For many, Our Lady of Guadalupe is thought to be an aspect of Mary, the mother of Christ. She is said to have first appeared to Mexican Indian Juan Diego on December 9, 1531 and appeared four times over a period of four consecutive days. Her visits with Juan Diego took place on the hill of Tepeyac near Mexico City, Mexico.
Juan Diego, known as Juanito to his family, was walking from his village to the city when he first saw La Virgen Morena (the brown skinned virgin). She requested that Juan Diego ask Spanish Bishop John to build a church in her name.
Being a Mexican Indian, fifty-seven-year old Juan Diego did not have great deal of pull with the Spanish run Catholic Church. Guadalupe appeared to him four times and four times he appealed to the Bishop.
On his forth visit with Bishop John, Juan Diego brought Castilian roses that Our Lady had arranged for him in his tilma, a multi-purposed cloth wrap that is often used by Indians to carry food or children and perhaps to keep the beholder warm. The Spanish roses are indigenous to Spain, not Mexico, and in addition were believed not to grow in wintertime. The roses were to signify a miracle to Bishop John in order to prove Juan Diego was telling the truth. Juan Diego unwrapped his tilma of roses in front of Bishop John only to discover that there was a perfect image of Our Lady of Guadalupe on his garment. This iconic picture has been photographed and can be found in the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City, Mexico.
The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe seems to represent the very essence of unconditional love. For many of us, Our Lady represents the divine unconditional mother.
When we study this iconic picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe, we might wonder about the relationship of this aspect of the Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus, to the indigenous Mexican goddess and lunar deity Tonantzin. Certainly, native imagery is represented in this iconography. Moreover, it is theorized that Our Lady may have used the Aztec Nahuatl word coatlaxopeuh (pronounced quatlasupe), which sounds like the Spanish word Guadalupe. In any case, the integration and inclusion of different cultural and religious references for the divine feminine invites us to see ourselves in her representation.
Last year on December 12, as part of my so far unending quest to learn Spanish, I watched the news in Spanish. I saw thousands of religious penitents traveling from all over Mexico and presumably the world, making a pilgrimage to Mexico City’s seventeenth century Basilica of Guadalupe, which is just one of many churches built in the valley where Juan Diego experienced the apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Perhaps this annual ritual is a touching and heartfelt demonstration of the longing to embrace the divine feminine.
Yesterday, I was driving my son to school and was stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic. There was heavy construction and I was concerned we would be late. The level of frustration of those around me felt palpable. I look over at an adjacent car only to see a large decal image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. In the temporal world, where much of our emotional atmosphere can be aggressive and hostile, this image of Guadalupe as humble, patient, serene, and gentle, certainly stood in contrast to the building road rage of those around me.
On closer inspection, Guadalupe’s eyes are cast downward in humility. In her famous image, Our Lady of Guadalupe has been depicted as standing on a half moon, which archetypically represents the feminine. Her hands are clasped and beneath them is a cross, representing the four directions often utilized by First Nation tribes. Much of the symbolism represented by her clothing and surrounding imagery is archetypal symbolism that encompasses Judaic, Christian, Spanish, and Indigenous representations.
We are often tempted to see ourselves as separate from others. When we believe in separation, we invite fear, hostility, and perhaps ultimately, aggression. Remembering the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12 may offer us an opportunity to appreciate her unifying image and to answer the call to allow the gentle feminine principle into our lives, whether we are male or female. She is said to have told Juan Diego in one of her visits, “Expect miracles and you will find them.”
The Story of Our Lady of Guadalupe: Three People, Four Days, and Many Miracles, by J. Janda.