During a visit to Mexico City in 2009, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made an unscheduled stop to the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. After spending a few moments looking at the image of the Blessed Mother on the famous tilma of St. Juan Diego, Clinton turned to her guide, Msgr. Diego Monroy, and asked: “who painted the image?” Msgr. Monroy responded: “God!” Msgr. Monroy’s assertion that the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is the work of the supernatural is difficult to dispute, for the more it is subjected to examination the more miraculous it seems to be.
The Blessed Mother appeared to Juan Diego on a hill called Tepeyac, just outside Mexico City, in December of 1531, and told him to bring a message to the local Archbishop that she wanted a shrine built there in her honor. Juan Diego, a poor man who was a recent convert to Catholicism, doubted that the Archbishop would receive him, so Our Lady instructed him to gather the Castilian roses that were growing on a nearby bush (also a miracle at that time of year) into his tilma, the common garment for the indigenous people of Mexico at the time, and bring them as a sign to the Archbishop. When Juan Diego gained the audience of the prelate, he opened the tilma to show the Archbishop the flowers, and he was startled when the men in the room suddenly fell to their knees – for on the tilma was the now-famous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The image is remarkable in many ways. It is made of agave fiber, which would typically deteriorate within 15-30 years at most. Yet the material of the tilma is almost 500 years old. The Blessed Mother appears as a mestiza, which is someone who is “mixed-race” – of Spanish and indigenous background. When the image was revealed to the Spaniards, they immediately recognized her as a depiction of Our Lady from the Book of Revelation (12:1-2), which describes a woman, clothed with the sun, the moon under her feet, and crowned with stars, who is pregnant and about to give birth. What’s fascinating, however, is that the indigenous Aztecs would have been able to understand the image as well. The blue-green mantle she wears indicates that she is royalty. She stands in front of the sun, which indicates that she is greater than the Aztec sun deity. That the moon is below her feet indicates that she is greater than the Aztec moon deity. Yet, her bowed head and hands folded in prayer indicate that she is not a goddess, but one who worships another who is greater than she is. She wears a black belt, which indicated that she was pregnant, yet her unbraided hair would have told the viewer that she was a virgin. The four-petaled flower on the center of her dress, over her womb, is an Aztec symbol for divinity. The cross on the brooch of her dress would have told the Aztecs that she worships the God of the Christians. Thus, the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe perfectly integrated the two cultures of that time – European and Mexican. But new things continue to be discovered in the image.
Modern scientists have examined the configuration of the stars on Our Lady’s robe. It turns out that they exactly correspond with the constellations as they would have appeared in the sky on December 12, 1531 at 6:45am – the time of Juan Diego’s audience with the Archbishop. The only difference is that they are in reverse, as though they were being looked at, not from the perspective of earth, but from above. Also, if one places a topographical map of central Mexico over the tilma, the designs on the tilma correspond with all the principal rivers, mountains, and lakes. There are many other amazing things on the tilma that have been discovered with the development of modern technology, such as images of human figures found in her eyes, and the way the pattern of the stars on her gown can be read as music. Indeed, the tilma becomes more mysterious the more we learn about it.
When she left the Basilica that day, Hillary Clinton told the Mexican people gathered there, “You have a marvelous Virgin.” Yes, we do.