Her image is one of the most famous in the world, all the more so for being miraculously created!
The story of Our Lady of Guadalupe is a tale of motherly love, affection, and care for even the most humble of her children. Appearing four times to St. Juan Diego in 1531 near what is now Mexico City, the Blessed Mother asked that a church be built on that site, and miraculously healed his uncle Juan Bernardino who was dangerously ill.
The climax of the story comes with the revelation of the Castilian Roses to the bishop, and the appearance of the Blessed Mother’s image upon the tilma of Juan Diego. An incredible relic that remains whole to this day, it remains one of the most visited pilgrimage sites in the world.
Despite being one of the most recognizable images on the planet, the symbolism of the image goes much deeper than meets the eye. In fact, the advancements of modern science allows experts to study the image in incredibly specialized ways.
Keep reading to discover the symbolism contained in the image, and the stunning implications of the advanced scientific studies.
Before we even get to the image, the condition of the tilma is a miracle of itself. A type of cloak commonly worn by South American natives at the time, it was woven of agave fabric, meaning it should have naturally deteriorated within a few decades of being created…more than four centuries ago.
Yet, the tilma remains seemingly untouched by the passage of time, with the threads showing no signs of decay.
Even malicious attacks on the tilma have proven fruitless.
In 1921, during a buildup of anti-Christian sentiment in Mexico, a bomb attack destroyed the marble steps, blasted windows throughout the basilica, and famously bent the altar crucifix backwards into a dramatic angle (now known as “Santo Cristo del Atentado”).
Miraculously, the tilma itself was unharmed! Because Jesus, like a good son, protects His Mother!
Our Lady’s Clothing
The imagery on the tilma represents the triumph of Christ, and Our Lady’s call for love and unity between the New World and the Old, as the two civilizations began to coexist with each other.
The image contains several references to the heathen gods of the Aztec religion, and how Our Lady supersedes them. The rays behind her, an iconic feature of the image, actually represent the Aztec sun god, whom Our Lady eclipses by appearing in front of them.
The moon below the Virgin’s feet represents the Aztec moon god of life and fertility, whom Our Lady has defeated, and also references Revelation 12:1 which describes the woman with “the moon under her feet.”
One of the main features of the Aztec religion was their horrific practice of human sacrifice; according to their mythology, these bloody offerings were carried by an eagle to their pagan gods. In the famous image, the angel who bears Our Lady features eagle wings, meaning that he carries the ultimate Victim, Jesus, Who made of Himself a loving sacrifice for our redemption.
Then, there is the appearance of Our Lady herself. The colors of her hands appear to be different, with her left hand a slightly darker shade than her right. This would seem to refer to the two races of Spanish and Mexican, and their position joined in prayer symbolizes Our Lady’s desire that peoples of all races join together in worship of the One True God.
She wears her hair loose beneath her mantle, a sign of virginity in Aztec culture. Combined with the black girdle which symbolizes her pregnancy, this speaks to the dual miracle of the Incarnation and Mary’s perpetual virginity.
As impressive as this symbolism is, one of the most fascinating aspects of the image went completely undiscovered for hundreds of years, until modern technology made detailed study possible.
Keep reading to discover the incredible details!
Our Lady’s Eyes
When experts examined Our Lady’s eyes with satellite imaging, they discovered several human figures reflected in them, sized differently in each eye, exactly how they would appear in human corneas.
They include three Indians, an elderly bishop, a dark-skinned woman, and a bearded Spaniard.
A random assortment of people? Far from it.
They match the profiles and nationalities of the seven people who are believed to have been present when Juan Diego unfurled his tilma and the image was seen for the first time.
What does this mean? That the eyes of Our Lady were on the people gathered in that room, and the miraculous image captured her gaze when imprinted upon the tilma.
But that’s not all!
A total of 5 other figures are present in the center of her pupils, which appear to be a father, mother, child, and two grandparents. This represents Our Lady’s love for families, and her message to society not to abandon the beauty and strength of the family.
This is a main reason why Our Lady of Guadalupe is the patroness of the pro-life movement.
What’s most remarkable is the fact that it would have been impossible to see these figures 470 years ago. The breathtaking details are only visible using modern imaging and technology, meaning that Our Lord placed these aspects of the image knowing that they would be indiscernible for centuries. This speaks to the omniscience and love of Christ, who placed these symbols in His Mother’s miraculous image as reminders of their love and protection.
The Apparition’s Effect
The historical context of the apparitions, and their effect on the flow of history, cannot be overstated. At the time of the apparitions in 1531, the overthrow of the Aztec empire by Hernan Cortes had occurred a mere decade before, with Christopher Columbus having landed in Cuba only 29 years before that.
The world was changing, and it was changing fast, but European presence in the New World was relatively new. Though it’s undeniable that many Europeans ventured to the New World with dreams of gold, riches and power, the desire to evangelize and bring the natives to Christ drove countless missionaries to undertake the dangerous voyage across the Atlantic.
Thus, it was in the midst of this global collision between the Old World and the New that Our Lady made her appearance…not in Europe, the heart of Christendom, but in Mexico, a land dominated by brutal paganism and fearful allegiance to vengeful gods.
To these terrorized people who lived and worshipped in fear, the Blessed Mother arrived as a beacon of light and motherly care, representing a Savior Who, rather than exacting revenge on His followers for their misdeeds, sacrificed Himself so that they could live in joyful union with Him. The Blessed Mother appeared in clothes like theirs, with hair and features that resembled their own, and bearing symbols that were familiar to them and represented the dominance of her Divine Son over their false deities.
What happened in the years following demonstrates that this message struck a powerful chord in native American hearts.
Within 10-15 years after the apparitions, it is reported that 9 million natives had been baptized. Though there was, and remains, much work to be done to bring the Gospel to every corner of the New World, Our Lady of Guadalupe served as the primary catalyst for the introduction of Christianity to the Americas, and so she is honored as their patroness.
A Lasting Reminder of Motherly Love
The stunning imagery of the miraculous image, the touching tale of her apparitions, and the impact of her message on Western Civilization, all remind us that Our Lady is not only the Mother of Christ; she is the Mother of all, as she gently urged Juan Diego not to fear for his uncle’s health by reminding him “Am I not here, who am your Mother?”
Celebrate this beautiful devotion to Our Lady with the help of Our Lady of Guadalupe Mexican Mocha Coffee, which features a hot chocolate flavor as sweet and warm as a mother’s embrace.
May we all turn to Our Lady with trust and love, reassured by her promise that she will lead us to peace in Her Son.
St. Juan Diego, pray for us!
Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us!