History of the Virgin of Guadalupe

     Mexico is a Catholic country and the Virgin of Guadalupe is the patron saint of Mexico. Her feast day, December 12th, is celebrated by Catholics in Mexico. In addition, each village in this area has their own separate week to celebrate. Here in Cofradía there is a week-long fiesta in our town square, with church bells, music and firecrackers starting at 5am, repeated every 6 hours,  and lasting until one am the next morning. On the night of the final day, a large castillo (tower) is constructed, loaded with row after row of fireworks, which is set off one layer at a time, starting at the base. Our week for celebration is usually some time in January. 

     On December 9, 1531 an indigenous native named Juan Diego was walking through the hill country of Tepayac. He had already converted to Christianity, and on this day, near Tepayac Hill, he encountered a beautiful woman surrounded by a ball of light as bright as the sun. This woman identified herself in his native Nahuatl language as Mary the mother of Jesus.

     Mary commanded him to go to Tenochtitlan, visit the bishop-elect Fray Juan de Zumarraga and say that they were to build a church on the spot where he had seen his vision. He went to the bishop’s palace, but was turned away by his servants, who told him to come back the next day if he really wanted to see the bishop. 

     When he returned to the spot where he had seen her, he told Mary to send someone else because apparently he wasn’t worthy. She insisted that she had chosen him, and so he returned the next day. During the meeting, the bishop said that he needed a sign in order to believe what he was being told.

     He returned to the hill, and was greeted by Mary. He told her what had transpired and of the bishop’s desire for a sign. She told him to return the following day and he would have his sign.

     Unfortunately, he was unable to return the next day, as his uncle had become deathly ill and needed his care. After 2 days, he went out to find a priest, and while passing Tepayac Hill, he encountered Mary again.

     She told him that he did not need a priest, as his uncle was now cured, but rather he should climb to the top of the hill to gather roses and bring them back to her. The weather was freezing cold, but he went to the top of the hill and found roses in full bloom. He gathered the flowers in his tilma – a cape/poncho made of cactus fiber – and brought them to Mary, where she arranged them and charged him with bringing them to the bishop.

     He brought them to the bishop, and when he opened his tilma…..

 there were not only roses, but his tilma now contained a picture of Mary just as he described her. The bishop then believed him, and the next day brought the tilma to the cathedral, then went with Juan Diego to the spot where he had had his vision.

     Afterwards he went back to his village and met his uncle, who was now completely well. His uncle told him that he had met a young woman surrounded by light who told him that she had sent his nephew to Tenochtitlan with a picture of herself. She said, “Call me and my image Santa Maria de Guadalupe.” It is thought by some that Guadalupe was a mis-translation from Nahuatl to Spanish of the work Coatlallope which means one who treads on snakes. 

Here is a photo of the church that was built on the spot where Juan Diego had his vision (in what is now Mexico City).

The plaque above one of the doors of the church reads, “Near this place at dawn on Saturday the 9th of December 1531, the mother of God spoke for the first time to Juan Diego. In the afternoon that same day and at dawn on Sunday the 10th of December, she spoke with him again. On the 12th of December in the morning he picked the roses of the miracle at this site.  1970 year of the Guadalupano meeting.”

These are the stairs leading to the top of the hill and the original church.

This is a sculpture garden signifying the indigenous people and a priest bowing down to a vision of the Virgin

This is a photo from the top of the hill, looking down on the old basilica on the left and the new basilica on the right. 

Here you can see all the pilgrims from around the world camping out on the plaza. You can see the clock tower on the right of the picture. Families come, pitch tents and sleep here at night. 

This is a stock photo of the old basilica

Here is the inside of the new basilica. You can see to the lower right of the large gold cross a rectangular frame.

Close-ups of the frame. It is said that within this frame is the actual cloak of Juan Diego. I was reading that the church had been subjected to floods, smoke from fires and even in 1921 a bomb which was  exploded by anti-clerical forces. It is said that an iron cross was twisted out of shape and the marble altar rail was damaged, but the tilma was completely unharmed. 

The new basilica at ground level.

Here are the older churches. When I visited the first time, I hadn’t realized there are two older buildings. You can see the reason why they are no longer in use and are unsafe to enter – the older one started to lean, much like the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Another view of the older churches from the plaza.

Several busloads of us from Cofradía did a pilgrimage there. This is some of us in a procession carrying a glass case with flowers and a statue inside. We also brought with us many bags of produce – fruits and vegetables from this area as offerings.

A closer view of the clock tower. You can see the plaza behind it and some of the pilgrims.

There are statues of the Virgin of Guadalupe throughout Mexico. This is the Virgin of Guadalupe on my property, cut out of black volcanic rock by a local artisan.  There are white roses around her, as it is said she likes white roses.  This was for her inauguration, and currently there is wandering Jew as ground cover. 

     And here ends my presentation. I hope you have enjoyed learning about the history of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Until next time, adios!

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