Guadalupe Apparitions (of the Virgin Mary)
Guadalupe, Mexico, is the site of a claimed miraculous appearance
of the Virgin Mary in 1531 that has become part of
the folklore of Central and South America. According to the
popular account of the apparition, a young Aztec Indian
named Juan Diego was making his way to a Christian church
at Tlateloco to study his catechism on December 9, 1531. He
was a recent convert to Catholicism, and the church was a few
miles from his uncle’s home, where the boy lived following the
death of his parents.
While taking a shortcut over the hill of Tepeyac, he heard
his name called. He also heard music and the songs of birds.
He followed the sounds and was confronted by a beautiful Indian
girl about 19 years old, dressed in the robes the boy had seen
adorning saints in the church. She declared herself to be ‘‘the
eternal Virgin, holy Mother of the true God’’ and ‘‘merciful
Mother’’ of men. She told the boy to go to the bishop of Mexico,
the Spaniard Fray Juan de Zumarraga, and tell him that she
wished to have a church built on the hill of Tepeyac.
The boy made his way to the bishop’s palace about four
miles away and, after some difficulty with the guards, was eventually
admitted to the bishop’s study and told his story. Zumarraga
was sympathetic but not convinced. As the first Catholic
bishop of Mexico, he had heard many wild stories from converted
Indians. He said he would need time to think about it.
Juan returned to the hill somewhat crestfallen, where he saw
the Virgin and suggested that it would be better for some more
important person to convince the bishop. The Virgin told him
that he was the chosen one and directed him to visit the bishop
again the following day.
The next day the bishop listened carefully but said he would
need some proof before building a church. He directed the boy
to bring back an unmistakable sign of the genuineness of the
apparition. After the boy had gone he instructed two of his staff
to follow him and report back. After the boy had climbed the
hill at Tepeyac the observers lost sight of him. Annoyed at
being outwitted by a mere Indian boy, they returned to the
bishop and said that the boy was unreliable and should not be
believed. Meanwhile Juan had again seen the Virgin, who told
him to come back the following day and she would give him a
sign for the bishop.
When he returned home Juan found his uncle seriously ill
and at the point of death. He nursed him through the night,
and in the morning, finding no improvement, decided to fetch
a priest from the church at Tlateloco to administer the last
rites. Juan was worried that he had failed to keep the appointment
with the Virgin and took the longer lower road to Tlateloco
instead of the shortcut over the hill of Tepeyac. But the Virgin
appeared on the lower path and told him that there was no
need to worry about his uncle, who was now cured. Juan was to
go back to the top of the hill, where he would find many flowers
growing. He was to pick a bunch, wrap them in his cape, and
take them to the bishop. The Virgin stressed that the flowers
must be concealed and not shown to anyone else.
At the top of the hill the boy found some beautiful and fragrant
roses growing, out of season in the frosty weather. He
picked a bunch, wrapped them in his cloak, and made his way
to the bishop’s palace again, where the guards demanded to
know what he was carrying in his cape. They could smell the
flowers, but when they took hold of the cape and opened it, the
roses had become painted flowers on the inside of the cape.
They took the boy to the bishop and when Juan opened his
cape the fresh roses spilled out onto the floor. The bishop saw
that on the inside of the cape, where the painted flowers had
been, was now a portrait of the Virgin.
The bishop took the cape to his chapel, where he prayed
and thanked God and the Virgin for the miracle. The church
was built on the hill at Tepeyac. The miraculous cape survived
and more than four centuries later is still venerated in the cathedral
at Guadalupe. The Virgin became the patron saint of
The cape is made of woven grass, which normally has a lifespan
of about 30 years. In November 1921 it survived a gelignite
attack from a distance of eight feet. The nearby altar, large
crucifix, and candlesticks were damaged and every window in
the building blown out, but the image, behind a glass shield,
was untouched.
Aside from this relic there is no factual evidence to support
the legend. In 1532 Bishop de Zumarraga returned to Spain,
where he gave a detailed account of his life in Mexico, but there
is no record of any reference by him to Juan Diego and the miraculous
cape. The celebrated historian Fray Bernardino de
Sahagún was in Mexico at the time and described the Indians
and their religious beliefs, but did not report the case of Juan
Diego. The story first appeared in print in 1648—127 years
Gruagach Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
after the claimed miracle—in a booklet titled The Image of the
Virgin Mary, by Manuel Sánchez.
The Spanish soldier Bernal Diaz del Castillo, who traveled
with Cortez, wrote a book, Historia verdadera de la Conquista de
la Nueva-España (True History of the Conquest of New Spain,
ca. 1632), in which he reports that Mexican Indian painters
had been trained by a Franciscan father to copy sacred images
and paintings, and that their work compared with the best in
Italy and Spain. During the 1930s the Mexican artist Jorge
González Camarena was engaged to restore murals at the Hujotingo
Convent in Puebla. Hidden under layers of later paint
he uncovered a picture of the Virgin Mary that appeared identical
to that of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
Skeptics may claim that the story of Juan Diego is a pious
legend and that the image on the cape is typical of others of the
period by skilled Indian religious artists. However, the cloth
has been examined by historians, art experts, and scientists
from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and has not
been discredited. It is also of great interest that this early account
of apparitions of the Virgin Mary has features common
to other claimed apparitions even in modern times, such as
those at Fatima and Medjugorje a simple child is chosen to receive
the apparitions and messages rather than a sophisticated
adult; the messages are often at variance with the opinions of
the established ecclesiastical authorities; and a miraculous sign
is given to authenticate the visitation.
Although such apparitions are normally within the conventions
of the Catholic religion, it is interesting to note that when
the Spaniards first arrived at Tepeyac, there was an Aztec temple
on the hill honoring Tenotzin, virgin mother of the gods.
Each year, on a date equivalent to December 22, Indians came
from far and wide to honor this Aztec goddess just as modern
Mexicans assemble on December 12 to honor the Virgin of
Guadalupe. Every year, some ten million visitors go to see the
cape with the portrait of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Among famous
visitors were United States President John F. Kennedy
and President Charles de Gaulle of France.
Demarest, Donald, and Coley Taylor. The Dark Virgin The
Book of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Freeport, Maine Coley Taylor,
Johnston, Francis M. The Wonder of Guadalupe. Rockford,
Ill. TAN, 1981.
Smith, Jody Brant. The Image of Guadalupe Myth or Miracle
Garden City, N.Y. Doubleday, 1983. Reprinted as The Guadalupe
Enigma Myth or Miracle London Souvenir Press, 1983.
Watson, Simone. The Cult of Our Lady of Guadalupe A Historical
Study. Collegeville, Minn. Liturgical Press, 1964.