Our Lady of Guadalupe – The self-portrait and its message

September 7, 2011 under Syllabus 2011-2012


The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe hangs in our meeting room, but what did it say to the indigenous people of Mexico 500 years ago to convert 9 million to the catholic faith and what does it say to us today as it is still the most visited Marian Shrine in the world?


The Objective is become familiar with the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

· The apparition events involving Juan Diego

· The symbols of the Image

· The message to us today

Bible Readings

1. Revelation 12: 1-2

A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was with child and wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth.

2. John 19:26-27

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.

3. Luke 1:46-48

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.

Catechism Readings

1. Paragraph 963

Since the Virgin Mary’s role in the mystery of Christ and the Spirit has been treated, it is fitting now to consider her place in the mystery of the Church. “The Virgin Mary . . . is acknowledged and honored as being truly the Mother of God and of the redeemer. . . . She is ‘clearly the mother of the members of Christ’ . . . since she has by her charity joined in bringing about the birth of believers in the Church, who are members of its head.” “Mary, Mother of Christ, Mother of the Church.”

2. Paragraph 2679

Mary is the perfect Orans (pray-er), a figure of the Church. When we pray to her, we are adhering with her to the plan of the Father, who sends his Son to save all men. Like the beloved disciple we welcome Jesus’ mother into our homes, for she has become the mother of all the living. We can pray with and to her. The prayer of the Church is sustained by the prayer of Mary and united with it in hope.

Small Group Questions

1. Do you consider Mary to be your mother?

2. What did the image say to you before today and what does it say to you now?

3. Have you ever made a pilgrimage to the site of a Marian apparition? If yes, what was the experience like?

4. Have you ever prayed for the intersection of the Virgin Mary?

5. What do you do in your life to honor the Virgin Mary?

Recommended Resources

1. Book: “Our Lady of Guadalupe Mother of the Civilization of Love”, by Carl Anderson & MSGR. Eduardo Chavez

2. Recording of Catholic Answers Live show with Cardinal Raymond Burke about Our Lady of Guadalupe, which first aired on 12/8/2010 and is available to listen to for free at: http://www.catholic.com/radio/event.php?calendar=1&category=&event=6516&date=2010-12-08


1. Reflect on the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, how can she help you grow closer to her son?

2. Take some time this weekend to discuss Our Lady of Guadalupe with you wife and kids.


Michael Copfer

Included Resources:

The following notes taken from the book: “Our Lady of Guadalupe Mother of the Civilization of Love”, by Carl Anderson & MSGR. Eduardo Chavez


· 1519-21: Hernan Cortes lands in Mexico and conquers the Aztec Empire

· Aztecs used human sacrifice to sustain the Aztec gods (sun & moon)and maintain cosmic harmony

· After the Spanish conquest of Mexico, Christian missionaries came to the New World

· 1529: Evangelization efforts to the indigenous people were failing both due to the corruption and mistreatment from some of the Spaniards toward the indigenous people and the friar missionaries’ inability to evangelize due to ignorance of the Indian language and culture. Friar Sahagun likened it to a doctor trying to cure a patient without knowing the illness. Friar Zumarrage wrote in a letter to Charles V, the king of Spain, “If God does not provide the remedy from His Hand, the land is about to be completely lost.”

· 1531: a series of natural events including earthquakes, Halley’s comet and a solar eclipse lead the Indians to believe that the world is about to end

· After the Apparitions and Image: A missionary wrote, “The Indians, submerged in a profound darkness, still loved and serves false little gods, clay figurines and images of our enemy the devil, in spite of having heard about the faith. But when they heard that the Holy Mother of Our Lord Jesus Christ had appeared, and since they saw and admired her most perfect Image, which has no human art, their eyes were opened as if suddenly day had dawned for them.”


· Was a native of the area of Mexico City at the height of the Aztec Empire, his Indian name was Cuauhtlatoatzin meaning “eagle that speaks”

· He was a middle-class commoner who owned property through inheritance

· 1524 Juan Diego at 50 yrs old was baptized along with his wife by a Franciscan missionary, making them among the early converts to the Christian Faith

· Juan Diego’s wife died five years after they were baptized, leaving Juan Diego with just his uncle, Juan Bernardino also a convert to Christianity

· Every Saturday and Sunday Juan Diego awoke at dawn and walked nine miles to attend Mass and catechesis (instruction in the faith), his route took him by Tepeyac hill


· Saturday December 9, 1531, Juan Diego was on his way to catechesis and going by Tepeyac hill when he heard beautiful music coming from the top of the hill

· Then the music stopped and he heard a woman’s voice calling his name

· Upon reaching the top of the hill, he found a beautiful woman wearing clothes that “Shone like the sun”

· She said to him, “I am the ever-perfect holy Mary, who has the honor to be the mother of the true God by whom we all live, the Creator of people, the Lord of the near and far, the Lord of heaven and earth.” I want very much that they build my sacred little house here, in which I will show Him, I will exalt Him upon making Him manifest, I will give Him to all people in all my personal love, Him that is my compassionate gaze, Him that is my help, Him that is my salvation. Because truly I am your compassionate Mother, yours and that of all the people that live together in this land, and also of all the other various lineages of men, those who love me, those who cry to me, those who seek me, those who trust in me.”

· She asked him to give this message Friar Juan de Zumarrage, the bishop who was head of the Church in Mexico City

· Importance of this message:

o Makes clear the Virgin Mary’s universal role as mother and her desire to bring all people closer to God through her loving intercession

o The request of a church to be built is significant because to the indigenous people the temple was at the center of society and the request for a new temple marked the beginning of a new civilization

· Juan Diego went right away to bishop’s house. But the bishop was skeptical of an apparition to a recently converted Indian and told him that he would listen to his story at another time


· After being dismissed by the bishop, Juan Diego returned to Tepeyac hill and requested that the Virgin should give the mission to someone more important than himself

· He said, “So I beg you…to have one of the nobles who are held in esteem, one who is known, respected, honored, have him carry on, take your venerable breath, your venerable word, so that he will be believed. Because I am really just a man from the country, I am the porter’s rope, I am a back-frame, just a tail, a wing; I myself need to be led, carried on someone’s back…My Little Girl, my Littlest Daughter, my Lady, my Girl, please excuse me: I will afflict your face, your heart: I will fall into your anger, into your displeasure, my Lady Mistress.”

· The Virgin responded, “Listen, my youngest son, know for sure that I have no lack of servants messengers to whom I can give the task of carrying my breath, my word, so that they carry out my will. But it is necessary that you, personally, go and plead, that by your intercession my wish, my will, become a reality. And I beg you, my youngest son, and I strictly order you to go again tomorrow to see the bishop. And in my name, make him know, make him hear my wish, my will, so that he will bring into being, build my sacred house that I ask of him. And carefully tell him again how I, personally, the ever Virgin Holy Mary, I, who am the Mother of God, sent you as my messenger.”

· The next day, Juan Diego visited the bishop who questioned Juan Diego and then requested evidence that would confirm the truth of the story


· Juan Diego returned to Tepeyac hill and told the Virgin of the bishop’s request for a sign

· She told him to return the next day to receive the sign


· The next day, Juan Diego’s uncle , Juan Bernardino, was very ill and instead of going to Tepeyac hill, Juan Diego went to get a doctor for his uncle

· On December 12, 1531, Juan Bernardino asked Juan Diego to bring him a priest for his confession and to prepare him for death

· Juan Diego put on his tilma (a cloak-like garment) as it was cold and went to get a priest, but remembering his promise to the Virgin, he avoided his usual path as he did not want to be delayed in getting the priest for his uncle

· However, the Virgin came down from the hill and said to Juan Diego, “My youngest son, what’s going on? Where are you going? Where are you headed?

· Juan Diego told her that his uncle was dying and that he needed to take care of him. He said, “Afterwards I will return here again to go carry your venerable breath, your venerable word, Lady, my little girl. Forgive me, be patient with me a little longer, because I am not deceiving you with this…tomorrow without fail I will come in all haste.”

· The Virgin responded, “Listen, put it into your heart, my youngest son, that what frightened you, what afflicted you, is nothing; do not let it disturb your face, your heart; do not fear this sickness nor any other sickness, nor any sharp and hurtful thing. Am I not here, I who have the honor to be your Mother? Are you not in my shadow and under my protection? Am I not the source of your joy? Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Do you need something more?

· She tells him that his uncle will recover from his illness

· Juan Diego trusted the Virgin completely and again asked for a sign to take to the bishop as proof

· She instructed him to go to the top of Tepeyac hill and cut flowers and bring them back to her to arrange in his tilma

· Juan Diego was amazed to find flowers of the sweetest scent during the winter on this rocky hill that typically only grew thistles and cacti

· While arranging the flowers in his tilma the Virgin said, “My youngest son, these different kinds of flowers are the proof, the sign that you will take to the bishop. You will tell him for me that in them he is to see my wish and that therefore he is to carry out my wish, my will; and you, you who are my messenger, in you I place my absolute trust.”

· Juan Diego then goes to the bishop’s house with the sign (the flowers) in his tilma. Upon finally getting to see the bishop, Juan Diego kneels before him and unfolds his tilma letting the flowers fall to the floor, which reveal the image of the Virgin Mary upon the tilma’s rough surface

· Those present knelt down overwhelmed with emotion. The bishop also knelt in tears, praying for the Virgin’s forgiveness for not having done her request

· The following day Juan Diego took the bishop to see where the chapel was to be built, construction began immediately


· In the Indian culture the tilma was a sign of social status. Peasant’s had plan tilmas, while nobles had colorful tilmas

· The tilma also represented: protection, nourishment, matrimony and consecration

· By placing her image on Juan Diego’s tilma, the Virgin gave a new dignity to the common person and especially to the Indians


· After fulfilling his duty Juan Diego returned to his uncle, to find him completely healed

· As Juan Diego explained to his uncle where he had been, his uncle told him that he already knew because the Virgin came to him, healed him and told him everything that his nephew was doing for her

· She also told the uncle her name: “the Perfect Virgin Holy Mary of Guadalupe

· By disclosing her full name to the uncle it gives a second witness to the apparition and it show his role in the family and relationship as a community elder

· The name “Guadalupe” chosen by her reflects her mission as the one that carries or brings the living water, Jesus Christ. Guadalupe was a river that ran through Extremadura, Spain. It is of Arabic origin and means “river of black gravel”

THE IMAGE – A Mystery for Science

· Juan Diego’s tilma is made of agave fibers (cactus cloth), which are highly corruptible and should suffer from normal decomposition (typically would last only 30-40 years), but it is still intact today

· Miraculous preservation: for the first 116 years it was displayed with no type of covering; replica tilmas made of similar material have been placed in the same area as the original and have not held up to the environmental characteristics of the humidity and saltpeter found on Tepeyac hill, within a short period the replicas discolor and fall to pieces

· Nov. 14, 1921 a bomb was placed under the image and exploded, the result was that is ruined the alter, candelabra, and bronze crucifix atop the alter and shattered windows in neighboring homes within a one-kilometer radius but only inches away the tilma under a glass covering remained unharmed.

· In 1785 nitric acid used to clean the frame was spilled, enough to destroy the whole surface; however, only a dull mark is visible

· Both art specialists and chemists have studied the image on the tilma to determine how the image came to be on the tilma. The colors permeate the fabric all the way through and are visible in the back. The art experts determined, “It is humanly impossible that any artist could paint and work something so beautiful, clean and well-formed on a fabric which is as rough as is the tilma.” They could not even determine if it is tempera or oil paint because it appears to be both. Likewise, the chemists concluded, “Our limited intelligence cannot account for it.”

· In 1977, the tilma was examined using infrared photography and digital enhancement techniques. Unlike any painting, the tilma shows no sketching or any sign of outline drawn to permit an artist to produce a painting. Further, the very method used to create the image is still unknown. The image is inexplicable in its longevity and method of production.


· Belt much higher than the waist indicating she is pregnant. Not only is she pregnant, but she is pregnant with God himself as indicated by the Jasmine flower (four petals) on her belly, which is the Indian’s symbol for God and only appears in this one place on her tunic.

· The Virgin sounded by fog/clouds is a sign of something supernatural to the Indians

· The angel beneath her feet is a sign of renewal for the Indian civilization. As it is both bald but with the countenance of a child, therefore, evoking both wisdom and youthful. The wings are that of an eagle symbolic of the conveyor of the Aztecs’ sacrificial offerings. Thus the eagle-angle is transporting in his hands the new sacrifice, Christ present in the Virgin’s womb.

· The pattern of the stars on her mantle are the constellations that appeared above Mexico City on the morning of Dec. 12, 1531, the day the image appeared on the tilma.

· The rich blue-green color of the mantle was an imperial color for the Aztecs, typically only worn by the emperor.

· By eclipsing the sun and standing atop the moon, she shows that she has governance of both, which were gods that the Indians had been worshiping with human sacrifice. Also, the date of the image (Dec. 12, 1531) was the winter solstice, when the sun conquers the darkness and the days become longer.

· Even as her imperial-colored clothing and cosmic surroundings indicate that she is a heavenly queen, her posture indicates that there is someone greater than she, someone to whom she humbly prays. Not only her hands indicate that she is praying, and her eyes are downcast as a sign of respect but also her stance, which has one bent knee and her weight on the other foot, which to the Indians was a sign of a dance, their highest form of prayer.

· Her skin is neither white like the Spaniards nor dark like the Indians, but is mestizo, a combination of the two. She is therefore identifying herself with the people of the New World, as both a mix of European and Indian ancestry.

· The bare cross on the brooch is similar to that of the missionaries and not only identifies her son but also acknowledges the Indians’ sufferings, both due to plagues and mistreatment at the hands of some of the Spanish officials and settlers.


Pope John Paul II (Ecclesia in America), “The appearance of Mary to native Juan Diego on the hill of Tepeyac in 1531 had a decisive effect on evangelization. Its influence greatly overflows the boundaries of Mexico, spreading to the whole continent…[which] has recognized in the mestizo face of the Virgin of Tepeyac, “in Blessed Mary of Guadalupe, an impressive example of a perfectly enculturated evangelization.” Therefore, JP II said that Our Lady of Guadalupe is venerated in the Western Hemisphere as “Queen of all America” and that the December 12th feast day be celebrated not only in Mexico but throughout the Western Hemisphere.

Our Lady of Guadalupe is more than an event; she is a person, “Patroness of all America and Star of the first and new evangelization”, her continuing witness to Christ continues to aid the men and women of the Western Hemisphere to a greater encounter with Christ.


1576, Pope Gregory XIII extends indulgences and blessings to the chapel at Tepeyac

1667, Pope Clement IX institutes the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12

1754, Pope Benedict XIV declares our Lady of Guadalupe patroness of New Spain, saying, “God has not done anything like this for any other nation.”

1900, Pope Leo XII proclaims that the offices and Masses of Our Lady of Guadalupe are to be celebrated in perpetuity

1910, Pope Pius X declares Our Lady of Guadalupe patroness of Latin America

1935, Pope Pius XI names Our Lady of Guadalupe patroness of the Philippines

1946, Pope Pius XII declares Our Lady of Guadalupe Patroness of the Americas

1999, Pope John Paul II proclaimed Our Lady of Guadalupe as Patroness of the whole American continent

2002, July 31, Juan Diego is canonized by Pope John Paul II at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, becoming the first Mexican indigenous saint

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