When an insignificant, barren hill in Mexico becomes the destination for 13 million pilgrims a year, something’s going on…
December 12 is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. This is one of the most significant Marian apparitions in the Church’s history and some 13 million people make a pilgrimage to the Basilica in Mexico City every year.
Just what is so special about Guadalupe?
When Our Lady appeared in 1531 to Mexican peasant, Juan Diego, the Bishop was sceptical and requested a sign. He returned a few days later with rare Spanish roses that he collected from the site of the apparition, a barren hill. As Juan Diego opened his tilma (a simple cloak made of agave fibre), the roses tumbled out leaving an image of Our Lady. Falling to their knees, the Bishop and his aids immediately commenced plans for a shrine to be built at the site of the apparition on Tepeyac Hill. The tilma with the miraculous image was housed in the shrine.
Over the next decade, almost the entire Mexican nation, some 8 million people, were baptised into the Catholic faith, drawn by the compassionate heart of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
To read more about Juan Diego and his amazing encounters with Our Lady of Guadalupe, click here.
Far from a simple ‘painting’, the image of Our Lady on Juan Diego’s tilma has some noteworthy features that were immediately recognised by the native Mexicans and their Spanish conquerors.
- The colour of her skin identifies her as a mestiza, a mixed-blood of white Spanish and dark native, presenting herself as the link between the two races as their mother.
- With the sun at her back and the moon at her feet, the Spaniards recognised her as the Woman of the Apocalypse (Rev 12:1), while the native peoples saw it as her having power over the blood-thirsty Aztec sun and moon god.
- She is pregnant: the black sash normally worn at the waist by Aztec women is worn higher up during pregnancy.
- Her tunic is covered with symbolic gold flowers. The Jasmine flower that is positioned over her womb identifies her child as divine and that this omnipotent being is reachable by any human being through his mother.
- Her posture indicates a profound humility. Significantly, her entire body is in motion with one knee bent in a dance-step position which was the highest form of prayer for the Aztecs.
Read more about the symbolism of the image here.
While the symbolism of the image demonstrates a remarkable sensitivity to both the Aztec and Spanish cultures, it is the miraculous qualities of the image that have emerged over time and with scientific study that truly astound.
- The tilma, made of fiber from the agave cactus, would normally decay within 40 years, yet the Guadalupe Tilma has survived almost 500 years.
- Unlike a painting or dyed cloth, the image appears to hover less than 1mm above the surface of the tilma, earning it the description of ‘permanent apparition’. No paint, pigment or dye has been detected.
- The stars on her veil perfectly map the positions of the constellations in the sky at the time of the apparition.
- Under magnification, the pupils of Our Lady’s eyes reflect the image of the Bishop and his aids kneeling before her.
- A foetal heartbeat has been detected when a stethoscope is held over Our Lady’s womb.
- The image has survived several disasters including an accidental acid spill and a bombing which disfigured a crucifix, destroyed the altar and blew out the windows but failed to harm the image. Although the bomb exploded in the middle of Mass, not a single person was harmed.
“Every human life, from the moment of conception until death, is sacred because the human person has been willed for its own sake in the image and likeness of the living and holy God.” (CCC #2139)
The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is one of the rare images representing a pregnant Mary. For this reason, Our Lady of Guadalupe is the patron of the unborn child and is a core spiritual devotion in the prolife movement all over the world.
When we hear the word ‘prolife’ the immediate association is with ‘abortion’. However, being prolife is not an issue-based political position. It is a foundational worldview upon which Christian morality stands.
As Catholics, we are especially called to be prolife which, in essence, is to uphold the dignity of human life in every aspect of our life. We live in a culture that is very clever and logical about denying the fundamental Truth about the dignity of life. This is a fight that is not limited to politics, but it is one that begins and ends in the hearts of every human being.
The most dramatic impact of the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe is its unique revelation of the dignity of the human person.
The pregnant Mary shows us Christ at his most vulnerable and dependant, revealing the profound humanity of both Mary and Christ and how as human beings, we find meaning and truth in our lives through other people.
“For me, being pro-life is much more than picketing abortion clinics. It is choosing to be patient when young children kick up a fuss in public (including in church), it is checking in on an elderly neighbour, it is acknowledging the loss in a miscarriage, still-birth or abortion, it is cooking a meal for a family in mourning, it is organising a dance in the parish hall for couples, it is providing for women in crisis pregnancies, it is smiling at a young mother or father, it is fundraising for development projects locally and internationally…. Being pro-life is living a community life in love and in service to all members of it, born and unborn, young and old, big and small…”
Our Lady of Guadalupe also gives us the prime example of how we are to act as prolife Catholics. When Juan Diego disregarded her wishes, rather than expressing anger or frustration or condemning, scolding or admonishing him, the Virgin met him on the road and asked him “What’s going on? Where are you going?” She then proceeded to pour out her love and take care of his concerns.
Similarly, our job is not to condemn, but to meet people where they are and be the gentle, but firm voice and helping hand of truth and love.
“Financially, love costs us nothing, but gives a part of ourselves. If we recognise the face of Christ in the poor and disadvantaged, in the unborn, in the worried faces of mothers and fathers who… feel abandoned and betrayed, we realise that we have more to offer than advice.”– Carl Anderson
Our Lady of Guadalupe calls us to a deeper love for her Son and for each other. This is the essence of what it means to be pro-life beyond the politicking and picketing. In the season of Advent, as we joyfully anticipate the birth of Jesus, why not walk the journey with Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Marian apparition of unity, hope and life.
Authors: Kiara and Francine Pirola
Links and Resources:
- Movimento D’Amore San Juan Diego, ‘New and Astonishing Scientific Discoveries done by NASA on the Mantle of Holy Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe Revealing other Surprising Secrets’, www.conchiglia.net
- Carl Anderson, Our Lady of Guadalupe: Mother of the Civilisation of Love, Double Day, New York, 2009.
This article featured in the December 2012 edition of the CathFamily e-Magazine.