Ten Amazing Facts About the Miraculous Image of Our Lady of Guadalupe
In honor of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, [December 12th] here are
ten amazing facts about the image of Our Lady as seen on Saint Juan Diego's
tilma that defy scientific explanation and argue in favor of its
miraculous origin and divine provenance. Mary’s message of faith still
speaks to us, 485 years later.
Our Lady of Guadalupe first appeared on December 9th, 1531. According to
the account, the Virgin Mary told Juan Diego, an Indian convert, to
tell Bishop Juan de Zumárraga to build a chapel. Bishop Zumárraga asked
Diego for a sign as proof that it was truly the Mother of God. Our Lady
instructed Diego to gather some roses in his tilma [popular piety
attests that Mary arranged the roses in the tilma herself] and present
them to the bishop. As Diego did this, the roses fell to the floor,
revealing the miraculous image of Mary as she appeared in real life.
1. There is no under-sketch or under-drawing on the image.
Infrared photography has demonstrated that there is no sketching on the
image whatsoever. Dr. Philip Callahan, a research biophysicist from the
University of Florida explains: "It is inconceivable that an artist in
the 16th Century would paint a portrait without first doing a drawing on
it." Making an under-sketch prior to painting a portrait goes back to
antiquity. Such an exquisite depiction on textile made from cactus fiber
is inexplicable given the lack of sketching.
2. The image has lasted and shows no signs of deterioration.
Juan Diego's tilma is made of a rough cactus fiber which normally
disintegrates in 15 to 30 years. Yet, the image of Guadalupe has
remained intact for 484 years without fading or cracking. Moreover, it
was subjected to candle smoke for many years, which should have
accelerated the process of deterioration.
In 1778, a worker accidentally spilled strong nitric acid onto a large
portion of the image. To everyone's astonishment, only slight stains
appeared which can still be seen in the upper right side. Additionally,
in 1921 a bomb concealed in some flowers was placed on the altar
directly under the image. When the bomb detonated, the marble altar rail
and windows 150 feet away were shattered, a brass crucifix was twisted
out of shape, but the image was left unharmed.
3. The stars that appear on the image are astrologically correct.
In 1983 Dr. Juan Homero Hernandez and Fr. Mario Rojas Sánchez discovered
that the stars on the image correspond precisely to the constellations
of the winter sky on December 12th, 1531. Incredibly, the constellations
are shown as viewed from outside the heavens, in other words in
reverse. It is as if we have a picture from someone looking at it from
outside the universe, it is a snapshot of heaven and earth from the very
moment that Juan Diego saw Our Lady.
Also, the constellation Virgo, representing virginal purity, appears
over the area of Mary's heart signifying her immaculate and virginal
purity, and the constellation Leo the lion is over her womb. The lion
represents Jesus Christ, because Christ is the lion of the tribe of
Judah. This emphasizes that Christ the King is present in Mary's womb.
The perfect placement of stars in their various constellations
illustrates the infinite intelligence behind the miraculous image.
Of all the characteristics of the image, this is perhaps the most astounding. The microscopic likeness of a bearded man was discovered in the pupils of the Virgin; first in 1929, and again in 1951. The bearded man corresponds to contemporaneous pictures of Juan Diego. No human painter could have foreseen putting infinitesimally small images of Juan Diego in the eyes of the Virgin so that later advances in human technology could detect them. Furthermore, it is impossible for any human to have painted the images because they are simply too miniscule to produce.
Jose Aste Tonsmann, a Peruvian ophthalmologist, examined Mary's eyes at 2,500 times magnification. He was able to identify thirteen individuals in both eyes at different proportions, just as a human eye would reflect an image. It appeared to be the very moment Juan Diego unfurled the tilma before Bishop Zumárraga.
Dr. Jorge Escalante Padilla a surgical ophthalmologist considers these reflections to belong to the type which have been described by Cherney on the back surface of the cornea and by Watt & Hess at the center of the lens. Such reflections are very difficult to detect. Dr. Escalante also reported the discovery of small veins on both of the eyelids of the image. In the 1970s, a Japanese optician who was examining the eyes fainted. Upon recovering he stated: "The eyes were alive and looking at him." [Janet Barber, Latest Scientific Findings on the Images in the Eyes, page 90.] Incredibly, when Our Lady’s eyes are exposed to light, the retinas contract. When the light is withdrawn, they return to a dilated state.
5. Mary assumes a different ethnicity depending on one's vantage point.
It is remarkable that at one distance Our Lady appears to be a Native American, but at another distance she appears of European descent. This miraculous feature is meant to show the unity of the two peoples and the two cultures in light of the true faith of Christ. Mary implored the peoples of the New World to live as one.
Dr. Philip Callahan explains that the image achieves this effect of appearing to be different colors at different distances by a trait that is only seen in nature:
At a distance of six or seven feet the skin tone becomes what might best be termed Indian olive, grey green in tone, it appears somehow the grey and caked looking white pigment of the face and the hands combines with the rough surface of the un-sized hue, such a technique would be an impossible accomplishment in human hands, it often occurs in nature however, in the coloring of the bird feathers and butterfly scales and on the elytra of brightly colored beetles.This change in color at different distances occurring in nature happens on the tilma in a miraculous way. The pigment combines with the rough surface of the cloth to impart alternating colorations. No human artist can duplicate this effect. Such evidence strongly suggests the image was fashioned by a divine hand.
6. The image is always 98.6°F; the temperature of the human body.
The sixth miraculous feature concerning the image is its temperature. It is a demonstrable fact that no matter what the surrounding temperature, season, or weather, the image remains at an even 36.5°C or 98.6°F, the normal temperature of the human body. [Janet Barber, The Tilma and Its Miraculous Image.]
Also, Dr. Carlos Fernandez del Castillo, a Mexican gynecologist, after carefully examining the tilma and the image of the pregnant Madonna concluded that the dimensions of her body were that of an expectant mother at the end of gestation.
7. How the native Indian population interpreted the image of Our Lady.
The indigenous Indian population recognized in the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe specific signs that Christianity was superior to other belief systems, including their own. As recorded by Fr. Harold Romm in, Am I Not Here, page 56:
The Indians saw something in the image of Our Lady that the Spaniards did not comprehend. In that period, the Indians did their writing in hieroglyphics, so to them the image was a hieroglyphic letter. The fact that the natives read the image is most important in understanding the purpose of Our Lady’s apparitions. To the Indians the image depicted a beautiful lady standing in front of the sun, a sign to them that she was greater than the sun god Huitzilopochtli whom they worshiped; the crescent or the moon beneath her feet showed that their moon god Tezcatlipoca was less than nothing since she was standing on it; the stars they thought so much of were only a part or portion of her mantle. At her throat was a brooch with a small black cross in the center reminding them that this was the emblem of the Spanish Friars and there was one greater than she.The intelligence that constructed the image of Guadalupe conveyed exactly the message that the Indians needed to hear and to see to abandon their false notions of God and their idolatrous practices. It is infinitely insightful, well beyond anything humans could imagine. Reading the image caused millions of Indians to convert to the Catholic faith.
8. A 2007 miracle emphasizes Our Lady as the Patroness of the Unborn.
Among Our Lady of Guadalupe’s many designations, she is venerated as the patroness of the unborn. The image shows Mary as pregnant with Christ. She is an unmistakable witness to the sanctity of life and the protection of the unborn.
On April 24, 2007, an unusual luminosity in the famed image of Mary at the Shrine of Guadalupe in Mexico City immediately after that city legalized abortion became visible. According to one account: "At the end of the Mass, which was offered for aborted children... While many of the faithful were taking photographs of the tilma of Tepeyac, exposed and venerated in the Basilica... the image of the Virgin began to erase itself, to give place to an intense light which emanated from her abdomen, constituting a brilliant halo having the form of an embryo. Below, centered and enlarged, one can appreciate the location of the light which shone from the stomach of the Virgin and is not a reflection, or [otherwise] an artifact."
Engineer, Luis Girault, who studied the picture and confirmed the authenticity of the negative, was able to specify that it had not been modified or altered, i.e: by superimposition of another image. He determined that the image does not come from any reflection, but originates from inside Mary. The produced light is very white, pure and intense, different from habitual photographic lights produced by flashes. The light, encircled with a halo, appears to float inside Mary's abdomen. The halo has the form and measurements of an embryo. If we again examine the picture by making it turn in a sagittal plane, we perceive inside the halo some areas of shade that are characteristic of a human embryo in the maternal womb.
9. The Story of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the miraculous roses.
The Spanish rulers of the native population were brutal, and war between them seemed inevitable. In 1531, the archbishop of Mexico City, Juan de Zumárraga prayed to Our Lady for peace. As a sign that his petition would be granted, he asked to receive roses native to his home region of Castile, Spain.
Our Lady told Juan Diego to present Bishop Zumárraga her request that a church be built for her on the hill of Tepeyac (now part of Mexico City) where people could receive God's grace. Bishop Zumárraga was skeptical of Diego's account and asked that Our Lady produce a sign verifying her identity.
That afternoon, Mary told Juan Diego to return the following day (December 11th) and she would provide proof. That night, however, Diego's uncle became deathly ill, and Diego never returned. Early the morning of December 12th, Diego journeyed to Tlatleloco to find a priest so his uncle could confess his sins before dying. In doing so, he passed Tepeyac Hill. Afraid Mary would interrupt his errand, he went to the other side of the hill, but Our Lady came to meet him.
Mary assured Diego his uncle would recover. She told him to go to the top of the hill and gather the flowers there. Diego discovered, growing in the frozen earth, a miraculous garden of castilian roses not native to Mexico. Diego brought them to Mary, who arranged them in his tilma, with instructions that he take them to the bishop. Before Bishop Zumárraga, Juan Diego opened his cloak. The roses fell to the floor revealing the image of Mary. The Bishop's prayers had been answered.
10. Mary’s conversion of millions counteracted Luther’s Reformation.
Our Lady’s urgent message was one of faith, hope and comfort to the indigenous population oppressed by their Spanish overseers. In a matter of months, she ended the Aztec culture’s cult of death. The Aztec religion involved human sacrifice on an unthinkable scale. In the decade following her appearance, ten million Indians converted to Catholicism, creating a vibrant community of faith that persists to the present day.
In Europe, the Protestant Reformation raged, dividing the Church and causing millions to turn to Protestantism. At the moment that millions in Europe were being torn from the Church founded by Christ, God was arranging for twice as many in the New World to be brought into it. By divine Providence, Our Lady was creating unity and a wellspring of deep devotion among the faithful in Mexico. Her words to Juan Diego, “My dear child. Am I not here, I, who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not the source of your joy? Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms?”, made him, and his fellow Indians, in every way the Spaniards equals in dignity.
Pope Pius XII gave Our Lady of Guadalupe the title of “Empress of the Americas” in 1945. Since December 12 is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, this is a propitious moment to recall how she reigns over our nation from Heaven, protecting and guiding us with motherly solicitude and tenderness. The constant miracle memorialized on Saint Juan Diego’s tilma and the context of the apparitions remind us that Our Lady is victorious over the serpent, intervenes in history and is eager to intercede for those who seek her intercession in this vale of tears.
How Our Lady Intervened in History
The oldest reliable source of the apparitions of the Mother of God to Saint Juan Diego was written in Náhuatl by Antonio Valeriano. He was a contemporary of Saint Juan Diego and Bishop Juan de Zumárraga. Mr. Valeriano’s account was published in 1649 and is known as the Nican Mopohua.
|“My Holy One, my Lady, my Damsel, I am on my way to your house at Mexico-Tlatilulco; I go in pursuit of the holy things that our priests teach us.”|
On December 9, 1531, Juan Diego was on his way to attend Mass in what is today Mexico City. It was dawn as he approached Tepeyac Hill, a few miles from his destination. Juan Diego was no ordinary Indian, but the grandson of King Netzahualcoyotl, and the son of King Netzahualpilic and Queen Tlacayehuatzin, who was a descendant of Moctezuma I.
As Juan Diego neared the hill’s summit, something extraordinary happened. Unseen birds began to sing in a supernatural way. The birds would pause while others responded, forming a heavenly duet. He thought he was perhaps dreaming and pondered how unworthy he was to witness something so extraordinary.
The heavenly symphony stopped and a sweet voice called him from the summit, “Juanito. Juan Diegito.” Hearing this, he happily ascended the hill. What he found upon reaching the source of the voice changed his life forever. There, on a rock, stood a beautiful lady. Everything around her was transformed. Her clothing was as radiant as the sun. The rock she stood upon seemed to emit rays of light. She was surrounded with the splendors of the rainbow. Cacti and other plants nearby looked like emeralds. Their spines sparkled like gold and their leaves were like fine turquoise.
Juan Diego bowed before her in ceremonious respect. A tender dialogue between Our Lady and Juan Diego followed, “Listen, xocoyote mio, Juan, where are you going?”
Rejoicing, he happily responded, “My Holy One, my Lady, my Damsel, I am on my way to your house at Mexico-Tlatilulco; I go in pursuit of the holy things that our priests teach us.”
The celestial lady revealed to him that she was indeed the Mother of God, telling him of her desire to have a church built, where she might bestow all her love, mercy, help and protection. She showed overflowing love to Juan Diego, “and to all the other people dear to me who call upon me, who search for me, who confide in me; here I will hear their sorrow, their words, so that I may make perfect and cure their illnesses, their labors and their calamities.”
Then Our Beloved Lady, respecting the authority established by God, sends the noble Juan Diego with this message to the bishop-elect of Mexico. She tells him to accomplish the mission diligently, promising to reward his services. He bows, telling her that he will go straightaway to fulfill her wishes, and departs.
|Bishop Juan de Zumárraga|
Friar Juan de Zumárraga was one of the first twelve Franciscan missionaries to go to Mexico and the first bishop of that new land. When Juan Diego reached the bishop’s palace, he promptly announced he wished to deliver a message for the bishop. The servants made Juan Diego wait before allowing the audience. Obediently, and with great enthusiasm, he told the bishop what he had seen and heard. Bishop Zumárraga listened attentively, but told Juan Diego to return when they could discuss the matter at greater length. After all, how did he know the story was true?
Juan Diego returned to Tepeyac Hill. As he approached the hill, Our Lady was waiting for him. He drew near and knelt. With sadness, he told Our Lady that he failed in his mission. The marvelous dialogue continues, “My Holy One, most noble of persons, my Lady, my xocoyota, my Damsel….”
Juan Diego explained why he failed, how unworthy he was for such a mission and how the bishop was suspicious. Our Lady listened tenderly and patiently as he suggested she send one of the well-known and respected lords of the land. Then, he thought, her message would be believed.
Our Lady was not persuaded. She wanted him to accomplish the mission, and said, “I pray you, my xocoyote, and advise you with much care, that you go again tomorrow to see the bishop and represent me; give him an understanding of my desire, my will, that he build the church that I ask….”
Juan Diego did not fear the difficulties of the mission, he was only afraid the mission would not be accomplished. However, he told Our Lady he would fulfill her command and return the following evening with the bishop’s reply.
“And now I leave you, my xocoyota, my Damsel, my Lady; meanwhile, you rest.” Juan Diego suggested that Our Lady rest! It is impressive that she not only allowed him to treat her this way, but also loved his candidness.
The next day, he traveled to Mass. Afterward, he went directly to the bishop’s palace, fell on his knees and repeated all that Our Lady had told him. The bishop, in turn, asked questions about the lady. Not entirely convinced, however, the bishop told Juan Diego that he could not affirm that the apparition was Our Lady and asked for a sign of reassurance from Our Lady to build a church.
|The Mother of God responded affectionately, “Do not be frightened or grieve, or let your heart be dismayed; however great the illness may be that you speak of, am I not here, I who am your mother, and is not my help a refuge?”|
Juan Diego confidently stated he would ask Our Lady for a sign. The bishop agreed, and sent a few servants to follow Juan Diego and report on everything he did. But they lost him and could not find him. They returned annoyed, speaking poorly of him to the bishop. They even resolved to seize and punish Juan Diego when he appeared again.
Juan Diego should have returned with the sign on Monday, but when he returned home, his uncle Juan Bernadino was seriously ill. His health worsened throughout Monday night, and on early Tuesday morning asked Juan Diego to call a priest. The nephew obediently went, making sure his route did not pass near Tepeyac Hill as he feared Our Lady would see him and persuade him to continue the mission she entrusted to him. So he took a shortcut he thought concealed him from Our Lady.
Stealthily advancing along, he was discovered by Our Lady, who descended the slope and asked, “Xocoyote mio, where are you going? What road is this you are taking?”
Caught red-handed, Juan Diego replied diplomatically, “My daughter, my xocoyota, God keep you, Lady. How did you waken? And is your most pure body well, perchance?” Then he explained his predicament, “My Virgin, my Lady, forgive me, be patient with me until I do my duty, and then tomorrow I will come back to you.” One cannot help but smile while imagining Juan Diego, in his simplicity, asking Our Lady to wait until he returned the next day after helping his dying uncle.
The Mother of God responded affectionately, “Do not be frightened or grieve, or let your heart be dismayed; however great the illness may be that you speak of, am I not here, I who am your mother, and is not my help a refuge?”
She told him his uncle was already cured. Juan Diego rejoiced, and asked her to give him the sign that the bishop wanted. She told him to go to the hilltop and cut the flowers he would find. Then, he was to bring them back to her. It was December, and only cacti and a few other sparse plants grew on the hill. However, Juan Diego found Castilian roses in abundance there and delighted in their fragrance. He carefully cut several, wrapping them in his tilma or cloak made of cactus fiber. He returned to Our Lady and she tenderly arranged them inside his tilma with her own hands, and commanded him to go to the bishop and show him the sign he was waiting for. She also told him not to open his tilma for anyone but the bishop.
|To prove what he said was true, Saint Juan Diego untied his tilma and let the roses fall to the ground. Those watching fell to their knees in silent amazement. Miraculously imprinted on the tilma was Our Lady’s perfect image.|
He made haste to Bishop Zumárraga, confident now that he would accomplish Our Lady’s designs. Along the way, the wonderful fragrance of the roses pleased him. At the bishop’s palace, he was left waiting for a long time. The servants saw him as a nuisance and made him wait until it was very late, and even demanded to see what was in his tilma. Because he refused to show them, they pushed and knocked him about. When he perceived he would not see the bishop unless he showed them something, he let them peek in the tilma. Seeing and smelling the celestial roses, the servants made three attempts to take some. At each attempt, the roses miraculously became part of the tilma as if they were painted. With this, they ushered Our Lady’s ambassador in to see the bishop. Juan Diego knelt down and began to explain all he saw and heard from Our Lady. The bishop listened intently. To prove what he said was true, he untied his tilma and let the roses fall to the ground. Those watching fell to their knees in silent amazement. Miraculously imprinted on the tilma was Our Lady’s perfect image. Recalling their disbelief and mistreatment of the Blessed Mother’s ambassador, the servants were shamed.
Bishop Zumárraga tearfully took the tilma from Juan Diego, placed it in his private chapel, and entreated Juan Diego to stay with him for the night in the palace. The next day, with a crowd following behind them, the two went to the site where Our Lady wanted her church built. Juan Diego gave a detailed account of the apparitions. Then they went to see Juan Bernadino and check on the state of his health.
She Who Smashes the Serpent
Juan Bernadino was surprised to see his nephew accompanied by the bishop and a crowd of admirers. Naturally, he asked what was happening. The miracle was told again and Juan Bernadino acknowledged that he was cured. Our Lady appeared to him and cured him. She told him of her desire to be called Santa María de Guadalupe. Guadalupe in Spanish corresponds phonetically to Coatlaxopeuh in Náhuatl, which means “I smashed the serpent with the foot.”
The bishop then displayed the tilma in the Cathedral of Mexico for public veneration, and called on all to help in the construction of the new church, which was completed on December 26, 1531. On that day, a great procession was made from the cathedral to the new church. Spaniards and Indians, ecclesiastical and imperial officials alike, accompanied Our Lady of Guadalupe to her new shrine. The Indians performed war dances in her honor, and covered the whole path to Tepeyac Hill with flowers.
Amid the festive rejoicing, an overzealous Indian fired an arrow, mortally piercing the throat of another Indian. There were cries and sobs over the dead Indian. Then, inspired by grace, all began to ask that his lifeless body be placed in front of the tilma. As everyone began to invoke Our Lady of Guadalupe’s help, the dead Indian came back to life, his throat instantly healed. Everyone cheered as he rose to his feet. Strengthened by the miracle, the procession resumed and the image was placed in the new shrine.
Miracles That Defy Science
Since the tilma is made of cactus fiber, it should have disintegrated after 20 years. However, it has survived from 1531 until the present day without cracking or fading. Scientists cannot explain how this is possible. In the 18th century, Dr. José Ignácio Bartolache had two copies of the image made and placed where the original was. After several years, the two copies deteriorated.
|The miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe imprinted on the tilma of Saint Juan Diego. The
image is full of symbolism.
Over time, the faithful have tried to “embellish” the tilma. A crown was painted on Our Lady’s head and angels in the clouds. However, unlike the tilma, these additions have worn away and are no longer visible. The rays of the sun, for example, were coated with gold and the moon plated with silver. These embellishments also faded away. In fact, the silver-plated moon turned black.
Scientists are baffled how the image was imprinted on the tilma. There are no brush strokes or sketch marks on it. Richard Kuhn, a Nobel Prize winner in chemistry, ascertained that Our Lady of Guadalupe’s image does not contain natural, animal or mineral pigments. The tilma defies natural explanation.
At the Guadalupe shrine in Mexico City, a stone sail ship monument is visible near the chapel on the hill. The landmark commemorates a miracle that took place in 1565 when General Miguel López de Legazpi was returning from the Philippines and his ship was engulfed by a tempest. On the verge of sinking, the crew in desperation made a vow to Our Lady of Guadalupe; if she saved them, they would carry their last remaining sail to her on pilgrimage. The storm abated and they fulfilled their promise.
The greatest miracle was that eight million Indians converted in only seven years following the apparitions. The early Franciscan and Dominican missionaries were busy night and day baptizing and administering the Sacraments. On average, over three thousand Indians a day were baptized throughout the seven years.
Symbolism of the Tilma
The miraculous tilma is like a catechism class for the Mexican Indians. Our Lady, as she appears, eclipses the sun, showing her superiority over the Aztec sun god. She stands on the moon, trampling the Aztec moon god under foot. She is surrounded by clouds and attended by an angel, showing that she is not of this earth. Yet her hands are folded in supplication and her head is tilted in a position of humility, thus showing that while she tramples the pagan gods, she is not God. Around her neck, she wears a brooch with a cross, leading mankind to the Supreme Being, the God of the Christians.
May the goodness and tenderness Our Lady showed to Saint Juan Diego encourage our readers to have more devotion to her. Like every good mother, she is also the implacable foe of those who inflict harm on her children. Therefore, she is our special aid in the struggle against evil today. Let our battle cry be “¡Viva la Virgen de Guadalupe!” (“Long live Our Lady of Guadalupe!”)
Netzhualcoyotl is famous in Mexican history as a warrior, philosopher and poet. Analyzing the order of nature, he deduced the existence of only one, invisible God, the Creator of all things, Whom he adored by burning incense and in Whose honor he composed sixty psalms of praise similar to those by King David. He disliked human sacrifice and the worship of pagan gods. (Cf. Juan Antonio Montalvo, “Plática sobre la Virgen de Guadalupe,” in Historica, órgano del Centro de Estudios Guadalupanos, AC, Colección II, México, Editorial Hombre S. de R.L., 1983, 7, 8.) ↑
2.This Náhuatl word means “smallest of my sons.” Xocoyota is the feminine for daughter.