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Our Lady of Guadalupe and a Picture worth a thousand words

You cannot write a series of articles about the Virgin Mary without having one devoted to her apparitions in Mexico in 1531. These Marian appearances have become known as being from Our Lady of Guadalupe. The extraordinary events during December of 1531 changed the world at that time and they remain one of the most famous stories of all time.

Historical Perspective

The appearance of the Virgin Mary during this time was significant because the 15th century was a time of transformation in the Americas and especially in Mexico. During this period the Aztec Indian tribe was at its height and was feared by other indigenous people in the surrounding area. Today, the Aztecs are remembered for their art, culture, and advances in civilization in some areas.

They were feared because of the brutality of slavery, human sacrifice, and cannibalism they practiced.

It is reported that the Aztecs sacrificed up to 250 thousand men and women per year. They slaughtered up to 80 thousand people in four-day ceremonies and could slit up to 15 people’s throats in a minute! These sacrifices and practices were mainly carried out on their captives, and this caused panic among other tribes. The Spanish who came to this country were appalled.

The Spanish fought the Aztecs along with the other tribes to subdue them, but it was not easy. Better weapons, tactics, and the support of others assisted the Spanish. The real end of Aztec tyranny was the inadvertent introduction of smallpox because it decimated their ranks. A final siege of the Aztec capital took over 90 days. It was a fierce battle that took the lives of many on both sides of the conflict.

Aztecs were stubborn and did not want to be converted by the Spanish to Christianity, but a few did make the change from worshiping their idols and gods. One of these people was an Aztec who converted and took the Christian name, Juan Diego. He is the focus of the apparitions.

The Events of December 1531

Juan Diego was an Aztec convert and humble man who had a path he walked to Mass on Tepeyac Hill which is now just outside of Mexico City. It was here that he heard beautiful music and where Mary first appeared to him on December 9th & 10th, and again on December 12th. In these apparitions, she instructed Juan to let the bishop of the area build a church on the spot where she was appearing. The bishop requested that Mary give him a sign to validate her wishes.

The Virgin instructed Diego to meet her at a specific time and to go to the top of the hill where he would gather flowers and place them in his "tilma" or cloak. He did not meet her at the time she requested because his uncle had become seriously ill, and he tended to his needs instead of meeting Mary. When he went to get a priest to minister the last rites, he chose an alternate trail to avoid the lady.

She intercepted him and chided him saying, “don’t you know I am your mother?” He told her that he was going to get a priest for his uncle because he was dying. She told him not to worry about his uncle because he has fully recovered. Mary appeared to his uncle and told him that he would recover and that she was “Our Lady of Guadalupe.”

Juan changed his route and went to the hill where he was instructed to go. It was at the top of the hill that he started to gather the flowers. He could not believe the number of flowers blooming there.

These were roses that did not grow in that area, especially in the cold of December. Mr. Diego did not open the cloak until he was with the bishop. When he had his last audience with the bishop, he opened the cloak, the roses fell out, and on the cloak was the famous portrait of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Controversies Surrounding these Apparitions

The exact historical account remains controversial because accurate records were not kept at the time. The account that is most cited was written in the 17th century by the Nican Mopohua where the current story in the Aztec or Nahuatl language was first printed. There are notable discrepancies in the facts, but it is the most accepted rendition of the events in December 1531.

Problems with the story include the name of the archbishop who presided over the area in 1531 because records indicate this man did not become a bishop until 1534. Other issues include the role of the Spanish during this time. Some do not regard them as being “liberators” because of the destruction of a flourishing Aztec civilization at the time.

Disagreements within the church about the apparitions were serious during the years after the recorded incidents. These involved the Franciscans who were the original custodians of the famous tilma and Dominicans who wanted to use the events of December 1531 to promote Christianity.

There is no dispute that after December 1531 there were millions of indigenous people who converted to Catholicism because they believed in the miracles attributed to the Virgin. It has been said that “the arrival of Hernan Cortez and his soldiers won Mexico for Spain. The appearances of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Tepeyac Hill won it for Christ.”

Mexican Nationalism

Our Lady of Guadalupe is a national symbol of pride and patriotism for the Mexican people. She is credited for ending a deadly epidemic of hemorrhagic fever that ravaged Mexico City in 1736-37. In 1810, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla promoted her during the revolt against Spain and winning the independence of Mexico.

It was her image that was later used during other rebellions in the country to represent the oppressed and the need for reform. The symbol of defiance, rebellion, civil rights, and freedom is part of the attraction to Our Lady of Guadalupe. She is linked to the basic foundations of Mexico and is the patron saint of the country.

The allure of Our Lady of Guadalupe is not limited to Mexico. She is venerated around the world and is the patron of the Americas. Pope John Paul II was especially interested in her and even canonized Juan Diego as a saint.

The Image Worth a Thousand Words

Some claim the original painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Juan Diego’s tilma represents a miracle by itself. The cloth should have disintegrated long ago but remains a relic in the cathedral where it is displayed in Mexico. It has not been authenticated by modern technology, but it has stood uncorrupted for centuries.

The painting depicts a young indigenous woman, and it is filled with symbolism. The symbolism of the image is very sophisticated, but the painting is controversial. Skeptics claim it is the work of a local artist of the time who was a convert to Christianity, but it is difficult to attribute the complexities of the messages to an indigenous person in the 1500s in Mexico.

A painting can communicate many messages and it is the beholder that sees the image and determines its importance. Art transcends language and this image depicts the universal message of a humble loving mother more powerful than the sun, the moon, the ingenious people’s gods, and a royal figure. The stars around her represent the 12 stars of the winter solstice as they appeared on the morning of December 12, 1531.

This image has messages for anyone or group who was living at the time of these events. The natives and Christians could read into its meaning for them. Today, the same remarks are true.


The month of May celebrates the Virgin Mary and there is much to learn about her that can guide the world today with all the problems it faces. She is a symbol of hope and strength that transcends the ages. The messages she left St. Juan Diego can be viewed today at the cathedral in Mexico City.

Like today, the 1500s were a time of transition and the appearance of the Virgin Mary made a significant impression. These apparitions were not without controversy but the result of them was positive. Millions of people became Christian, and Our Lady of Guadalupe became the symbol of nationalism for the people of Mexico.

Metaphysically, the colors pink, turquoise, light red, yellow, and white represent love, compassion, sophistication, optimism, spirituality, and hope. The virtues of humility, virginity, and being magnanimous are displayed. It is a masterpiece depicting peace and the love of God.

Skeptics will dismiss the events of December 1531 because there are notable inaccuracies in the story. Believers accept the miracles and understand the messages in the painting that has resided uncorrupted in Mexico for hundreds of years. An honest interpretation may be that not everything about the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe can be verified, but there was certainly something wonderful and supernatural that happened!

John Cappello, M. B. A., Psychic Medium, and Author. For more information go to


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