Our Lady of Guadalupe (Spanish: Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe), also known as the Virgin of Guadalupe (Spanish: Virgen de Guadalupe), is a Roman Catholic title of the Blessed Virgin Mary associated with a venerated image enshrined within the Minor Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in México City. The basilica is the most visited Catholic pilgrimage site in the world, and the world’s third most-visited sacred site.
Official Catholic accounts state that the Virgin Mary appeared four times before Juan Diego and one more before Juan Diego’s uncle. According to these accounts the first apparition occurred on the morning of December 9, 1531, when a native Mexican peasant named Juan Diego saw a vision of a maiden at a place called the Hill of Tepeyac, which would become part of Villa de Guadalupe, a suburb of Mexico City. Speaking to Juan Diego in his native Nahuatl language (the language of the Aztec empire), the maiden identified herself as the Virgin Mary, “mother of the very true deity” and asked for a church to be built at that site in her honor.
From her words, Juan Diego then sought out the archbishop of Mexico City, Fray Juan de Zumárraga, to tell him what had happened. As the bishop did not accept the idea, on the same day, Juan Diego saw the Virgin Mary for second time (second apparition) and she asked him to keep insisting.
On Sunday, December 10, Juan Diego talked to archbishop for the second time and he instructed him to return to Tepeyac Hill, and ask the lady for a miraculous sign to prove her identity. That same day the third apparition occurred in which Juan Diego returned immediately to Tepeyac and, encountering the Virgin Mary reported the bishop’s request for a sign; she consented to provide one on the following day (December 11).
By Monday, December 11, however, Juan Diego’s uncle Juan Bernardino had fallen sick and Juan Diego was obliged to attend to him. In the very early hours of Tuesday, December 12, Juan Bernardino’s condition having deteriorated overnight, Juan Diego set out to Tlatelolco to get a priest to hear Juan Bernardino’s confession and minister to him on his death-bed.
In order to avoid being delayed by the Virgin and ashamed at having failed to meet her on the Monday as agreed, Juan Diego chose another route around the hill, but the Virgin intercepted him and asked where he was going (fourth apparition); Juan Diego explained what had happened and the Virgin gently chided him for not having had recourse to her. In the words which have become the most famous phrase of the Guadalupe event and are inscribed over the main entrance to the Basilica of Guadalupe, she asked: “No estoy yo aqui que soy tu madre?” (Am I not here, I who am your mother?). She assured him that Juan Bernardino had now recovered and she told him to gather flowers from the top of Tepeyac Hill, which was normally barren, especially in December. Juan followed her instructions and he found Castilian roses, not native to Mexico, blooming there. Juan arranged the flowers in his tilma , or cloak, and when Juan Diego opened his cloak before archbishop Zumárraga on December 12, the flowers fell to the floor, and on the fabric was the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
The next day, on December 13, Juan Diego found his uncle fully recovered, as the Virgin had assured him, and Juan Bernardino recounted that he too had seen her, at his bed-side (fifth apparition); that she had instructed him to inform the bishop of this apparition and of his miraculous cure; and that she had told him she desired to be known under the title of Guadalupe.
The bishop kept Juan Diego’s mantle first in his private chapel and then in the church on public display where it attracted great attention. On December 26, 1531 a procession formed for taking the miraculous image back to Tepeyac where it was installed in a small hastily erected chapel. In course of this procession, the first miracle was allegedly performed when an Indian was mortally wounded in the neck by an arrow shot by accident during some stylized martial displays executed in honour of the Virgin. In great distress, the Indians carried him before the Virgin’s image and pleaded for his life. Upon the arrow being withdrawn, the victim made a full and immediate recovery.
Juan Diego’s tilma has become Mexico’s most popular religious and cultural symbol, and has received widespread ecclesiastical and popular support. In the 19th century it became the rallying call of American-born Spaniards in New Spain, who saw the story of the apparition as legitimizing their own Mexican origin and infusing it with an almost messianic sense of mission and identity – thus also legitimizing their armed rebellion against Spain.
Historically the devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe did not lack clerical opponents within Mexico, especially in the early years, and in more recent times some Catholic scholars, and even a former abbot of the basilica, Monsignor Guillermo Schulenburg, have openly doubted the historical existence of Juan Diego, referring to the devotion as merely symbolic, propagated by a sensational cult. Nonetheless, Juan Diego was canonized in 2002, under the name Saint Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin.
While the image garners much religious devotion and Mexican patriotism, scholarly criticism on the image is also notable, considering the artistic disproportion of the image, the similarity of the image to Spanish pre-colonial artwork closely related to the Aztec colony at the time, the alleged relationship of Marcos Cipac de Aquino in either inventing or amending the tilma cloak, and the public declaration of the abbot of the Guadalupe shrine pertaining to the false existence of the Marian apparitions.
Following the Conquest in 1519–21, the Spanish destroyed a temple of the mother goddess Tonantzin at Tepeyac outside Mexico City, and built a chapel dedicated to the Virgin on the site. Newly converted natives continued to come from afar to worship there, often addressing the Virgin Mary as Tonantzin.
What is purported by some to be the earliest mention of the miraculous apparition of the Virgin is a page of parchment (the Codex Escalada) which was discovered in 1995 and, according to investigative analysis, dates from the sixteenth century. This document bears two pictorial representations of Juan Diego and the apparition, several inscriptions in Nahuatl referring to Juan Diego by his Aztec name, and the date of his death: 1548, as well as the year that the Virgin Mary appeared: 1531. It also contains the glyph of Antonio Valeriano; and finally, the signature of Fray Bernardino de Sahagun that was authenticated by experts from the Banco de Mexico and Charles E. Dibble.
Scholarly doubts have been cast on the authenticity of the document, however.
A more complete early description of the apparition occurs in a 16-page manuscript called the Nican mopohua, which was acquired by the New York Public Library in 1880, and has been reliably dated in 1556. This document, written in Nahuatl, but in Latin script, tells the story of the apparitions and the supernatural origin of the image. It was probably composed by a native Aztec man, called Antonio Valeriano, who had been educated by Franciscans. The text of this document was later incorporated into a printed pamphlet which was widely circulated in 1649.
In spite of these documents, there are no written accounts of the Guadalupe vision by Catholic clergymen of the 16th century, as there ought to have been if the event had the importance it is claimed to have had. In particular, the canonical account of the vision features archbishop Juan de Zumárraga as a major player in the story, but, although Zumárraga was a prolific writer, there is nothing in his extant writings that can confirm the story.
The written record that does exist suggests the Catholic clergy in 16th century Mexico were deeply divided as to the orthodoxy of the cult springing up around the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, with the Franciscan order (who had custody of the chapel at Tepeyac) being strongly opposed to the cult, while the Dominicans supported it.
The main promoter of the cult was the Dominican Alonso de Montúfar, who succeeded the Franciscan Juan de Zumárraga as archbishop of Mexico. In a 1556 sermon Montúfar commended popular devotion to “Our Lady of Guadalupe,” referring to a painting on cloth (a tilma) in the chapel of the Virgin Mary at Tepeyac, where certain miracles had occurred. Days later, Fray Francisco de Bustamante, local head of the Franciscan order, delivered a sermon denouncing the cult. He expressed concern that the Archbishop was promoting a superstitious regard for an image:
“The devotion at the chapel…to which they have given the name Guadalupe was prejudicial to the Indians because they believed that the image itself worked miracles, contrary to what the missionary friars had been teaching them, and because many were disappointed when it did not.”
The first printed account of the history of the apparitions and image occurs in Imagen de la Virgen Maria, Madre de Dios de Guadalupe, published in 1648 by Miguel Sánchez, a diocesan priest of Mexico City.
It was due to the Informaciones Jurídicas de 1666 for which it was requested and obtained a feast day in name of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and the transfer of the date of the feast of the Our Lady of Guadalupe, from September 8 to December 12, the latest date on which the Virgin supposedly appeared to Juan Diego. The initiative to perform them was made by Francisco de Siles who proposed to ask the Church of Rome a Mass itself with allusive text to the apparitions and stamping of the image, along with the divine office itself, and the precept of hearing Mass on December 12, the last date of the apparitions of the Virgin to Juan Diego as the new date to commemorate the apparitions (which until then was on September 8, the birth of the Virgin).
In 1666, the Church in México began gathering information from people who reported having known Juan Diego, and in 1723 a formal investigation into his life was ordered, where more data was gathered to support veneration. Because of the Informaciones Jurídicas de 1666 in the year 1754, the Sacred Congregation of Rites confirmed the true value of the apparitions and granted celebrating Mass and Office for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12.
These published accounts of the origin of the image venerated in Tepeyac increased interest in the identity of Juan Diego, the original recipient of the vision. A new Basilica church was built to house the image. Completed in 1709, it is now known as the Old Basilica.
The image had originally featured a 12-point crown on the Virgin’s head, but this disappeared in 1887-88. The change was first noticed on 23 February 1888, when the image was removed to a nearby church. Eventually a painter confessed on his deathbed that he had been instructed by a clergyman to remove the crown. This may have been motivated by the fact that the gold paint was flaking off of the crown, leaving it looking dilapidated. But according to the historian David Brading, “the decision to remove rather than replace the crown was no doubt inspired by a desire to ‘modernize’ the image and reinforce its similarity to the nineteenth-century images of the Immaculate Conception which were exhibited at Lourdes and elsewhere… What is rarely mentioned is that the frame which surrounded the canvas was amended to leave almost no space above the Virgin’s head, thereby obscuring the effects of the erasure.” it is unclear for the reason why the frame was adjusted to lower the frame, giving the impression that the crown’s covered area would not be easily noticed.
A different crown was installed to the image. On 8 February 1887, a Papal bull from Pope Leo XIII granted permission a Canonical Coronation of the image, which occurred on 12 October 1895. Since then the Virgin of Guadalupe has been proclaimed “Queen of Mexico”, “Patroness of the Americas”, “Empress of Latin America”, and “Protectress of Unborn Children” (the latter two titles given by Pope John Paul II in 1999). Under this title, she was also proclaimed “Heavenly Patroness of the Philippines” on 16 July 1935 by Pope Pius XI both witnessed and signed by Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, a designation he later rescinded on 12 September 1942 upon becoming Pope Pius XII.
On 25 March 1966, Pope Paul VI presented a Golden Rose to the sacred image. Finally, under Pope John Paul II the move to beatify Juan Diego intensified. John Paul II took a special interest in non-European Catholics and saints. During his leadership, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints declared Juan Diego “venerable” (in 1987), and the pope himself announced his beatification on 6 May 1990, during a Mass at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, declaring him “protector and advocate of the indigenous peoples,” with December 9 established as his feast day.
At that time historians revived doubts as to the quality of the evidence regarding Juan Diego. The writings of bishop Zumárraga, into whose hands Juan purportedly delivered the miraculous image, did not refer to him or the event. The record of the 1556 ecclesiastical inquiry omitted him, and he was not mentioned in documentation before the mid-17th century. In 1996 the 83-year-old abbot of the Basilica of Guadalupe, Guillermo Schulenburg, was forced to resign following an interview published in the Catholic magazine Ixthus, in which he was quoted as saying that Juan Diego was “a symbol, not a reality”, and that his canonization would be the “recognition of a cult. It is not recognition of the physical, real existence of a person.”  In 1883 Joaquín García Icazbalceta, historian and biographer of Zumárraga, in a confidential report on the Lady of Guadalupe for Bishop Labastida, had been hesitant to support the story of the vision. He concluded that Juan Diego had not existed.
In 1995, Father Xavier Escalada, a Jesuit whose four volume Guadalupe encyclopedia had just been published, announced the existence of a sheet of parchment (known as Codex Escalada), which bore an illustrated account of the vision and some notations in Nahuatl concerning the life and death of Juan Diego. Previously unknown, the document was dated 1548. It bore the signatures of Antonio Valeriano and Bernardino de Sahagún, which are considered to verify its contents. The codex was the subject of an appendix to the Guadalupe enciclopedia, published in 1997. Some scholars remained unconvinced, one describing the discovery of the Codex as “rather like finding a picture of St. Paul’s vision of Christ on the road to Damascus, drawn by St. Luke and signed by St. Peter.”
In the earliest account of the apparition, the Nican Mopohua, the Virgin Mary tells Juan Bernardino, the uncle of Juan Diego, that the image left on the tilma is to be known by the name “the Perfect Virgin, Holy Mary of Guadalupe.”
The portrait was executed on a fabric support of natural material constituted by two pieces (originally three) joined together. The join is clearly visible as a seam passing from top to bottom, with the Virgin’s face and hands and the head of the angel on the left piece. It passes through the left wrist of the Virgin. The fabric is mounted on a large metal sheet to which it has been glued for some time. The image, currently set in a massive frame protected behind bullet-proof glass, hangs inclined at a slight angle on the wall of the basilica behind the altar. At this point, there is a wide gap between the wall and the sanctuary facilitating closer viewing from moving walkways set on the floor beneath the main level of the basilica, carrying people a short distance in either direction. Viewed from the main body of the basilica, the image is located above and to the right of the altar and is retracted at night into a small vault (accessible by steps) set into the wall. An intricate metal crown designed by the painter Salomé Pina according to plans devised by Rómulo Escudero and Pérez Gallardo, and executed by the Parisian goldsmith, Edgar Morgan, is fixed above the image by a rod, and a massive Mexican flag is draped around and below the frame.
The nature of the fabric is discussed below. Its measurements were taken by José Ignacio Bartolache on December 29, 1786 in the presence of Joseph Bernardo de Nava, a public notary: height 170 cm (67 in), width 105 cm (41 in). The original height (before it was first shielded behind glass in the late 18th century, at which time the unpainted portion beyond the Virgin’s head must have been cut down) was 229 cm (90 in).
Neither the fabric (“the support”) nor the image (together, “the tilma”) has been analyzed using the full range of resources now available to museum conservationists. Four technical studies have been conducted so far. Of these, the findings of at least three have been published. Each study required the permission of the custodians of the tilma in the Basilica. However, Callahan’s study was taken at the initiative of a third party: the custodians did not know in advance what his research would reveal.
Summary conclusions (“contra” indicates a contrary finding)
The iconography of the Virgin is fully Catholic: Miguel Sanchez, the author of the 1648 tract Imagen de la Virgen María, described her as the Woman of the Apocalypse from the New Testament‘s Revelation 12:1, “clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars.” She is described as a representation of the Immaculate Conception.
Virgil Elizondo says the image also had layers of meaning for the indigenous people of Mexico who associated her image with their polytheistic deities, which further contributed to her popularity. Her blue-green mantle was the color reserved for the divine couple Ometecuhtli and Omecihuatl; her belt is interpreted as a sign of pregnancy; and a cross-shaped image, symbolizing the cosmos and called nahui-ollin, is inscribed beneath the image’s sash. She was called “mother of maguey,” the source of the sacred beverage pulque. Pulque was also known as “the milk of the Virgin.” The rays of light surrounding her are seen to also represent maguey spines.
Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe became the recognized symbol of Catholic Mexicans. Miguel Sánchez, the author in 1648 of the first published account of the vision, identified Guadalupe as Revelation’s Woman of the Apocalypse, and said:
“…this New World has been won and conquered by the hand of the Virgin Mary … [who had] prepared, disposed, and contrived her exquisite likeness in this her Mexican land, which was conquered for such a glorious purpose, won that there should appear so Mexican an image.”
Throughout the Mexican national history of the 19th and 20th centuries, the Guadalupan name and image have been unifying national symbols; the first President of Mexico (1824–29) changed his name from José Miguel Ramón Adaucto Fernández y Félix to Guadalupe Victoria in honor of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Father Miguel Hidalgo, in the Mexican War of Independence (1810), and Emiliano Zapata, in the Mexican Revolution (1910), led their respective armed forces with Guadalupan flags emblazoned with an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. In 1999, the Church officially proclaimed her the Patroness of the Americas, the Empress of Latin America, and the Protectress of Unborn Children.
In 1810 Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla initiated the bid for Mexican independence with his Grito de Dolores, with the cry “Death to the Spaniards and long live the Virgin of Guadalupe!” When Hidalgo’s mestizo-indigenous army attacked Guanajuato and Valladolid, they placed “the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, which was the insignia of their enterprise, on sticks or on reeds painted different colors” and “they all wore a print of the Virgin on their hats.” After Hidalgo’s death leadership of the revolution fell to a zambo/mestizo priest named José María Morelos, who led insurgent troops in the Mexican south. Morelos adopted the Virgin as the seal of his Congress of Chilpancingo, inscribing her feast day into the Chilpancingo constitution and declaring that Guadalupe was the power behind his victories:
New Spain puts less faith in its own efforts than in the power of God and the intercession of its Blessed Mother, who appeared within the precincts of Tepeyac as the miraculous image of Guadalupe that had come to comfort us, defend us, visibly be our protection.
Simón Bolívar noticed the Guadalupan theme in these uprisings, and shortly before Morelos’s execution in 1815 wrote: “the leaders of the independence struggle have put fanaticism to use by proclaiming the famous Virgin of Guadalupe as the queen of the patriots, praying to her in times of hardship and displaying her on their flags … the veneration for this image in Mexico far exceeds the greatest reverence that the shrewdest prophet might inspire.”
In 1912, Emiliano Zapata‘s peasant army rose out of the south against the government of Francisco Madero. Though Zapata’s rebel forces were primarily interested in land reform – “tierra y libertad” (‘land and liberty’) was the slogan of the uprising – when his peasant troops penetrated Mexico City they carried Guadalupan banners. More recently, the contemporary Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) named their “mobile city” in honor of the Virgin: it is called Guadalupe Tepeyac. EZLN spokesperson Subcomandante Marcos wrote a humorous letter in 1995 describing the EZLN bickering over what to do with a Guadalupe statue they had received as a gift.
Harringon argues that:
Hernán Cortés, the Conquistador who overthrew the Aztec empire in 1521, was a native of Extremadura, home to Our Lady of Guadalupe. By the 16th century the Extremadura Guadalupe, a statue of the Virgin said to be carved by Saint Luke the Evangelist, was already a national icon. It was found at the beginning of the 14th century when the Virgin appeared to a humble shepherd and ordered him to dig at the site of the apparition. The recovered Virgin then miraculously helped to expel the Moors from Spain, and her small shrine evolved into the great Guadalupe monastery.
According to the traditional account, the name of Guadalupe was chosen by the Virgin herself when she appeared on the hill outside Mexico City in 1531, ten years after the Conquest.
Guadalupe continues to be a mixture of the cultures which blended to form Mexico, both racially and religiously, “the first mestiza“, or “the first Mexican”. “bringing together people of distinct cultural heritages, while at the same time affirming their distinctness.” As Jacques Lafaye wrote in Quetzalcoatl and Guadalupe, “as the Christians built their first churches with the rubble and the columns of the ancient pagan temples, so they often borrowed pagan customs for their own cult purposes.” The author Judy King asserts that Guadalupe is a “common denominator” uniting Mexicans. Writing that Mexico is composed of a vast patchwork of differences – linguistic, ethnic, and class-based – King says “The Virgin of Guadalupe is the rubber band that binds this disparate nation into a whole.” The Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes once said that “you cannot truly be considered a Mexican unless you believe in the Virgin of Guadalupe.” Nobel Literature laureate Octavio Paz wrote in 1974 that “the Mexican people, after more than two centuries of experiments, have faith only in the Virgin of Guadalupe and the National Lottery”.
Our Lady of Guadalupe, Juan Diego, and the tilma have been investigated through film several times in recent history. One of the most notable and thorough filmic investigations was done by director Tim Watkins in the 2013 film The Blood & The Rose. Documentarians have been portraying the message of Our Lady of Guadalupe since the 1990s in an attempt to bring the message of the apparition to the North American audience.
Several Pontiffs have granted recognitions to the venerated image, namely the following:
Roman Catholic sources claim many miraculous and supernatural properties for the image such as that the tilma has maintained its structural integrity over nearly 500 years against soot, candle wax, incense, constant manual veneration by devotees and the historical fact that the image was displayed without any protective glass for the first 115 years; while replicas normally last only about 15 years before suffering degradation; that it repaired itself with no external help after a 1791 nitric acid that spilled on the top right of the image causing considerable damage but left the aureola of the Virgin intact.
Furthermore, on 14 November 1921 a bomb hidden within a basket of flowers brought by anti-Catholic secularist damaged the altar, but left the icon unharmed. A brass standing Crucifix, bent in the explosion, is now preserved at the shrine museum and is believed to be miraculous among devotees.
Then in 1929 and 1951 photographers found a figure reflected in the Virgin’s eyes; upon inspection they said that the reflection was tripled in what is called the Purkinje effect, commonly found in human eyes.[unreliable source?] An ophthalmologist, Dr. Jose Aste Tonsmann, later enlarged an image of the Virgin’s eyes by 2500x and claimed to have found not only the aforementioned single figure, but images of all the witnesses present when the tilma was first revealed before Zumárraga in 1531, plus a small family group of mother, father, and a group of children, in the center of the Virgin’s eyes, fourteen people in all.
Numerous Catholic websites repeat an unsourced claim that in 1936 biochemist Richard Kuhn analyzed a sample of the fabric and announced that the pigments used were from no known source, whether animal, mineral or vegetable. Dr. Philip Serna Callahan, who photographed the icon under infrared light, declared from his photographs that portions of the face, hands, robe, and mantle had been painted in one step, with no sketches or corrections and no visible brush strokes.
The shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe is the most visited Catholic pilgrimage destination in the world. Over the Friday and Saturday of December 11 to 12, 2009, a record number of 6.1 million pilgrims visited the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City to commemorate the anniversary of the apparition.
Our Lady of Guadalupe is considered the Patroness of Mexico and the Continental Americas; she is also venerated by Native Americans, on the account of the devotion calling for the conversion of the Americas. Replicas of the tilma can be found in thousands of churches throughout the world, and numerous parishes bear her name.
Due to a claim that her black girdle indicates pregnancy on the image, the Blessed Virgin Mary, under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe is popularly invoked as Patroness of the Unborn and a common image for the Pro-Life movement.