Surviving the Spanish Conquest of Mexico 1519-1521, a native Aztec Indian, Juan Diego converted to Catholicism by means of Franciscan missionaries. From this conversion Juan received a special gift from Heaven. Today the results of Juan apparitions has lead to a deep devotion, for countless millions of pilgrims, who have witnessed the miraculous sign left to the world as a witness to the event.
It happened on a 130 foot hilltop in a wasteland five miles north of Mexico City. There Juan Diego lived alone having lost his wife several years before. His only surviving relative was a uncle who had been like a foster father since his early childhood.
On Saturday December 9, Juan left the village before daybreak in order to make the Mass celebrated in honor of Our Lady's at the church of Santiago, in the village of Tlaltelolco. He stopped to the unusual sounds of birds which he knew to be quite strange for that time of year. The music of the birds was thrillingly sharp and sweet.
Stopping to ponder this mystery, the songbirds stopped singing as suddenly as their sound came. He stood listening to the silence, when he heard the voice of a woman calling him by name from the hillside at the top of Tepeyac hill.
Juan was so compelled to climb the hill to solve this mystery. There he saw a beautiful Lady as if against the sun because of the golden beams that rayed her from head to toe. Juan observed this Lady to be a young Mexican girl about fourteen years old. She was wonderfully beautiful, with garments of beauty as well. The rocks, trees and everything around her radiated like emeralds gleaming like gold.
This Lady said to Juan, ""Juan, smallest and dearest of my little children, where are you going?"
Juan replied, "My Lady, and my child, I was hurrying to Tlaltelolco to see the Mass and hear the Gospel explained."
The Lady returned, "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 teocali (temple of church) at this place where I will show my compassion to our 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 Tenochtitl'an (Mexico City) and tell the Lord Bishop all that you have seen and heard."
Juan had fallen to his knees when the Virgin told him who she was. Now he prostrated himself at her feet and said, "Noble Lady, I will do what you ask of me!" Then he quickly rose and took leave of her.
The Bishop-elect but not yet consecrated was Don Fray Juan de Zum'arraga, a Franciscan from Spain. He listened to Juan's story ending by saying he would think upon what Juan had said.
The sun was almost set when Juan came back to the hill where he again heard the strange sounds of birds singing, and again he saw the Virgin. Upon reaching the hilltop, the Blessed Virgin was waiting for him. Juan knelt saying, "My dearest child, my Lady and Queen, I did your errand. I told the Bishop all that I had seen and heard. He listened, and asked many questions; but I could see he did not believe that everything was just as I said it was. He thought I could be mistaken about your wanting a church in this waste place, and even about who it was I had seen and spoken with here. He gave me kind permission to visit him again, but I fear I should go no further. I am not worthy of your trusting me with a message so important. Please send someone more suitable; for I am a nobody... Forgive my boldness in advising you."
The Lady replied. "Listen, little son. There are many I could send. But you are the one I have chosen for this task. So, tomorrow morning, go back to the Bishop. Tell him it is the Virgin Mary who send you, and repeat to him my great desire for a church in this place."
Juan spoke, "I will do so willingly, though I fear the Bishop may not be pleased to see me back so soon. And if he is pleased, he still may not believe that it was really you who sent me. But I am your servant and will obey your every wish. Tomorrow I will return here to tell you how my second try comes out. So youngest of my daughters, Noble Lady, rest yourself until then."
The next morning, Sunday, Juan rose in the dark and got to the church in Tlaltecolco in time for Mass. Directly when Mass was over, he went on into Mexico City to confront the Bishop again. The Bishop again listened to Juan ending by suggesting that Juan might ask Santa Maria (Virgin Mary) for a sign that would prove it was truly her.
Upon returning to the hill again, Juan knelt at the feet of the Virgin and told her the Bishop asked for a sign. This did not displease the Lady and She said to Juan, "Very well, little son. Come back tomorrow at daybreak, I will give you a sign for him. You have taken much trouble on my account, and I shall reward you for it. go in peace, and rest."
The next thing Juan did was to visit with his uncle. He found him not well, and suffering from cocolistle, a contagious and deadly fever. He gathered and prepared herbs as medicine doing the best he could. He did not keep his appointment with the Virgin the following day giving precedence to his uncle.
Sometime before daybreak on Tuesday, Juan uncle took a turn for the worse. Certain he was to die, he asked his nephew to go to Tlatelolco and return with a priest, so he could receive the Last Sacraments.
Juan was of a mind not to travel the same path upon which he met the Virgin. Yet to no avail he still happened upon her. She said to him, "Least of my sons, what is the matter?" Juan answered quickly, 'Me dear child, my Lady! Why are you up so early? Are you Well? Forgive me, my uncle is dying of cololistle and desires me to fetch a priest to give him the Last Sacraments."
The Blessed Virgin spoke; "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."
Flowers could not grow on a frozen hill, and his uncle was surely on his death bed, but Juan did as the Lady asked of him. It was not blind faith that lead him but seeing and hearing the Lady that brought him to the top of the hill.
Castilian roses, exotic, impossible, were growing in the hilltop. Juan cut them placing them in his tilma. The fragrance of the roses were beautiful. He brought the cut flowers back to the Lady as instructed.
When Juan showed the Lady the cut flowers she was not happy with their arrangement. She arranged them herself instruction Juan to bring them to the Bishop, by saying, "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 a temple 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 tell 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."
Doing as instructed in front of the Bishop, Juan let loose his clutches of his tilma, the flowers lay in a untidy heap on the floor.
Within seconds the Bishop had risen from his chair and was kneeling at Juan's feet, and inside of a minute all the other people in the room were doing the same.
It was no wonder that they were doing so for imprinted on Juan's tilma was the supernatural image of the Virgin Mary. Which still can be view today in Mexico City.
Later Jan returned to visit with his uncle to find him well, Juan's uncle spoke a visit of a luminous young woman, all made of peace and love. She stood beside him and told him he would get well. She also told the uncle that the image was to be called, Santa Mar'ia de Guadalupe. Then she disappeared.
Above the altar still remains Juan Diego's tilma. It is still intact. Two straight pieces, coarsely woven of fiber from the maguey plant, are sewn together so that the whole measurement is 66 inches by 41 inches. Modern scientists agree no painting could have been done on such a cloth. Besides after two hundred year the cloth should be to the point of obliteration. The colors employed remain a mystery. The technique has eluded and still eludes all endeavors to elucidate it.
The figure of the Lady is only 56 inches tall, but as one draws back from it, it seem to become larger. Surrounded by golden rays, it emerges as from a shell of light, clear-cut and lovely in ever detail of line and color. The head is bent slightly and very gracefully to the right, just avoiding the long seam. The eyes look downward, but the pupils are visible. The Mantle that covers the head and falls to the feet is greenish blue with a boarder of purest gold, and scattered through with golden stars. The tunic is rose-colored, patterned with a lace-like design of golden flowers. Below is a crescent moon, and beneath it appear the head and arms of a cherub. Although he is tiny in size, he seems to be balancing the image about him with joyous ease.
Juan Diego died in 1548. His room, appropriately, became the baptistery of "the old church of the Indians," and on one wall of it a tablet proclaimed, "In this place Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to an Indian named Juan Diego, who is buried in this church.