known as iridescence is a technique that cannot be produced by humans.
Engineer Dr. José Aste Tonsmann of the Mexican Center of Guadalupan Studies, intrigued with the eyes of the image of Our Lady magnified them 2500 times using a high-tech digital process. His studies reveal that the iris and pupils of both eyes are imprinted with the images of at least thirteen people. Tonsmann says the reflection in the eyes of the image is the exact scene on December 12, 1531 when Juan Diego showed his tilma with the flowers spilling out and the image of the Virgin to Bishop Juan de Zumárraga and others witnesses who were present. The Virgin’s eyes in the image are a mystifying instant picture of what happened at the moment Juan Diego opened his tilma to reveal the image of the Virgin to Bishop Juan de Zumárraga.
Proven without a doubt to have been created supernaturally, the tilma of Juan Diego is an incredible talisman of Christianity and is a Hispanic American marvel.