Thomas Griffin 12/12/20
The appearance of the Mother of God to a peasant named Juan Diego in the 16th century is arguably one of the most powerful and undeniably miraculous events in the last two thousand years. On December 9, 1531 he was walking through the hill country named Tepeyac on his way to attend Mass. What happened on that day and on December 12th changed the trajectory of faith in Mexico and ultimately the America’s.
As he was walking in the hills, a pregnant woman appeared to him asking him to take a message to the bishop directing him to build a church there in her honor. She identified herself as the Blessed Virgin Mary and was named Guadalupe (meaning “the crusher of serpents”). Juan hesitantly made his way to the bishop’s residence to deliver her message. The bishop demanded evidence before he embarked on such an endeavor; he did not buy Juan’s story.
Simultaneously, Diego’s uncle became gravely ill so he desired to care for him and not be consumed by this mission which may never come to fruition. He even avoided the same hills when journeying to his uncle’s house as to ensure the lady did not appear again to him. However, Mary found him anyway. She appeared and told him not to fear, his uncle would have a full recovery. She instructed Juan to pick roses which were growing on the hillside (a miraculous event itself since it was December in the mountains) and place them inside of his tilma (a peasant-type shawl made of flimsy cactus fiber). He was to keep the tilma wrapped up with his arms holding it up around his chest until he was in the presence of the bishop.
Juan made his way through the hillside and waited to see the bishop once again. Upon entering he instructed the bishop and his assistant that he had a sign from the woman. He released his hands from his chest and held the tilma from its top edges. The flower petals fell to the ground and what remained on the shawl was the famous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The bishop and his assistant bowed down and fell to their knees in adoration. He initiated the construction of the church not long afterwards which still stands today in those same Tepeyac hills.
Over 10 million people visit the shrine every year and on the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe there are accounts of over 2-3 million people surrounding the enormous shrine and filling the streets in Mexico City. The enormous devotion to the Blessed Mother’s appearance here is due to several factors. Two of the most important ones are the miraculous aspects of the image itself and the impact the image had on conversion rates in Mexico in the decade following her appearance.
The image has been studied by unbiased scientists down through the ages and several characteristics are unexplainable. First and foremost, the image has no pigment on the cactus fiber. Usually when an artist paints on canvas or any surface there are two fibers which can be detected under microscope: the original surface and the fibers from the pigment used to make the image visible (paint, pastel, pencil, etc.). The tilma has no such fibers, there is no explanation for how the image was placed on its surface. The cactus fibers which the tilma is made of also should have deteriorated after only a few decades. However, it has endured just under five hundred years.
According to astronomers, the stars which surround her veil also match the constellation which would have appeared in the sky in December of 1531. Under microscope, one can also peer into the pupils of Mary’s eyes and see the miraculous image of the instant in which Juan unveiled the image. The bishop and his assistant are visible as if someone took a photograph of that moment in time. Perhaps, most remarkable is a newer development. Several scientists found that the image puts forth a particular temperature when studied under thermal gauges: 98.6 degrees (the common temperature of the human body).
In the time of her appearance most of Mexico was Aztec and human sacrifice, particularly child sacrifice was common. In the decade following her appearance over 9 million people converted to Catholicism: the largest conversion rate in the shortest span of time known to history. Mary came to a simple man and unveiled that her Son is the path to happiness and heroic holiness. A mother’s message is convincing because of her intimate relationship with her Son.
Our Lady of Guadalupe shows that the Blessed Mother is still involved in telling others about Jesus Christ. She is responsible for portraying the beauty of following her Son. It is the most visited pilgrim site in the world and stands as a profound witness to the strength there is in hoping in Christ and handing him all of our fears.
Today, let us ask her for aid, knowing that no child can refuse what his mother asks of him. Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us, and renew faith in your Son on earth.
Thomas Griffin teaches Apologetics in the religion department at a Catholic high school on Long Island and lives with his wife and son. He received a master’s degree in theology and is currently a master’s candidate in philosophy. He writes for several Catholic media outlets.
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