December 6, 2002

December 12: History of the Virgin of Guadalupe

According to the Catholic Church and to millions and millions of Catholics in Mexico and around the world, on December 12, 1531, the Virgin of Guadalupe appeared to Juan Diego, an Indigenous peasant, in Mount Tepeyac, near Mexico City.

At that time, Mexico was under Spanish rule. The Church and the priests were fiercely trying to convert native Mexicans into Catholicism. After the Conquest, Indigenous temples were destroyed, ceremonies were prohibited, and people who still believed in the Mexican deities were punished. The punishments were harsh, at times it meant death to the so-called “pagans.”

Either because they really believed in the new doctrine, or because they didn’t want face punishment, many native Mexicans turned to Catholicism, and tried to forget about the ancient ways. Juan Diego was one of the ones who became Catholic after the Conquest.

The story about the miracle Catholic Mexicans consider one of the most important aspects of their religion states that one day, Juan Diego’s uncle and tutor became very sick. Juan Diego prayed to God and the Virgin Mary, asking for the health of his uncle.

That same day, he was walking near Mount Tepeyac when he heard a voice. Juan Diego turned and saw a great light. The Virgin asked Juan Diego to pay a visit to Mexico City’s bishop. Juan Diego would have to tell the bishop to build a temple for the Virgin. Once Juan Diego was able to speak to him, the bishop and other priests laughed at him.

Juan Diego then went back to Mount Tepeyac and told the Virgin what had happened. The Virgin then told him to pick up some red roses, uncommon during Winter, wrapped them in his huipil, a long manta sleeveless shirt.

Following the Virgin’s orders, Juan Diego went back to the bishop. Juan Diego then unfolded his huipil and, as the red roses were falling to the floor, a beautiful image of the virgin appeared on Juan Diego’s huipil. The bishop and the priests got on their knees and began praying to the Virgin, asking for her forgiveness for not believing Juan Diego the first time.

This happened on December 12, 1531. A temple was built at Mount Tepeyac to commemorate the Virgin of Guadalupe’s miracle. Since them, Guadalupanismo is the most differentiating aspect of Mexican Catholicism. Our Lady of Guadalupe is considered “Queen of Mexico and Empress of the Americas.”

Every December 12, Mexico City’s Basilica is full of celebration. People sing and pray to Our Lady of Guadalupe. Children are dressed in traditional Indigenous attire, just as Juan Diego was dressed when the miracle took place.

Mexican journalist and cultural critic Carlos Monsiváis writes that tradition turns in to chaos on December 12. He states that Catholic Mexicans secure their national identity through the cult of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

On December 12, in every Catholic church throughout Mexico, many people will sing to the Virgin of Guadalupe:

“Virgencita linda, mi Guadalupana,
la mejor amiga de mi fe cristiana...
Bendita tu eres entre todas ellas,
entre las mujeres y entre las estrellas.”

On December 12, Mexican Catholics will remember the day when Juan Diego became the first Indigenous saint.

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