On December 12, 1531, after a week of sidetracking Juan Diego on his way to visit his sick uncle, Guadalupe asked Juan Diego to gather roses from Tepeyac hill, north of Mexico City, in order to present more validity for his (her) request that a church be built on that hill. Much to Juan Diego's surprise, when he opened his cloak to present the roses to the Archbishop, an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe had imprinted itself on Juan Diego's cloak. [Note: roses are a European flower and did not grow in Mexico at the time, particularly in December.]
My professor, a Mexican Methodist minister's wife, commented that it's hard to believe this story 100%, and yet it's also hard to deny the story. Given that Protestants in Mexico are generally loathe to give any credibility to Guadalupe, that she conceded that Guadalupe's appearance at Tepeyac may have possibly happened was a pretty strong testimony. After all, we weren't there. So who are we to say it didn't happen?
Generally, I don't really know what to think about visions like this. However, Guadalupe came at a crucial point of Mexican history. The Spanish had just conquered Mexico 10 years earlier. The Spanish were divided as to whether the Indians had souls worth saving. Thanks to Guadalupe's appearance, as she has dark hair and communicated with Juan Diego in Nauhatl, discussion on this issue reached a close. Indians do have souls worth saving. For this alone, she deserves more than a little recognition.
Beyond her obvious Catholic ties, she also has a number of ties to Aztec dieties. The hill she appeared on was sacred to the "Mother God" of the Aztecs. While, at the time, these Aztec ties may have helped bring more Indians to the Catholic faith, they also help to preserve versions of Mexican Catholicism as a strange mix of Roman Catholicism and native traditions.
There are a number of other quirks about Guadalupe's appearance at Tepeyac and her image imprinted on Juan Diego's tilma that are worth mentioning.
[The following facts are taken from www.corazones.org. Translation mine.]
- "'Guadalupe' means "crushing the head of the serpent" in Nauhatl, the language of the Aztecs. This is reminiscent of a prophesy from Genesis 3:15."
- "The image is detailed exactly as described in Revelations 12:1. 'A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head.'"
- "In Mary's eyes, they have discovered miniscule human images, so tiny that no artist could paint them. They are of two scenes, and both scenes are repeated in both eyes. The image of the Bishop Zumarraga in the eyes of Mary was enlarged through digital technology, revealing in his eyes an image of the indian Juan Diego, opening his tilma in front of the bishop. The size of this image? One fourth of a millionth of a millimeter."
- "They have not been able to discover any trace of paint on the fabric. In fact, at a distance of 10 centimeters from the image, one can only see the raw maguey fibers--the colors disappear. There is no trace of brushstrokes or other known painting technique."
- "The maguey fibers that constitute the fabric of the image normally does not last more than 20 or 30 years. A few centuries ago, a replica was made on similar tilma made of maguey fibers. This replica disintegrated after a few decades. Meanwhile, nearly 500 years after the miracle, the image of Mary remains as clear as on the first day."
- "The stars visible on Mary's cloak reflect the exact configuration and position of the stars in the sky that would have been visible in Mexico the night that the miracle happened."