On Saturday, December 9, 1531, while on his way for religious instruction, Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, an Indian and recent convert to Christianity, heard singing coming from the top of Tepeyac hill. Suddenly, the singing stopped, and a woman’s voice called out to him: “Juantzin, Juan Diegotzin.” Ascending the hill, Juan Diego found himself before a beautiful woman adorned in clothing that “shone like the sun.” The woman introduced herself as “the immaculate Mother of God” and explained the reason for her appearance: she came to request a church to be built there, and she wanted Juan Diego to take her request to the head of the Church in Mexico, Bishop Juan de Zumárraga. The task would not be easy. Like many New World missionaries, Friar Zumárraga was suspicious of supposed visionaries, fearing it was indigenous idolatry. Skeptical of Juan Diego and the Virgin’s message, the bishop sent him away, but promised to listen again at a later time..
Dejected, Juan Diego returned to the Virgin and begged her to send someone more esteemed than himself. The Virgin listened tenderly but responded firmly, insisting that Juan Diego be her messenger. The following day (December 10th), Juan Diego returned to the bishop and recounted the many details of the apparition. This time, the bishop requested that Juan Diego return with evidence of the miraculous appearance. To be sure Juan Diego was being honest, the bishop sent two men to follow Juan Diego. But after trailing him for some time, the men lost sight of him, and told the bishop that Juan Diego was a fraud deserving punishment. Meanwhile, Juan Diego arrived at Tepeyac hill and told the Virgin of the bishop’s request; she in turn asked Juan Diego to come back the following day, when she would give him the requested sign for the bishop.
Returning home, Juan Diego was met with sad news: his uncle Juan Bernardino had become deathly ill. Instead of going to Tepeyac hill, the next day (December 11th) Juan Diego found a doctor, but nothing could be done. So on Monday, December 12, Juan Diego put on his tilma (cloak) for warmth and went to find a priest. Hoping to avoid any delays, he took a different path so as to avoid the Virgin. But as he neared Tepeyac, she descended from the hill, asking what was wrong. She then reassured the sorrowful Juan Diego by declaring her motherhood and promising that his uncle was already healed. Hearing this, Juan Diego asked for the sign for the bishop, and went to the hilltop as she instructed him. There – in this barren, wintery spot – he found a garden of sweet-smelling flowers; he picked the flowers and brought them back down to the Virgin, who arranged them in his tilma. Juan Diego then set out for the bishop’s house.
When Juan Diego arrived, the servants refused him entry, but eventually let him enter when they could not take the flowers from his tilma. Before the bishop, Juan Diego recounted the Virgin’s words and the miracle of the flowers. When Juan Diego opened his tilma and flowers fell out, an even greater miracle was revealed: on the tilma’s surface was the Virgin’s image. The bishop and those in the room fell to their knees, admiring and praying, and the bishop asked to be shown the place for the Virgin’s church. With his mission fulfilled, Juan Diego returned home to find his uncle completely healed, just as the Virgin had promised. Even more, the Virgin had appeared to Juan Bernardino, too, and had told him her name: “the Perfect Virgin Holy Mary of Guadalupe.” Two weeks later, the day after Christmas, her chapel was completed, and the tilma with its image was placed above the altar.
But that was just the beginning of the story. In the centuries since her apparition, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Empress of the Americas has continued to transform lives. Her message and her image have been celebrated, venerated, studied, and passed on throughout the world.Read the Nican Mopohua – the oldest surviving account of the apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe.