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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Juan Diego

(Detail of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe on
the cactus mantle or tilma)

Today is the feast day of Nuestra Seňora de Guadalupe (Our Lady of Guadalupe), the patron of Central and South America.

This feast commemorates the apparition of Mary to an Aztec man called Cuauhtlatoatzin or Juan Diego, his Christian name. It happened on the hill of Tepeyac, just north of where Mexico City is now located, in 1531, a mere twelve years after the landing of the Spanish
Conquistador Hernán Cortés.

On December 9, Juan Diego was on his way to Mass when he heard birds singing and then the voice of a beautiful woman calling out to him in Nahuatl, the Aztec language. She instructed him to go to the local bishop and ask him to build a church on that spot, which was the cult-site of the Aztec mother-goddess Tonantzin. Juan Diego hurried to the bishop, who did not believe him.

Mary appeared once again and gave him some fragrant roses (even though it was the middle of winter) to take to the bishop. Juan Diego carried the flowers in his cactus cloak or
tilma. As he presented them to the bishop, the roses fell to the ground and the open tilma revealed a portrait of Mary — dark-skinned, unlike the images of her that were brought from Spain.

The earliest account of this event was recorded by Antonio Valerian, an Indian scholar who knew the men involved. The manuscript, entitled
Nican Mopohua or “Here is told,” was written in the years between 1548 and 1560, in Nahuatl.

The tilma is kept on display in the Basilica that was built later on the original Tepeyac site. Made of cactus fiber, the cloak would normally have lasted no more than twenty years, especially in the country’s heat and humidity. It is still intact, however, almost five centuries later.

The shrine is Mexico’s most famous place of pilgrimage, attracting millions of visitors every year.


An Indian’s brown cheek curved to a dusky rose,
Once long ago upon Tepeyac’s barren hill
When winter roses bloomed
And roses were mere roses in the glowing laughter of the lady’s smile.
“My little son, I love you.” So all Tepeyac’s holy hill
Now sang an Indian lullaby of roses and wild birds.

~ Anne Quinn, American poet

1 comment:

Rubi said...

. . .Guadalupe.. somehow the story is always fresh and always has me thinking thinking, reflecting. . . Flor y Canto: Guadalupe uses the poetic to create. . ..Love your blog!