Saint Juan Diego and the Virgin of Guadalupe

Hernan Cortez conquered the Nahua (Aztec) empire in 1521, only 30 years after the Spaniards themselves accomplished the conquest of the territory that was to become Spain. Such conquest was a historic process nonetheless complicated that lasted a lit

During that process many Christian images became the emblems that kept warriors’ faith up and fighting, among them there was the Virgin of Guadalupe: the most important Marian advocacy in the Iberia peninsula during the Middle Ages. This virgin takes her name from Guadalupe River in Extremadura, a region in Spain from which many conquerors of Mexico came, including Hernan Cortez himself. Her image came to America as a persuasive element in the attempt of converting the conquered peoples, maybe because of some peculiarities in her iconography such as her brown skin.

However, religious traditions, supported in a tale written in Nahua language called “Nican Mopohua”, hold that the Virgin of Guadalupe actually appeared in many occasions in 1531 before a Nahua man named Juan Diego (a saint in the Catholic Church nowadays). It is said that aforesaid apparitions took place in the Tepeyac hill, north of Mexico City, a place that was already revered by Nahua people because it was the location of a sanctuary dedicated to goddess Tonantzin, mother earth in her most peaceful aspect.

Story has it that the Virgin and Juan Diego talked and she ordered him to go to Friar Juan de Zumarraga and ask him on her behalf to build a Catholic sanctuary consecrated to her. Juan Diego attempted to convince the friar in many occasions without success, so the Virgin told Juan Diego to go pick some roses (strangely found in such a rough and dry hill) in his poncho and take them to the friar as proof of the miracle.

Then, once before friar Juan de Zumarraga, Juan Diego stretched out his poncho and the roses rolled over the floor uncovering the holy image of Virgin Mary of Guadalupe, causing astonishment and immediate devotion in the people who witnessed the event. Right after that, Friar Juan de Zumarraga ordered the construction of the requested temple at the Tepeyac foothills, where Juan Diego said the Virgin of Guadalupe had talked to him the first time.

Whether the story is true or not is still in debate within the Catholic Church as well as among many secular scholars. What’s true is that the devotion to the Virgin of Guadalupe, or Tonantzin as many Mexicans continue to call her, in Mexico is just as important as that to Jesus Christ. It has even gone abroad in such extent that she is known as Empress of the Americas. Her day is celebrated every December 12th and it calls a massive pilgrimage of about 9 million people from everywhere. Once in her sanctuary premises, devotees dance and sing for many days.