December 12th is the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the Catholic Church. This feast is one of the most celebrated religious days in Latin American culture as it remembers the appearance of the Virgin Mary in Mexico. The celebration begins on the night of the 11th and continues through the night and all day long on the 12th. At our church, the feast is marked with re-enactments of the apparition, displays of Aztec dance, serenades and homages to the Virgin Mary and of course, mass in Spanish and English.
The story of the Virgin of Guadalupe is unique in that is the only apparition where Our
Lady left a miraculous image of herself unmade by human hands. Second, it is the only universally venerated Madonna and Child image where Our Lady appears pregnant instead of holding the Infant Jesus.
Reproductions of the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe are on display for the feast in many Catholic Churches including the one I attend.
The story of Our Lady of Guadalupe
In the winter of 1531, a poor, 57-year-old Aztec Indian living five miles outside of Mexico City encountered a miraculous happening on his way to morning Mass. First he heard strange music coming from Tepeyac Hill, and then he heard a woman’s voice calling his name. Juan Diego climbed the hill and encountered a young woman, appearing to be of his own people in physical appearance and dress. The woman identified herself as the Virgin Mary, and told Juan Diego to ask the bishop of Mexico City to build a church on the hill to assist in the conversion of the nation and be a source of consolation to the people.
Juan Diego obeyed the request, but the bishop was skeptical regarding the message, even though he perceived that Juan was a humble, and well-meaning Catholic. Juan reported the bishop’s doubt to Our Lady at Tepeyac Hill, and she asked him to return to the bishop once again, bearing the same message. The bishop once again heard the story, and told Juan Diego to ask Our Lady for a sign that it was indeed herself that wished for the church to be built.
When he returned to the hill, Mary gave Juan Diego such a sign. Miraculously, roses appeared on the hill in the middle of winter, and Juan gathered them in his tilma, or cloak. Our Lady arranged the roses in his tilma with her own hands, and Juan returned to the bishop’s presence. When Juan released the tilma, allowing the flowers to fall to the floor, it was revealed that a miraculous image of Our Lady had imprinted itself on his tilma.
The bishop immediately fell to his knees, and came to believe in Juan Diego’s message. A church was built on the spot of the apparition, as Mary had requested, and 8 million people converted to Catholicism in a short period of time upon hearing of or viewing the miraculous image of Our Lady.
The tilma of Juan Diego has been the subject of much modern research. The tilma, woven out of coarse cactus fiber, should have disintegrated after 20 years, but although over 500 years have passed the tilma is still in perfect condition. The pupils of Mary in the picture reflect the Indians and clergy present at the time of the first revelation of the image. No paint was used, and chemical analysis has not been able to identify the color imprint. Additionally, studies have revealed that the stars on Mary’s mantle match exactly what a Mexican would have seen in the sky in December of 1531.
Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe
St Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church
Alpharetta, Georgia, USA
Vanguard Altra Pro 263 AT tripod
Tamron 16-300 Di II VC PZD Macro
100mm @ f/5.6 – 1/500 sec – ISO 800