The Virgin Mary has appeared many times to different people throughout the past 2,000 years, using them as vessels to send forth a powerful message. In 1531, a recent convert to the Catholic faith, by the name of Juan Diego, was one of those specially chosen to witness several apparitions of Blessed Mary. At the urging of Mary, Juan Diego helped establish a church in her honor at the Hill of Tepeyac (in an area north of Mexico City). He was also responsible for communicating to all believers and non-believers the exact words she spoke to him during her apparitions: “I am your Mother full of mercy and love for you and all those who love Me, trust in Me, and have recourse to Me. I will hear their complaints and I will comfort their affliction and their sufferings.” As a result of the apparitions Juan Diego received and the many miracles that took place thereafter, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe was established. It is celebrated each year on December 12. Let’s take a closer examination at who Juan Diego was and the message he was entrusted by Blessed Mary to deliver to the all.
16th Century Mexico
During the 16th century, the indigenous people of Mexico were living under the dominance of idolatry. Far from embracing the faith of Christ, the Aztec people were subjected to worshipping many gods. Blessed Mary was troubled by the fact that so many were valuing other gods above her son, Jesus. She instituted change with the help of the humble Juan Diego. Born Cuauhtlatoazin (which means “speaking eagle”) in 1474 in Cuautlitlán, a region of Mexico, Juan Diego converted to the Catholic faith at the age of 50. After receiving the sacrament of baptism, he took the name Juan Diego.
Blessed Mary Appears Before Juan Diego
On December 9, 1531, Juan Diego was traveling on foot to attend mass not far from his home, when he came to a hill called Tepeyac. While standing at the hill, he was overcome with the sound of beautiful music. The music was described by Juan Diego as being like many birds singing in harmony. Listening in amazement, Juan Diego suddenly saw a white, radiant cloud appear before him. From the beaming cloud came a female voice that called out “Juan! Juan!” Staring in amazement at the bright light and the sound of a voice, he heard the voice call him again, “Juan! Come closer!” As Juan Diego drew nearer, he saw the Blessed Virgin standing before him just below the cloud. He described the image as: “The radiance of her garments transformed into the likeness of precious jewels the stones beneath her feet…the very soil had become a carpet of jasper, tinted in many colors.”
Blessed Mary spoke to him, “Know, my beloved son, that I am the Ever-Virgin Mary, Mother of the true God, who is the Author of Life, the Creator of all things and the Lord of heaven and earth; who is everywhere. It is my wish that you build me a temple on this site. Here, as the loving Mother of you and of your fellow men, I will show forth my living kindness and compassion for your people and for those who love me and seek me, and call upon me in their labors and afflictions. Here I will hear their cries and their petitions, I will comfort and assuage.”
Mary instructed Juan Diego to go to the bishop in Mexico and to tell him exactly what he saw and heard so that a temple could be built in her honor.
A Doubting Bishop
Juan Diego heeded Blessed Mary’s commands and traveled to see Bishop Juan de Zumarraga. His meeting proved futile, however, as the bishop dismissed him without believing the story. Greatly disappointed that he wasn’t able to fulfill Blessed Mary’s wishes, he returned to the Hill of Tepeyac where Blessed Mary appeared to him a second time. He told Mary of his failure to convince the bishop and urged her to send someone “noble and worthy of respect, for I am a poor, rustic lowly man.” Mary responded, “My well-beloved son it is through your intervention that my will and my desire must be done.” She urged him to return the next day to visit the bishop with the message, “she who sends you is the Virgin Mary, Mother of the true God.”
In Search of a Sign
The next day, December 10, Juan Diego traveled as instructed to the residence of the bishop. After hearing what Juan Diego had to tell him, the bishop was still not convinced. He told Juan Diego to ask Blessed Mary to give him a sign so that he would know without a doubt that she is the Mother of God and that it is her will for a temple to be built. Blessed Mary calmly listened to the request and told Juan Diego to come the following morning where she would give him a sign to take to the bishop.
The following day, December 11, Juan Diego wasn’t able to keep his promise to visit Blessed Mary. His uncle, Juan Bernardino, was gravely ill and he spent the day tending to him. Fearing that his uncle would soon die, he set out at dawn on December 12, to summon a priest to administer last rites. As he neared the Hill of Tepeyac, Juan Diego remembered with despair his failure to meet Blessed Mary the day before. Shamefully, he decided to go an alternate way. Soon, Blessed Mary appeared to him. After hearing Juan Diego apologize, she told him, “It is well, littlest and dearest of my sons, but now listen to me. Do not let anything afflict you and be not afraid of illness or pain. Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Are you not in the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else you need? Do not fear for your uncle for he is not going to die. Be assured… he is already well.” Juan Diego rejoiced at her words.
Miracle of the Roses – Our Lady of Guadalupe
As promised, Blessed Mary gave Juan Diego a sign to bring to the bishop. She instructed him to go to the top of the hill and to cut all the roses he found blooming and to place them in his cloak. He listened to Blessed Mary but was doubtful he would find any roses because the area was rocky and never produced any vegetation. To his amazement, Juan Diego found a bountiful collection of fragrant roses when he reached the top. He gathered them in his cloak (tilma) and brought them to Mary. She rearranged the roses in his tilma and instructed him to take them to the bishop as the sign he requested. She stressed the importance of keeping his cloak closed and to not show anyone but the bishop what he carried.
Juan Diego carefully traveled with the roses and when he eagerly appeared before the bishop, he opened his tilma and released the many roses. The bishop stood in astonishment, not because of the roses, but because before him appeared a colorful image of Blessed Mary on the fabric of Juan Diego’s cloak. It was the exact image of the Blessed Mary Juan Diego encountered on the hill of Tepeyac. Both the bishop and Juan Diego were awe-struck at this miracle. With great reverence and deep faith, the bishop finally believed the woman to be Blessed Mary.
On the same day Blessed Mary appeared to Juan Diego and instructed him to take the roses to the bishop, she also appeared to his dying uncle. She restored him to full health and told him that her image from that moment forward should be known as Santa Maria de Guadalupe.
The tilma with the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe remains perfectly preserved till this day. It has survived many centuries and even a bombing attempt to destroy it. It is on display at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.
No one is certain why Blessed Mary chose the name Guadalupe. It is one of those great mysteries that perhaps one day will be revealed to someone entrusted by Mary to deliver the powerful message.