In 1531 Our Lady appeared to a poor Aztec Indian named Juan Diego in Mexico. Her message was simple: “Dear little son, I love you. I want you to know who I am. I am the Ever-Virgin Mary, Mother of the true God who gives life and maintains it in existence. He created all things. He is in all places. He is lord of heaven and earth. I desire a church at this place where I will show my compassion to your people and to all people who sincerely ask my help in their work and in their sorrows. Here, I will see their tears; I will console them and they will be at ease. So run now to Tenochtitlan (Mexico City) and tell the Lord Bishop all that you have seen and heard.”
At the time of this great miracle, Juan Diego was a fairly recent convert to Catholicism. He was 57 years old and his one surviving relative was an uncle, Juan Bernardino. On his way to hear Mass, on Saturday, December 9, Juan Diego was stopped by a loud burst of bird song—something unheard of that time of year. It came from the hill of Tepeyac, where formerly there stood a temple to the mother-goddess of the Aztecs. When Juan Diego stopped he heard a woman urgently calling him from the top of the hill. She was a young Mexican girl about fourteen years old and wonderfully beautiful. Although the sun was not yet up she looked as if she was against the sun with golden beams that shown all around her person. She gave Juan Diego her message. Her request was a heavy task for such a humble man but Juan Diego twice traveled to Mexico City to give the bishop Our Lady’s message.
On the second visit, the bishop asked for a sign from Our Lady. Our Lady agreed to give a sign to the bishop and asked Juan Diego to come to the hill the next morning. However, when Juan Diego learned that his uncle was dying, he instead went to find a priest so his uncle could receive the last sacraments. Our Lady intercepted him on this journey and said to him, “My little son. Do not be distressed and afraid. Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Your uncle will not die at this time. This very moment his health is restored. There is no reason now for the errand you set out on, and you can peacefully attend to mine. Go up to the top of the hill; cut the flowers that are growing there and bring them to me.”
Juan Diego found Castilian roses on the frozen, desert hill and brought them to Our Lady. He gathered them in his tilma and Our Lady arranged them for him. She said, “You see, little son, this is the sign I am sending to the Bishop. Tell him that now he has his sign, he should build the church I desire in this place. Do not let anyone but him see what you are carrying. Hold both sides until you are in his presence and have already told him how I intercepted you on your way to fetch a priest to give the Last Sacraments to your uncle, how I assured you he was perfectly healed and sent you up to cut these roses, and myself arranged them like this. Remember, little son, that you are my trusted ambassador, and this time the Bishop will believe all that you tell him.”
Once he was before the bishop, Juan Diego told his story, then untied his tilma and all the roses fell to the ground revealing a portrait of the Blessed Virgin. Instantly the Bishop was kneeling before Juan Diego. There were many others in the room who also knelt before the image. What Juan Diego saw at the time of the first apparition was now imaged in glorious beauty on the front of his tilma.
Juan Diego afterwards visited his uncle, Juan Bernardino who explained to him that as he lay dying, a luminous young woman appeared to him and told him he would get well. She explained that she had intercepted his nephew and sent him to the Bishop with a picture of herself to be enshrined at Tepeyac. She further told him,“Call me and call my image Santa Maria de Guadalupe.” The translation was distinguishable for both Aztec and Spaniard. For the Indians, the translation meant Stone Serpent Troddenon which announced to the Aztec that Our Lady had supplanted Quetzalcoatl, the terrible god to whom countless men had been sacrificed. For the Spaniards, already there was an image of the Madonna and Child referred to as Guadalupe in Spain.
As a result of this apparition, over 8 million Aztec Indians converted to Catholicism in the following 7 years. Today the tilma is still intact, above the high altar in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the northern part of Mexico City. Modern scientists agree that in the Mexican climate this cloth would naturally have disintegrated beyond recognition within twenty years.
Source: “A Woman Clothed With the Sun” edited by John J. Delaney, 1961, Doubleday Image Book