As time goes by, I keep learning more and more about Our Lady of Guadalupe and her miraculous apparition to St. Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin 491 years ago on December 12, 1531. Recently, I watched a video prepared by a Spanish site called Foros de la Virgen and from that video I learned a number of things and was moved to think further into the profound mystery of the apparitions at Tepeyac. A few years ago I published a book, Guadalupe A River of Light currently published in English, Spanish, and Portuguese. There I gathered many amazing details about the events of 1531 in Mexico and how its ripple effects reach us even today. Those interested can buy the book to learn more about Our Lady of Guadalupe and help support this blog as well.
Here is a mix of what that instructional video presented and some of my own always meandering thoughts. We have to go back five centuries and reconstruct in our imagination the circumstances that made the apparition necessary. Our Lady of Guadalupe gave Juan Diego a mission: to go to the Bishop Juan Zumárraga and ask him to honor her by building a chapel at Tepeyac Hill. The Bishop asked the humble macehualtin (pueblo menudo or small people) Juan Diego for some proof that the Virgin Mary was visiting Mexico. It was a reasonable request and Juan Diego returned to the same place where Our Lady had met him. He communicated what the Bishop had asked him and Our Lady responded with one of the greatest multifaceted miracles of all times. We are still unpacking the symbols and connections that the Miracle at Tepeyac Hill presented to Juan Diego first, to Bishop Zumárraga, to the people of Mexico and to the whole world. Guadalupe is a miracle that reaches every person alive. Even those who are enemies of the Creator were touched through the centuries by the light shining from Tepeyac Hill.
This time we will concentrate mainly on how God provided a miraculous image through Our Lady of Guadalupe to realize an even bigger miracle: the conversion to Christianity of the fierce Aztec people who for centuries were polytheistic and practiced human sacrifices. This was accomplished when a handful of Spanish missionaries instructed and baptized some nine million natives in the five or six years after the apparitions of 1531.
The Spanish explorers had arrived earlier to the Caribbean islands first beginning in 1492. Only four decades later, the area of what we know now as Mexico, Guatemala, and part of the United States were under the control of the Spanish crown. By 1531 it was certain that some of the indigenous people of Mexico were ready for an uprising that was going to cost thousands of lives. The Virgin Mary arrived in Mexico on a mission of peace and she was successful. She communicated with both Mexicans and Europeans using an admirable array of symbols that both groups could understand. Those symbols were contained in the tilma of Juan Diego, also called an ayate. This was a piece of clothing similar to the South American poncho.
Roses from Europe contained in the American tilma are an apt symbol of Our Lady’s mission: to unite two different peoples into one new nation: the first Christian nation of the Americas.
The Aztec nation was expecting a great change in the world, the “Dawn of the Sixth Sun” marking the passage into a new era. Little did they know that the herald of that new era was going to be one their humblest, the macehualtin Juan Diego who was named as “the speaking eagle” when he was born. The eagle was a symbol of communication for the Aztecs. The bird was entrusted with taking the sacrifices up to the highest god they worshipped: Tonatiuh the sun.
In this case, Our Lady used Juan Diego the Speaking Eagle to deliver the Gospel to people who could still not read or write Sacred Scripture nor speak the Spanish of the missionaries.
The ayate carries a message that is a graphic form of Catechism proclaiming truths that were new to the indigenous people of Mexico.
The hill were the apparitions took place used to be a sacred place in times previous to the conquest of Mexico. There was the home of the goddess Coatlicue Toniatzin (the Mexican version of the Pachamama, Mother Earth) who was often represented with her head cut off. Her arms are two snakes; she has the legs of an eagle because she is the mother of the sun. Her umbilical cord is shown feeding the ground from where all living things come. Her dress is made of snakes. Coatlicue means, “the one dressed in a skirt made of snakes.” In the Aztec conception of the world, everything living is made of snakes.
The snakes tied in a bow along with her skull buckle indicate that Coatlicue Toniatzin is pregnant. The skull indicates death, the sure destiny of every living thing. She is depicted with plentiful breasts, a sign of fertility and the motherly generosity of earth. Coatlicue gives and takes life. She is the mother of all 402 gods. She completes the total of 403 gods, a number that is 13 times 31. The number thirteen appears often in Aztec mythology: there are thirteen heavens and nine underworlds. This representation is one of the major meanings of the number thirteen. The Aztecs counted thirteen major articulations in the human body, thirteen rectangles on a turtle shell and thirteen rings on the tail of the sacred rattlesnake. For that reason, the Pleiades constellation is also called “the tail of the rattlesnake.” The Aztec calendar of two hundred and sixty days was divided in twenty months of thirteen days.
If one observes carefully, Our Lady of Guadalupe appropriates all those dark and cruel symbols and represents them again in her image in the sweetest manner. That is why those who want to incorporate the symbology of the Pachamama in Christian liturgy commit a grave offense against Our Lady by returning obstinately to an idol that distracts from the worship of the Most High. Our Lady of Guadalupe arrives to present Her Son to the Americas, never to distract from the worship that only God deserves.
Her mantle reflects the stars of heaven. To identify the stars one has to reverse the image of the night sky. That was not a problem for the Aztecs who studied the stars and constellations by observing them reflected in a pool of water. That is good way to study astronomy without telescopes while avoiding neck pain. In presenting the night sky reflected on her mantle, Our Lady is communicating with the Aztec people in their own cultural language.
Many are the marvels of Guadalupe. In this octave of her feast let us learn a few of the thousands of miracles she presented to us. After five centuries the light coming from Tepeyac continues revealing the greatness of God to all nations.