Our Lady of Guadalupe: Mexicans, Catholics hail Mary & Juan Diego

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 12: “Joyful” can hardly describe the atmosphere in Mexico today, as young and old gather in celebration of the Virgin Mary’s apparitions to Juan Diego as Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Tradition tells that on Dec. 9, 1531, peasant Juan Diego saw an apparition of a young girl at the Hill of Tepeyac, near Mexico City—a hill that held importance for the Aztecs—and the girl spoke to him in his native language, Nahuatl. The girl asked that a church be built on the site in her honor. When Spanish Catholic leaders doubted Juan Diego’s request—made a few days later, on Dec. 12—the peasant opened his cloak and out-of-season roses fell to the floor; an image of the girl, the Virgin Mary, was imprinted on his tilma (cloak).

Did you know? There are three churches dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico. The basilica in Mexico City holds the tilma.

Today, the tilma hangs above the altar at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. The basilica remains one of the most-visited Catholic pilgrimage sites in the world, although for Mexicans, Our Lady of Guadalupe is much more than a saint. In Mexico, she represents a mother to all, an intercessor between the faithful and God. She is widely regarded as the Queen of Mexico and the Patroness of the Americas. (Wikipedia has details.)


After the Spanish Conquest of 1519-1521, the Aztec population in Mexico was reluctant to accept Christianity: their temple of the mother-goddess, Tonantzin, had been destroyed at Tepeyac, and a chapel for the Virgin Mary had been constructed in its place. Yet a decade later, a peasant by the name of Juan Diego saw an apparition—an apparition that, despite identifying herself as the Virgin Mary, also bore symbolic and visual elements that were similar to Tonantzin. Aztecs soon began traveling hundreds of miles to see the sacred tilma, and thereafter converting to Christianity by the millions because of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Several miracles have been attributed to the tilma since 1531, including its own self-preservation through the centuries; three studies have been published on analyses of the image and the fabric. Juan Diego was declared a saint in the Catholic Church in 2002.


In Mexico, to hear men and women speak of Our Lady of Guadalupe is like hearing a description of their own mothers: humble, down-to-earth, loving. Acclaimed Mexican-American Artist Lalo Garcia explains it like this: Mexicans “have a very intimate and personal relationship with her. We talk to her, we sing to her, we dance with her … and we really do not see her up on a pedestal like we do with the saints or with Jesus on the cross. She is down (here) with us. She is with us.”

This relationship is not exclusive to Mexico. In fact, today, Godsigns columnist Suzy Farbman reports an inspiring story of how the final days of one man, the beloved patriarch of an American family, were transformed by the scent of roses.

During the evening of Dec. 11, processions fill the streets, and firecrackers provide a lively soundtrack; babies and children are dressed to represent the many Indian tribes of Mexico. (One pilgrim illustrates the scene in her blog.) A Mass of thanksgiving is conducted at the Basilica, and the following morning, devotees dress in their finest to bring roses, poinsettias and other small gifts to the altar of Our Lady. (Learn more from Catholic Culture.) The faithful outside of Mexico can—and do—set up their own shrines for Our Lady of Guadalupe, most often accompanied by Mexican baked goods and prayers to the Virgin. (Find a recipe for Mexican sopapias here.) Check listings in your community for local events, which may take place as late as this weekend.


A recent Pew report states that Latinos are now the largest minority group and among the fastest growing populations in the United States. To bring awareness of the events of Our Lady of Guadalupe to the North American audience, a recent film was released by director Tim Watkins: the 2013 investigative documentary, The Blood & The Rose. The National Catholic Register wrote about the film earlier this year.

Roses are central to the imagery of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and this year, Pope Francis sent a golden rose to the shrine, with these words: “Our hearts more than our heads know the debt of love we owe you.” In 1966, Pope Paul VI also sent a golden rose to the shrine.

Several cities are seeing growth in their Guadalupe events, such as Des Plaines, Illinois, where 150,000 worshipers are expected at an outdoor shrine—up from just 10 celebrants 26 years ago (Chicago Tribune has an article). Californians have been participating in the procession and mass for Our Lady of Guadalupe for 82 years—the oldest religious procession in Los Angeles—and this year, more than 30,000 are expected to turn up for the events. Nearby, a digital reproduction of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe inspired inmates in a women’s jail, bringing new hope with the centuries-old image, reported the Huffington Post.