In February 1519, Hernán Cortéz, a Spanish General, landed in Aztec Mexico with a contingent of armed men. By August 1521, with the help of native allies, he had conquered the country.
Putting an end to the horrific practice of extensive human sacrifice to satanic idols, he sent for Spanish missionaries to begin the work of evangelizing Mexico. Coming up against many obstacles, the work was arduous, and progress slow. The fact that some Spaniards suppressed the locals did not help. As a revolt brewed, the saintly Don Juan de Zumárraga, first bishop of Mexico, appealed to heaven for help.
On 9 December 1531, one of Mexico’s first converts to Christianity, a middle-aged Mexican named Juan Diego, was making his customary trip into Mexico City to attend Holy Mass. As he passed a hill called Tepeyac, he heard music, then a sweet voice that called his name, “Juan, Juan Dieguito…”
Following the sound of the voice calling to him, he climbed the hill and came face to face with a beautiful lady in an aura of light who said she was “the ever Virgin, Mother of the true God.” Speaking in the local dialect, Nahuatl, she asked him to convey to the bishop that she wished a church to be erected on the spot where she stood.
Juan Diego obeyed but Bishop Zumárraga did not believe him. Two more times the lady appeared with the same request, and, finally, the prelate asked for a sign as a proof of the apparition’s authenticity.
On relating the bishop’s request, the Blessed Virgin bid Juan Diego climb to the top of the hill, and gather the flowers he would find there. Doing so, the good man was amazed at seeing an abundance of Spanish Castilian roses, unseasonal in December and foreign to Mexico.
Gathering the blooms in his tilma (a whitish cape of cactus fibre), he returned to the lady who re-arranged them with her own hands.
When Juan released the flowers before the bishop and his retinue, a brilliant image of the Blessed Virgin appeared on his tilma before the astonished eyes of all. On his knees, Bishop Zumárraga contemplated the wonder, greatly moved at the sight of the Castilian Roses, the sign for which he had secretly asked.
In an apparition where Our Lady healed Juan Diego’s dying uncle, she referred to herself as, “she who crushes the serpent.” In the dialect of the time this was translated as “Coatlaxopeuh”, interpreted as “Guadalupe.” Though there are other interpretations, the latter seems most plausible as the cult of “Quetzalcoatl”, the “Serpent-god” was prominent in pre-Christian Mexico.
As news of the stupendous miracle spread, so did the Catholic Faith. As the natives flocked to Juan Diego’s tilma with their sorrows and joys, plaints and petitions, Mary’s silent sweetness, love and purity effectively won over the hearts of the Mexican people.
To them, she was – and is to this day – “their queen”, La Guadalupana.
Not only had the exalted lady appeared to one of them, but she had also adopted their own ruddy semblance, conveying to them that she was queen by wearing the Aztec royal turquoise, yet not divine as her head was bowed. That she was of the faith of the Spaniards they knew by the small black cross at her neck, the same as on Cortéz’ soldiers’ helmets.
So, once more, led by the Mother, all of Mexico came to the Son. In a few years, nine million accepted Baptism.
The sacred tilma is venerated to this day in the shrine built on the site of Tepeyac in Mexico City. The icon has miraculously defied the test of time, as the natural fibres of the cloak normally last twenty years. Not only are image and cloth intact, but other inexplicable facts continue to astonish science.