In June, the Our Lady of Grace Mother's Group was truly blessed by Dennis Gaetano's presentation on Our Lady of Guadalupe. Dennis is the President and Tour Director for Twin Cities Pilgrims. Below is a summary of what we were able to learn from his informative and captivating presentation.
In the late 1400’s and early 1500’s, the Aztecs, living in Mexico worshiped a cruel and angry god whom they believe could be satisfied by periodic human sacrifice. In 1487, 80,000 people were sacrificed in 4 days when their new temple was dedicated. The sacrifices were done by pulling out the human heart while the victim was still alive and put into a cauldron to be eaten. 1
In 1521, lead by Cortez, the Spanish (conquistadores) won a landmark victory over the Aztecs. Montezuma lead the Aztecs. After this victory, 12 Franciscans came to evangelize in Mexico. Singing Eagle was baptized a Christian and took the Christian name Juan Diego. 1 & 2
On December 9th, 1531, walking to Mass at the Church of Santiago (St. James), something extraordinary happened to Juan Diego. As he approached the hill of Tepyac, Juan was visited by Mary, the Mother of God. She was dressed as glorious Aztec maiden. She spoke to Juan “Juan, I am Mary, the Mother of God. I have come to ask you to go to the bishop of Mexico. Tell him that I wish a church to be erected on this very spot.” Juan, falling to his knees responded, “Dear Lady, I promise… I will do as you have asked.” 1
Juan proceeded the many miles on foot to Bishop Juan de Zumarraga's home. The bishop was grateful for Juan’s story, and invited him back to share such stories with him in the future, then politely excused him. 1
On his way back from his visit with the bishop, he returned Tepyac hill where he met Our Lady again and explained that the bishop did not believe him. Juan implored our Lady to enlist somebody for this work; somebody who is perhaps more important than he. Our Lady responded “My son, you are the one I have chosen. Return tomorrow to the bishop. Repeat my request. I wish a church to be built on this very spot." Juan, reluctantly agreed to do so. 1
The next day, after Mass, he returned to see the bishop. Bishop Zumarraga listened, questioned Juan several times and then said to Juan, "ask Mary, the Queen of Heaven, to give you a sign so that I can know that you have truly seen her.” Juan, excitedly agreed to make this request of Our Lady. Juan promptly returned to Mary on Tepyac Hill and repeated the Bishop’s request. Mary replied “come back tomorrow at daybreak. I will give you a sign then. You have gone through so much trouble for me. I will reward you for it." 1
Rather than return to Tepyac hill as Our Lady requested, Juan found his uncle Juan Bernardino deathly ill and in need of a priest. He went to Tlaltelolco to call a priest. On his way, he tried to avoid the side of Tepyac Hill where Mary appeared to him and walked on the opposite side of the hill. Mary stepped down the slope and blocked his path. “Juan Diego, what is the matter? Where are you going?” she asked kindly. Juan confessed his dilemma. “Juan Diego, am I not your Mother?”. She affirmed Juan that his uncle at this very moment is well. She instructed him to climb the hill and he would find flowers growing on the frozen hill. To his amazement, he found beautiful, fragrant Castilian roses everywhere, in the middle of winter! Castilian roses are native to Spain and at the time could not be found in Mexico .3 Juan picked these beautiful roses and brought them back to Our Lady where she arranged them and Juan wrapped them in his Tilma to present to the Bishop. 1
When Juan was given an audience with the Bishop, there were servants in the room as well. When Juan revealed the roses to the bishop by dropping them from his tilma, the bishop fell to his knees; the servants did the same. Juan thought to himself, but why are they staring at me? Upon Juan Diego’s Tilma was found an image of Our Lady, dressed as a beautiful Aztec Maiden. The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. 1
The Image of Our Lady of GuadalupeBefore reading the symbolisms below it's important to understand that the tilma or ayate was made of rough maguey (a form of Cactus) fibers. Artists who were asked to investigate the image noted the supernatural character of the techniques and colors, thus confirming that Our Lady of Guadalupe's Image was put on Juan Diego's tilma by something or someone not of this world. 4
The Blessed Virgin Mary of Guadalupe spoke to the native Mexica Indians through her sacred image. She used symbols, colors and other significant details known to this indigenous culture in order to deliver the message she gave to Juan Diego - that she was the ever Virgin Mother of the true God and all mankind. Each aspect of Our Lady's miraculous image was easily understood by the natives. Thus, a huge number was baptized into the Catholic Faith marking the end of the Aztecs' barbaric rituals of human sacrifice to please their sun god who they believed gave them life. 4
SUN'S RAYS- The rays give the sacred image an aura of light. They appear as though they are emitted from her, based on the direction of the arrows - indicating that she's giving birth to the sun. Since the Aztecs worshipped the sun as the god that gives them life, the image portrays the Virgin Mary as giving birth to God. This is further reinforced by the four-petalled flower on Our Lady's womb as described below. 4
FOUR-PETALLED FLOWER- The Aztecs closely observed the movement of the sun, moon, and stars, and based their religious beliefs and way of life on these. This four-petalled flower is the only flower of its kind found on Our Lady's robe. It is considered to be one of the highest symbols of the Aztecs as it depicts the four movements of the sun united by a fifth element that gives balance and equilibrium. Its central location on the Image represents the motherhood of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This symbol tells the Aztecs that she is the mother of the 'sun child' that's in her womb - the author and giver of life. 4
HER FACE- Our Blessed Mother's face is bowed down, looking at everyone tenderly and with compassion. She is gazing slightly to one side as a sign of reverence and respect as native Indians considered it improper to look directly at anyone's face. The face of Our Lady is that of a young girl who is considered mestizo, meaning a blend of races - in this case, Aztec and Spanish. This was the term used by the Spaniards to identify the children of Spanish conquistadores and Aztec women. The portrayal of the Blessed Virgin Mary as mestizo symbolized the birth of a new race.
Further examination by a certain Dr Jose Aste Tonsman revealed 13 persons reflected in the corneas of her eyes. Magnified photos show the larger images as reflections of Juan Diego and Bishop Juan de Zumarraga. The rest could be images of those present when Juan Diego opened his tilma to show the Bishop the sign he had asked for. 4
HER HAIR- On the sacred image, our Blessed Mother's hair is loose, indicating that she's a maiden - married indigenous women braided their hair. 4
BLACK RIBBON- This signifies that she is a noblewoman with child - noble indigenous women tied a black ribbon just above their waist to show they were pregnant. This symbol, together with the symbolism of Our Lady's hair, portrays her message - 'I am the Always Holy VIRGIN Mary, MOTHER of the true God. 4
HER HANDS- Her hands are joined together in prayer, just as Europeans do, confirming her request that the Bishop build a chapel on Tepeyac Hill where she appeared. The Blessed Virgin's hands show her right hand as being more delicate and lighter in color than the left which is fuller and darker - depicting her message for unity of the Indian and Spanish cultures and the birth of a new race. 4
THE BROOCH ON HER NECK- The indigenous people had idols with a jade oval which they believed gave life. In Nahuatl, the central position and the shape of this brooch with a cross signifies how important Christ is to Our Lady. This brooch also portrays the joining of two cultures, the Spanish - symbolized by the cross (the symbol of Christianity) and the Indians, represented by the joint symbolism of the oval shape and the four-petalled flower on her womb, as explained above. 4
HER TUNIC- Our Blessed Mother's tunic is pink with shades of crimson, representing the earth. It is covered with nine types of golden flowers representing the nine tribes from Atzlan that made up Tenochtitlan.At the bottom of her tunic, the edge is trimmed in gold similar to her mantle. The pointed ends of the tunic and the mantle are being held by an angel on each hand, symbolizing the union of heaven and earth.
HER MANTLE- Her beautiful turquoise mantle covers her whole body from her head down to her feet and is edged in gold. The indigenous people considered her an Empress since only their Emperor wore this color. Her mantle is covered with 46 stars which are the stars of the exact constellation on December 12th 1531. 4
FLOWERS- Among others also present are eight flowers with eight petals apparently representing the alignment of the Sun and Venus, the Morning Star. Their calculation of the number of solar years vis-a-vis the Venusian years coincided with the apparition of the Holy Virgin Mary of Guadalupe. To the natives the 12th of December 1531 marked the beginning of a new era for man and the universe under a new sun.4
THE CRESCENT- Our Lady rests her feet on a new moon crescent - a symbol that depicts her Immaculate Conception, a Catholic dogma that the Blessed Virgin Mary was conceived without the stain of original sin which everyone else is born with. Through the Sacrament of Baptism into the Catholic faith one is freed from this sin and becomes a child of God through sanctifying grace. God preserved her from this sin and filled her with sanctifying grace - very fitting for someone who is the vessel that brought forth Jesus, the Son of God into our world.
There is another symbolism for this section of the miraculous Image - it appears that she's stepping on the moon with her left knee bent. To the natives, this movement shows them that the Blessed Virgin is dancing and clapping her hands to the rhythm of the maracas, their musical instrument - this was how the Aztecs prayed. 4
THE ANGEL- The angel under Our Lady's feet looks like a native Indian, with its dark complexion. Its representation is not of a child, but that of a young Eagle warrior belonging to the Aztec army known as soldiers of the Sun. He holds Our Lady up signifying that she is above the Angels being the Mother of God.4
The basic image could not have been painted by human hand. As early as the 18th century, scientists showed that it was impossible to paint such an image in a fabric of that texture. The "ayate" fibers used by the Indians, in fact, deteriorate after 20 years. Yet, the image and the fabric on which it is imprinted have lasted nearly 480 years.
In 1979, Americans Philip Callahan and Jody B. Smith studied the image with infrared rays and discovered to their surprise that there was no trace of paint and that the fabric had not been treated with any kind of technique.
The image also changes in color slightly according to the angle of viewing, a phenomenon known as iridescence, a technique that cannot be reproduced with human hands. Magnifications of the iris of the Virgin's eyes 2,500 times and, through mathematical and optical procedures, scientists were able to identify all the people imprinted in the eyes.
In summary, the Virgin's eyes bear a kind of instant picture of what occurred at the moment the image was unveiled in front of the bishop. Moreover, in the center of the pupils, on a much more reduced scale, another scene can be perceived, independent of the first. It is that of an Indian family made up of a woman, a man and several children. In the right eye, other people who are standing appear behind the woman. It is believed to be a message kept hidden until modern technology was able to discover it just when it is needed. "This could be the case of the picture of the family in the center of the Virgin's eye," the scientist said, "at a time when the family is under serious attack in our modern world." 4
Sources1. Journeys with Mary, by Zerlina De Santis, Daughters of St. Paul, 20012. http://www.thenagain.info/WebChron/Americas/Cortes.CP.html, Edited by: Sara Bussema, Researched by: Erika Witowski
Written by: Turid Tangen, February 27, 1997
3. http://chuck.hubpages.com/hub/St-Juan-Diego-Cuauhtlatoatzin, by Chuck
4. Dennis Gaetano, President - Tour Director, Twin City Pilgrims