A few years ago, I found this beautiful and unusual Virgen de Guadalupe bracelet on my way back from a Zuniga family reunion in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It was made by artist Alice Seeley, the same artist who made the petroglyph pins I wrote about a few posts back. I didn’t buy the bracelet at the same time I bought the pins and so I was surprised that it was made by the same artist. It’s a heavy bracelet, made of pewter, and some might say its a little chunky. However, every time I wear it, it doesn’t weigh me down…it brings me comfort.
La Virgen de Guadalupe/ Virgen of Guadalupe has brought comfort to so many people for so many centuries. The story of how she came to be the Patron Saint of Mexico begins in the year 1531 – on Dec 12th to be exact – in northern Mexico City. An indigenous Indian boy by the name of Juan Diego was walking toward the Hill of Tepeyac when the Virgin Mary appeared to him. She told Juan to go to the Archbishop and request a church be built at the Hill of Tepeyac. Of course, when Juan went to the Archbishop, he didn’t believe the boy. Instead, he told Juan to return to the hill and ask for a miracle to prove the lady he was seeing was indeed the Virgin Mary.
So, Juan went back to the hill and Mary appeared to him again. She told him to gather flowers from the top of the hill. Now, this was December and this hill was rocky and no flowers ever grew there. But when Juan reached the top, he found beautiful flowers! Actually, he found Castilian roses which are not native to Mexico. He gathered the flowers in his “tilma” (a cloak) and promptly ran to the Archbishop. Juan gave the cloak of flowers to the Archbishop and as they tumbled to the ground, the cloak revealed a miracle – the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe imprinted on the fabric.
There is quite a bit of history about this Marian appearance that involves Spain, the indigenous people of Mexico and the Catholic Church, if you care to read more about it. There is even doubt that Juan Diego existed by some. But like many things we don’t understand or don’t have faith in, we doubt. We want proof of existence. I was raised Catholic and we talked a lot about the Virgin Mary when I was growing up. Attending Catholic school helped! In my case, it was Sagrado Corazon catholic school in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico. I remember the Benedictine nuns talking about prayer and one even said “you should pray to Mary for intercession because after all, she is Jesus’ mother and how could He say no to her!” Hummm…that was an interesting concept to all of us little 4th graders at the time!
I choose to believe and to honor the Mother of Jesus. Her image is exquisite in the renderings and art I’ve seen over the years. I also am fascinated by the other stories of the Virgin Mary’s appearances around the world. When I think back to biblical times, miracles were written about and discussed quite a bit! There are plenty of miracles that happen today too, but sometimes we just don’t believe the impossible is possible. It may not be the Virgin Mary appearing before you on a rocky hill, but miracles DO happen in present day.
Juan Diego’s miraculous tilma hangs protected above the altar at the Basilica of La Virgen de Guadalupe in Mexico City for all to see. If you read more about the tilma, it has been the subject of much investigation, experimentation and scrutiny to see how it has survived for over 500 years, even when ammonia was spilled on it and a bomb damaged the altar in 1921. In fact, the tilma seems to repair itself when damage occurs! It’s rather fascinating! In 1936, a biochemist analyzed the fabric and stated that the pigments used on the tilma were of no known source – meaning they weren’t of animal, mineral or vegetable.
Pope John Paul II was very devoted to the Virgin Mary. In 1999, he named Our Lady of Guadalupe as the patron of the Americas. She has long been revered in Mexico. Her image is everywhere and I have seen it more and more over the past 15 years in Alabama. She is particularly present at the local Birmingham Day of the Dead/Dia de los Muertos event. It’s always so beautiful to see her image surrounded by marigold on altars remembering lost loved ones.
El Dia de la Virgen de Guadalupe became a national holiday in Mexico in 1859. It is a day of much celebration and pilgrimage to the Basilica. It isn’t unusual to see people walking on their knees all the way up to the altar while praying in order to pay tribute to the Virgin Mary. When I visited Mexico City and the Basilica as a senior in high school, I witnessed this. It left quite an impression on me and I couldn’t imagine how difficult it must be to walk on your knees all that way. I walked into the Basilica with my tour group and made my way up to the altar where the tilma hangs. I remember thinking how beautiful it was and I stood there amazed along with so many other people. I hope one day I can go back and experience this again.