Number 1 on my list of the Top Ten Apparitions of the Virgin Mary has to be Mexico’s Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Guadalupe is the rock star of Virgin Mary apparitions. Her image can be found on everything from shoes and t-shirts to pancake griddles. The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City is either the most visited, or the second most visited Catholic shrine in the world, depending on what source you check. She even has a her own hit television show on the Spanish-language channel Univision, called, ‘La Rosa de Guadalupe.’
Each week, Our Lady of Guadalupe saves one unfortunate person from his or her terrible fate be it un-wed motherhood or a fatal illness. Mexico’s biggest stars take turns guest starring on Our Lady’s T.V. show. Not to be outdone, Mexico’s hottest pop, mariachi and ranchera music stars stage concerts to Our Lady in her basilica. You can see a video of the hottest teen group in Mexico, RBD, singing to Our Lady of Guadalupe at her shrine below. The same concert was attended by Mexican superstars Victoria Ruffo and Daniela Romo.
Youtube Video of RBD kids singing to the Virgin of Guadalupe
The oldest known text referring to the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe (although she is never called, ‘Guadalupe’ in this text) is called the ‘Nican Mopohua’ and it was discovered in the sanctuary of Guadalupe in 1649. Most of what we know about Our Lady of Guadalupe comes from this text, written in the native language of the Aztecs. The time period and author of this work are unknown . One theory about how the Lady later came to be called ‘Guadalupe’ claims that the she was named after the Spanish Virgin of Guadalupe, but many scholars think that Guadalupe is actually mis-hearing of the name of the Aztec goddess, Tequantlaxopueh pronounced teh-keht-uh-LO-peh. The name means ‘the one who triumphs over the rule of the serpent.’
You can find out more about the Nican Mopohua here:
Our Lady of Guadalupe is said to have appeared to Saint Juan Diego on the hill of Tepeyac near Mexico City between December 9 and December 12, 1531. Juan Diego, was an Aztec Indian, and the hill of Tepeyac was the most sacred place in the Aztec religion. It was home to the goddess Tonantzin. This was not the name of the goddess but, rather, one of her many titles meaning, ‘our mother.’ The apparition asked Juan Diego to go to the palace of the Catholic Bishop Zumarraga and ask for a chapel, dedicated to her, to be built on the spot of her apparition. Juan Diego agreed to go to the bishop, even as he realized that there was no way the bishop was going to take his word for what had happened. Sure enough, he waited for hours to speak with the bishop, only to find out that his story is not believed.
Juan Diego goes home feeling defeated, but the Lady is there waiting for him on the hill again. Again she asks him to go and tell the bishop to build her a chapel, and again poor Juan Diego goes to speak with the bishop. This time Bishop Zumarraga asks for a sign from the Lady so that he may believe Juan Diego’s story. Once again Juan Diego returns home but this time he is very concerned about his Uncle, who is dying from an unspecified disease. Juan is hoping to avoid the Lady on the hill for a day or two so that he may be with his Uncle in his last hours. He takes a different route to town but the Lady finds him and appears to him anyway. She tells him not to worry, that his Uncle is already cured. Then she asks him to climb her hill and and take off his cloak and fill it with the flowers he finds there. Juan Diego obeys and is shocked to find flowers, Castilian roses no less, on the top of the sandy hill where nothing has been known to grow before. The flowers are beautiful and very fragrant. He fills his ’tilma’ with the flowers as instructed.
The tilma is a large piece of cactus cloth that is wrapped around like a poncho. Juan Diego runs to the palace of the bishop and, when he unwraps the tilma to allow the flowers to fall out, there, printed on the rough, cactus fiber of the tilma is the exact image of the Lady from Tepeyac herself. The tilma of Juan Diego, with the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, is still on display in her basilica in Mexico City today.
In his wonderful book, The Road to Guadalupe, Eryk Hanut says, ‘The controversy about the apparitions of Tepeyac began almost immediately. News of them spread like wildfire. Hundreds of thousands of Aztecs, believing their Tonantzin had returned, converted to the new religion. Father Toribo’s Indian History estimates that, in the ten years following the events, some nine million Indians became Catholics.’
I can’t recommend The Road to Guadalupe highly enough. You can find it here :
Scholars are in disagreement about the meaning of the Guadalupe story. Some feel that Juan Diego did not exist and that the Catholic Church or, perhaps a Catholic priest, invented the story as well as the miraculous tilma. The obvious motive would be to convert the native, Mexican population to Christianity by associating Christian figures of reverence with those of the native Aztecs.
Linda A Curcio-Nagy says in her ‘Faith and Morals in Colonial Mexico’ (in The Oxford History of Mexico,) ‘The missionaries taught Christianity in terms of what was already familiar to the indigenous people. In other words, the friars not only allowed but also purposely encouraged the correlating of native deities, symbols, and rituals with their European counterparts.’
And, in their book, ‘Under the Heel of Mary,’ Nicholas Perry and Loreto Echeverria state, ‘The paucity of references to Mary in the New Testament was compensated for early on by poetical, liturgical and icongraphic developments fed by apparitions, miracles, legends and the transmutation of pagan myths. Underlying nascent Marianism was a theocratic order based on a sacercodotal (ie: priestly) caste owning vast lands and controlling an intricate ritual without which there was no salvation.’
Our Lady of Guadalupe has continued to be a politically controversial figure. During the Mexican War of Independence, the armies of Father Miguel Hidalgo, Emiliano Zapata and Subcomandante Marcos marched with flags bearing the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Father Miguel Hidalgo’s rallying cry to the people to rebel was, ‘Death to the Gauchupines! Long live the Virgin of Guadalupe!’
In the last few years, I have seen Guadalupe’s image and name used to bolster the argument for humane reform of the U.S. immigration policy dealing with Mexico.
In Aztec mythology, the goddess Coatlecue, mother of the moon and stars, is impregnated by the feather of a magical bird while she slept. The moon, jealous of her soon-to-be-born sibling, plots with her sisters, the stars, to kill her mother before the birth. The magical bird warns the fetus, which bursts out from his mother and becomes the sun. As part of his sister’s punishment, the sun decrees that she can only be in her full form a couple of days per month. The rest of the time she is only a piece of her former self. This story contains the supernatural female goddess, her magical impregnation (feather / holy spirit) and the sun (son?) chasing away the night (moon and stars.)
As we have seen from our examination of Caridad del Cobre, this linking of ‘pagan’ and Christian objects of worship sometimes backfires and there arises a worship of something that is not quite the Virgin Mary nor the pagan goddess whom she replaced, but a mixture of the two. This is what I believe Our Lady of Guadalupe to be. I don’t doubt that the Mexican people no longer view her as Aztec, but I do think that they connect with her as far more than just the mother of Jesus. She clearly has her own powers. She does not, as some of the Virgin apparitions do, warn of God’s or her son’s wrath and vengeance if the people don’t repent. She does not offer to intercede on the behalf of sinners to soften up God or Jesus and cause them to show mercy to humankind. She says that she wants to comfort and care for the people. She asks for the shrine to be built and she performs a miracle to see to it that her wishes are fulfilled. This, also, is in keeping with the Aztec religion which taught that women and men should share power in equal parts so as to maintain the balance of the Universe.
Here it is then, the real question that I have after studying all of these apparitions of the Virgin Mary; isn’t she really something more than Jesus for many of us? She seems to be more involved in our lives on a personal level. She continues to appear to us and perform miracles for us. Jesus has been out of touch with us for almost 2,000 years. The Virgin Mary appears, looking like a member of any of ethnic group she wants to, and she can always speak the local language. She prefers to appear to the poor and weak. While Jesus miraculously appeared to his twelve disciples after his death, Mary has appeared to millions of people. Not all of us care if she was, or is, a virgin. We don’t care whether she is a goddess or the mother of a god or both. She can be whomever she wants to be as long as she is still ours. I know that I am not alone in this sentiment.
In, ‘The Virgin’s Slip Is Full of Fireflies: The Multiform Struggle over the Virgin Mary’s Legitimierende Macht in Latin America and Its U.S. Diasporic Communities’, Terry Rey states, …Hence the Virgin’s eclipse of God, the Father, and His Son in popular Catholic spirituality represents something of a timeless, universal act of resistance to the misogyny of orthodox Catholic theology and its limitation of sacramental power and Divinity to the male, the celibate male, at that.’
You can find a link to that work on this web page:
Pope Pius XII declared Our Lady of Guadalupe ‘the Patroness of the Americas’ in 1946.
Pope John Paul II visited and kneeled before Our Lady of Guadalupe and called her the ‘Star of Evangelization’ in 1979.
Juan Diego was made a saint by Pope John Paul II in the Basilica of Guadalupe in July of 2002.
A piece of the tilma went on a 20 city tour in the U.S. in May of 2003 before being housed in the Cathedra of Los Angeles.
Our Lady of Guadalupe’s trajectory as a superstar apparition of the Virgin Mary is still on the rise. I bought the bar of soap pictured below at Ile Awore in Miami.