1. The Traditional Story of Guadalupe
2. The Four Evangelists of Guadalupe
3. Guadalupe according to P. Miguel Sánchez
The Basilica of Guadalupe on the hill of Tepeyac in Mexico City is one of the most revered pilgrimage sites in the Catholic world, receiving millions of visitors each year. At the center of this devotion is the most famous icon in the Americas, that of Our Lady of Guadalupe, believed to have been miraculously imprinted on the cloak of a humble Indian named Juan Diego (now a canonized saint) in 1531. The fantastic origin of the image, followed by thousands of miracles it is reputed to have worked over the centuries, has formed the basis of a worldwide devotion. In Mexico, Guadalupe has become a national icon, representing a singular divine favor bestowed on that country, uniting those of Indian and European descent in a common devotion. The image of the Blessed Virgin is clothed and colored in a distinctively Mexican style, as if to embody the union of European Catholicism and indigenous culture that is Mexico. Our Lady of Guadalupe is so important to the national spirit that even the less religious among Mexico's public figures take care to do her honor.
Guadalupe’s importance to Mexican national identity makes it impossible to examine the historical origins of the cult without stirring deep emotions. Many modern scholars, including some conservative Catholics, have controversially argued that the traditional account of the Virgin Mary appearing to Juan Diego dates back no earlier than the seventeenth century. Indeed, there are no extant sixteenth-century writings that can unequivocally establish an earlier tradition. Although “anti-apparitionist” scholars are not necessarily disbelievers in miracles, their work is often perceived as an affront to the Catholic faith and the Mexican national identity. Matters are not helped when some of these authors characterize the cult of Guadalupe as an attempt by the Spanish to subjugate the Indians or suppress their cultural identity. Such an attack strikes at the heart of the racial and religious synthesis that has long been the basis of Mexican nationalism.
Apologists for the traditional Guadalupe narrative answer the critics by appealing to fragmentary written and pictorial evidence from the sixteenth-century, and seventeenth-century testimonies about earlier traditions. Several reputable seventeenth-century historians attested that they read or possessed much older written accounts of the apparition, and they sometimes cited these in their published works. An ecclesiastical inquiry in 1666 procured sworn statements from distinguished Mexicans of Spanish and Indian descent, establishing that the legend of Juan Diego and the apparition had been known at least since the latter half of the sixteenth century. The pictographic annals and maps of the Indians seem to indicate at least the presence of the Guadalupe cult back to the mid-sixteenth century. However, apparitionist apologists often fail to discern that evidence of devotion to the Guadalupe icon is not necessarily evidence of belief in the apparition to Juan Diego or the miraculous origin of the painting.
The primary object of this work is to determine the extent to which the traditional account of the Guadalupe apparition can be established by historical testimony. We will begin with the famous published accounts of the mid-seventeenth century, which spread knowledge of the legend far and wide, and constitute the basis of all subsequent tradition. We will scrutinize each of these published documents, and try to discern the source texts or traditions used by each author. The sworn testimonies of 1666 establishing an indigenous oral tradition must also be given due consideration. In the nineteenth century, most historians held oral tradition in low regard, but modern anthropology has proved that complex narratives can reliably be passed from generation to generation for as long as two centuries. Hearsay is inadmissible in a court law, but this is due to the legal right to cross-examine one’s accuser. In most historical questions, there is no question of accusation, so historians can and often do make judicious use of secondhand testimony, when nothing better is available. Lastly, we must examine pictorial evidence, including the annals and maps which were the sacred histories of the indigenous peoples. Since these admit of various interpretations, we must have recourse to the linguistic and cultural knowledge of early scholars who lived among the Indians who produced these works.
The relative weight we give to each class of evidence is informed in no small part by our methodological assumptions about what it means to study history. To this day, there are many who would dismiss oral testimony as unreliable, regardless of the reputation or circumstances of the witnesses. I disagree with this position, and would remind the reader that the bulk of our knowledge of ancient history, even when it is grounded in written sources, is based ultimately on oral tradition. Most of the ancient histories, in the form we have them, were composed centuries after the events they relate, yet by comparison with other evidence, we have been able to establish their basic veracity in many cases. We know that the spoken word can reliably be remembered, and there is nothing magical about a written word that makes it intrinsically more trustworthy than the spoken word. Similarly, the writer of letters is not any less likely to be a liar than a drawer of pictures. Thus we must give due weight to all classes of evidence, and not allow methodological prejudices to eliminate anything out of hand. In order to judge the value of each piece of evidence, we should consider what early scholarly witnesses say about each source, such as where it came from, who composed it, and how it was composed. We must also be careful to discern whether two sources are independent witnesses of the same fact, or if one is merely copying the testimony of another.
Positions on the historicity of the Guadalupe apparition tend to be linked to methodological preferences. Among the skeptics, there is a relative lack of regard for the character or reputation of witnesses, and an excessive devaluation of oral or indirect testimony. To explain the origin of the Guadalupan legend, they must call people liars without calling them liars. The current fashion for doing this is to speculate, without foundation, that the Indians who composed the Guadalupan legends had no intention of being taken literally, or that they were unable to distinguish physical reality from mythical reality. This is quite contrary to actual anthropological observation, which shows that primitive peoples, rightly or wrongly, do take their legends to be really true, with due allowance for some poetic or figurative imagery. The skeptics’ demand for contemporaneous manuscripts, if applied consistently, would destroy nearly all of pre-modern history. Practically our entire history of the Roman Empire, for example, is not based on contemporaneous manuscripts, but it would be foolish to place the entire works of Tacitus and Cicero (which are copies of copies of copies) into the realm of fable or legend.
Among the apologists for the tradition, on the other hand, there has been excessive zeal to find an iron-clad, all too convenient proof of the tradition, leading to some dubious identifications of documents and authors, and excessive weight being placed on indirect evidence. Furthermore, they often fail to distinguish between evidence of the presence of a Guadalupan devotion and evidence of an apparition of the Virgin Mary and a miraculously imprinted image. I hope to shed light on some of these confusions, and restore the actual state of the evidence, by returning to the earliest sources and allowing them to speak for themselves, without imposing a tortuous interpretation upon them in order to achieve a desired testimony.
To begin, we will summarize the traditional Guadalupe narrative, and examine in detail the four most famous versions of that narrative, all published in the seventeenth-century. After examining the possible provenance of these accounts, we will examine other sources, only some of which are extant, including written and oral testimony, as well as pictographic evidence. While there is incontrovertible proof that devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe extends back at least to the 1550s, the evidence for early belief in the apparition and miraculous origin of the image is more controversial. We will consider several possible interpretations of the evidence, including the possibility that the devotion began in the 1550s rather than the 1530s. The strong skeptical position that the Guadalupe story was invented in 1648 is ultimately unsustainable, but neither can we conclusively show a continuous written tradition extending back to 1531. Our objective is to produce an account that respects all the historical data of written and oral tradition.
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The familiar legend of Guadalupe was first published by several ecclesiastical authors in the mid-seventeenth century. The published versions differ from each other in various details, but they all agree on the basic narrative facts, which we shall describe here.
On a Saturday morning in December 1531, ten years after the conquest of Mexico, a poor Indian named Juan Diego was on his way to the church in Tlatelolco (a predominantly Indian borough of the Mexican capital, which had absorbed it in the fifteenth century). There he regularly received religious instruction from the Franciscans. Along the way, he passed by the hill of Tepeyac (a league northeast of Mexico City at the time; today the city encompasses the hill). By the hill he heard a symphony of sweet, heavenly song, and he heard his name being called. At the top of the hill, he saw a Lady who identified herself as the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God. The Blessed Virgin told Juan Diego she desired a temple or shrine to be built upon that hill. She promised to remedy the pains of those who suffer, offering her aid and her maternal love. The Lady instructed Juan Diego to go to the palace of the bishop to deliver her message.
On that same day, Juan Diego went to the bishop’s palace in the city of Mexico. The bishop of that time was Juan de Zumárraga (1468-1548), a Franciscan priest who was the first bishop of Mexico and would become its first archbishop shortly before his death. After much pleading with the servants at the gate, Juan Diego was finally permitted to see the bishop. The Indian told the prelate all that had happened upon the hill. Zumárraga seemed doubtful of the story, but nonetheless asked Juan Diego to return at another time, so the matter could be examined more carefully.
Juan Diego returned to the hill of Tepeyac and again saw the Blessed Virgin. He told her of the bishop’s skepticism, and implored her to seek someone else to carry out her mission, someone of greater reputation who would be believed. The Virgin Mary replied that it was her wish that he and no other should carry out her will on this matter, and she instructed Juan Diego to return to the bishop.
The next morning, Sunday, Juan Diego set out again for Tlatelolco, to attend Mass and receive catechesis. Afterward, he proceeded to the bishop’s residence, where he was eventually granted another audience. After questioning the Indian at length, Bishop Zumárraga decided that he would not act on the request to build a chapel without some special sign or proof showing that the Queen of Heaven had indeed sent this message.
Having dismissed Juan Diego, the bishop instructed his servants to follow the Indian to see where he went, but they lost track of him at a bridge over a brook near Tepeyac. Juan Diego returned to the hill and told the Blessed Virgin of the bishop’s request for a sign. She instructed him to return the following day and she would provide a sign to bring to the bishop.
The next day, Monday, Juan Diego did not go to Tepeyac, but instead tended to his uncle Juan Bernardino, who had fallen gravely ill. Early Tuesday morning, he set out for Tlatelolco to seek a priest to hear his uncle’s last confession. When passing near Tepeyac, he naively supposed that he could avoid being detained by Our Lady by rounding across the hill. The Blessed Mother appeared to him nevertheless, and Juan Diego begged forgiveness for delaying to carry out her instructions. He explained the urgent need to obtain a priest for his dying uncle, and promised to carry out his assignment the next day without fail.
The Blessed Virgin did not reprove Juan Diego, but assured him that neither this illness nor any other harmful thing was cause for fear, for she, his heavenly mother, would protect him. She informed Juan Diego that his uncle would not die, for even now he had become well, as would later be confirmed. Trusting in the Queen of Heaven’s assurance, the humble Indian resolved to bring her sign to the bishop immediately. The Blessed Virgin sent him to the top of the hill, where he would find flowers to cut and bring before her.
Surely enough, on top of the hill there were now blooming flowers in the rocky soil of Tepeyac, though it was far too cold for flowers to grow (Mexican winters were much colder in the sixteenth century than in modern times). Juan Diego cut the flowers and gathered them into his tilma, a sack or cloak that Indians customarily wore hanging from their shoulders. He brought the flowers to Our Lady, who then took them in her hands and returned them to his tilma, saying that these flowers would be the sign to bring to the bishop personally. Confident that he would now be believed, the humble messenger now set out for the bishop’s residence.
Juan Diego was again detained by the bishop’s servants, who tried to see what he carried in his tilma. Finally, they admitted him to see the bishop, and Juan Diego recounted to the prelate all that had happened at Tepeyac. He now offered the flowers as a sign of Our Lady’s message, and opened his tilma to reveal them. As the flowers dropped to the floor, an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary was revealed on the tilma itself, as if miraculously painted. The bishop fell in reverence before the miraculous image, which he took to his chapel.
The following day, Juan Diego showed the bishop the site where Our Lady had asked for her shrine to be built. He then asked permission to see his uncle Juan Bernardino. The entire bishop’s retinue went with him, and found that Juan Bernardino had indeed been fully cured of his illness. The older man confirmed that he had been healed on the morning Juan Diego had left, and that he saw the Blessed Virgin in a similar manner as she had appeared to his nephew. She instructed him to describe his experience to the bishop, and to name her image as the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe.
A short time afterward, a small hermitage was built for Our Lady of Guadalupe at Tepeyac. Eventually, the image was transferred to this shrine, accompanied by a large procession headed by Bishop Zumárraga. That icon is the same that exists at Tepeyac to this day.
Such is the bare bones narrative of the origin of Guadalupe. There are many more details, variations, and nuances, as we shall see, but all the major traditional accounts agree on the elements just described. In the remainder of this work, we will examine the historical basis for these and other elements of the Guadalupan tradition. We will start by examining the four major Guadalupan accounts of the seventeenth century.
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The full story of Guadalupe was first published in 1648 by the Mexican priest Miguel Sánchez (1594-1674), in an extensive theological reflection on the apparitions and the miraculous image, entitled Imagen de la Virgen María, Madre de Dios de Guadalupe. Padre Sánchez claimed to base his account of the apparitions and subsequent miracles on the traditions with which he had been familiar for most of his life. His purpose was not merely to recount the history of Guadalupe, but to give it theological context, comparing the image of Guadalupe to that of the Woman in the twelfth chapter of the Apocalypse of St. John. His work was largely successful in popularizing the devotion of Guadalupe, and motivated other ecclesiastical authors to pursue their own investigations.
The following year (1649), Luis Lasso de la Vega (c. 1600-1660), the chaplain of the shrine of Guadalupe, published in the indigenous Nahuatl language (then called mexicano) a simple narrative of the apparitions and the later miracles attributed to Our Lady of Guadalupe. The tract was published under the title Huei tlamahuizoltica Omonoxiti ilhuicac tlatoca ihwapilli Sancta María, which means The great occurrence in which appeared Our Lady the Queen of Heaven, Holy Mary. It is more commonly known by the titles of two of its components, namely the Nican mopohua, which is the account of the apparitions, and the Nican moctepana, which is the account of the later miracles. Since few people could read Nahuatl, this work languished in relative obscurity, until it was completely translated into Spanish in 1926 by Primo Feliciano Velázquez. Since then, the Nican mopohua has become the most widely published version of the Guadalupe narrative, in part because it is believed to be based on ancient manuscripts by indigenous authors. Skeptical scholars, most notably Stafford Poole, have claimed that Lasso de la Vega’s account is an original literary composition by the chaplain, with the narrative facts based on his reading of Sánchez’s work. Later, we will explore the provenance of the Nican mopohua and Nican moctepana in some detail.
In 1666, the erudite scholar Luis Becerra Tanco (1603-1672) published his own version of the Guadalupe narrative, based on his access to old manuscripts, maps and annals. From the time of publication through the early twentieth century, this was the most widely published version, and acclaimed as the most accurate and most authentic. Since the rediscovery of the Nican mopohua, however, it has fallen into general neglect. Nonetheless, we will find an important textual witness in Becerra Tanco, who does a better job than any other early Guadalupan author in accounting for his sources.
Lastly, in 1688, the Jesuit father Francisco de Florencia published his scholarly account of Guadalupe in La Estrella del Norte de México. His account is of interest to us because it is based in part on an early manuscript lent to him by the illustrious scholar Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora (1645-1700).
Practically all our knowledge of the traditional story of Guadalupe is contained in these four accounts. With good reason, the authors of these accounts have sometimes been called the four evangelists of Guadalupe. This does not mean that their texts should be accorded the same reverence as the Holy Gospels, but there are some significant analogies. Like the synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, strikingly similar language appears among the four Guadalupan accounts, suggesting that some may be textually dependent on the others, or that they draw upon the same written or oral sources. Padre Sánchez's account, like the Gospel of St. Matthew, is embellished with references to Scriptural prophecy. Lasso de la Vega’s account gives some signs of being more primitive, as it is more concise, yet full of indigenous idioms and metaphors, much as the brief narrative of St. Mark’s Gospel contains evidence of Hebraisms. Becerra Tanco, like St. Luke, is concerned with providing an orderly and historically exact account, and makes use of multiple sources. Lastly, Padre Florencia, like St. John, attempts to supply what the earlier accounts have omitted, and supplements the narrative with extended commentary and reflection.
We are concerned with establishing the historical basis of the Guadalupan tradition, so we will not only analyze the four accounts themselves, but also shall attempt to determine their sources, and their literary relationship to one another. Over the centuries, many scholars have allowed their opinions on the authenticity of the Guadalupan tradition to inform their source critical judgments, often plainly disregarding what the original authors themselves had to say about their sources. When we proceed with our source criticism, we must take care to emphasize the testimonies of the seventeenth-century scholars, so that our conclusions may be grounded more in historical facts than in speculative suppositions.
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3.1 Letters of Approbation
3.3 Guadalupe in the Light of Prophecy
3.4 Narrative of the Apparitions
3.5 Further Reflections on the Image
3.6 The Shrine of Guadalupe
3.7 Seven Miracles of Guadalupe
3.8 Concluding Letters
3.9 Mateo de la Cruz’s Edition
The earliest published version of the story of Guadalupe was written by Padre Miguel Sánchez (1606-1674) in 1648, under the full title: Imagen de la Virgen María, Madre de Dios de Guadalupe. Milagrosamente aparecida en la ciudad de México. Celebrada en su historia, con la profecía del capítulo doce del Apocalipsis. Translated, the title reads: Image of the Virgin Mary, Mother of God of Guadalupe. Miraculously appeared in the city of Mexico. Celebrated in its history, with the prophecy of Chapter Twelve of the Apocalypse. We can immediately perceive two things about Padre Sánchez’s intent, simply from the title. First, he speaks of Our Lady of Guadalupe as appearing in the city of Mexico, rather than on the hill of Tepeyac more than a league away. This is because the miraculous appearance of central concern to him is the image on the tilma, which was first revealed at the bishop's residence in Mexico City. Second, he is not concerned with presenting the history of the image for its own sake, but wishes to expound its theological significance as prophesied in Holy Scripture.
The miraculous image is of momentous importance to P. Sánchez, because he sees in it a fulfillment of the twelfth chapter of the Book of the Apocalypse. His work is not merely a narration of the apparitions at Tepeyac and the subsequent history of the miraculous image, but an extended reflection on the image itself and its significance in relation to Biblical prophecy. For P. Sánchez, Guadalupe is not just another Marian miracle, but an event of deep significance in world history. He does not consider it an accident that it occurred in Mexico, where the greatest pagan civilization of the New World first engaged Christianity. Guadalupe’s role in the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy is essential to his understanding of the miracle, and it would be a mistake to try to separate P. Sánchez’s narrative from his theological interpretations, as many commentators, impatient with baroque theologizing, have done. I will therefore discuss his work in its entirety, so that we may give his narrative its full context.
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Sánchez’s work is preceded by two letters of approbation. The first is from don Juan de Poblete, cantor of the metropolitan Church of Mexico. Dr. Poblete commends the author for his eloquent work, which takes the concise narrative of the prodigious miracle and expounds it in light of the twelfth chapter of the Apocalypse. He finds the work to be rigorous and authenticated by trustworthy testimonies and traditions (su milagrosa aparición, autenticada con testimonios verídicos y tradiciones del hecho). It is not clear, however, whether Poblete has independent knowledge of the story, or he simply trusts in P. Sánchez’s account.
The letter from Fray Pedro de Rozas, lecturer of theology in the convent of N.P.S. Agustín de México, gives a clearer indication that the story of Guadalupe was already widely known. He writes:
Dele gracias toda esta Nueva España, que después de ciento diez y seis años tomó la pluma para que lo que solamente sabíamos por tradición, sin distinción lo entendamos circunstanciado y definido con autoridad y fundamento…
May all of New Spain give thanks [to P. Sánchez], that after 116 years he took the pen so that what we knew only by tradition, without distinction, we may understand in detail and defined with authority and reliability…
Fray Rosas states that there already was a widely held tradition about a prodigious origin to the image of Guadalupe, though he does not specify what that tradition was. It would seem that at least the basic story of an apparition of the Virgin to an Indian and the miraculous imprinting of the image was known, and Sánchez's contribution was to explain the meaning of the miracle in terms of Scripture, and to provide factual details based on the more reliable testimonies.
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Sánchez himself, after a letter of dedication, gives a brief account of the foundation of his narrative. His motive for writing came from his contemplation of the miraculous image of Guadalupe and the prophetic image of the twelfth chapter of the Apocalypse on which it seems to be based. Wishing to write of these two images together, he hesitated, feeling awkward in his writing ability, but finally, remembering St. John’s mention of the aid of St. Michael the Archangel, his namesake, he gathered the determination to set out on his task. We see that Sánchez’s primary motivation is to show how Guadalupe is a fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. His attempt to compose an accurate history of the apparitions is subordinate to that end.
Determinado, gustoso y diligente busqué papeles y escritos tocantes a la santa imagen y su milagro, no los hallé, aunque recorrí los archivos donde podían guardarse, supe que por accidentes del tiempo y ocasiones se habían perdido los que hubo. Apelé a la providencia de la curiosidad de los antiguos, en que hallé unos, bastantes a la verdad, y no contento los examiné en todas sus circunstancias, ya confrontando las crónicas de la conquista, ya informandome de las más antiguas personas y fidedignas de la ciudad, ya buscando los dueños que decían ser originarios de estos papeles, y confieso que aunque todo me hubiera faltado, no había de desistir de mi propósito, cuando tenía de mi parte el derecho común, grave y venerado de la tradición, en aqueste milagro, antigua, uniforme y general.
Determined, willing and diligent, I searched for papers and writings concerning the holy image and its miracle; I did not find them; though I ran through the archives where they could be kept, I learned that through the accidents of time and chance those that had been there were lost. I appealed to the providence of the curiosity of the ancients, in which I found some, sufficiently like the truth, and not satisfied, I examined them in all their details, now comparing the chronicles of the conquest, now informing myself from the oldest and most trustworthy persons of the city, now searching for those said to be the original owners of these papers, and I confess that even though everything had failed me, I could not abandon my purpose, when I had on my side the common right, solemn and venerated, of tradition, in this miracle, ancient, uniform and general.
Sánchez evidently had prior knowledge of the miraculous story of Guadalupe, since from the outset he searched for documents that would corroborate it. This action would be inexplicable if he were composing some pious romance of his own invention. The archives in question were undoubtedly the episcopal archives, which had suffered various misfortunes, at one point being ransacked due to a paper shortage. It is unclear what was Sánchez's basis for believing that documents of the apparition had once been in the archive.
Critics of the apparition have made light of Sánchez’s claim that he finally found some writings “bastantes a la verdad” (“sufficiently like the truth”), but this expression actually is evidence that Sánchez already had well-defined ideas about the story of Guadalupe, implying that the popular tradition he knew was rather detailed. He compared these writings with other histories and with the recollections of older citizens, but apparently he was not able to adequately establish a complete narrative on this basis. Finally, he turned to the popular tradition with which he was familiar, and reasoned that the universality and antiquity of the tradition is sufficient argument for its authenticity. With a well-established tradition, there is no need to seek other authorities. Tradditio est, nihil amplius quaeras.
Sánchez acknowledges that he was unable to find any written records in official archives, and the writings he did find were evidently inadequate to establish the tradition. He instead appealed to the universality and antiquity of the tradition as the authority of his account. Even if we accept this heuristic, Sánchez has done nothing to show that the tradition is indeed ancient. At best, it was well known throughout his lifetime, that is, since the beginning of the seventeenth century. We should like to know what evidence, if any, there is that the tradition existed in the sixteenth century. Sánchez does not provide this evidence, nor does he indicate which details of the tradition are corroborated by the few documents he did find. We must keep in mind that P. Sánchez was not versed in the Nahuatl language, so he did not have access to indigenous accounts. His search was entirely among Spanish documents and Spanish witnesses.
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Sánchez opens his work with an extended discussion of the image of the woman in the twelfth chapter of the Apocalypse, which in the Vulgate begins:
Et signum magnum apparuit in caelo: mulier amicta sole, et luna sube pedibus ejus, et in capite ejus corona stellarum duodecim.
And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. (12:1)
This image has some physical similarities with Our Lady of Guadalupe, who is depicted standing on a crescent moon, and is surrounded by rays of light emanating from her starry mantle. P. Sánchez, however, does not focus on simple physical parallels between the Biblical image and that of Guadalupe, but instead he describes the events leading to Guadalupe as a significant fulfillment of the prophecies in St. John’s revelation.
…si en su imagen estaba significada la Iglesia, también por mano de María Virgen se habia ganado y conquistado aqueste Nuevo Mundo, y en su cabeza México fundado la Iglesia. Que la imagen de Guadalupe se le había aparecido y descubierto a un prelado como él, consagrado y honrado con su nombre, al ilustrísimo obispo don Juan de Zumárraga… Que esta ciudad era muy parecida a las isla de Patmos, pues a mano la habían compuesto los naturales de ella con tierras sobre aguas, quedando siempre cercada de mares o lagunas.
…if in [St. John’s] image the Church was signified, also by the hand of the Virgin Mary this New World was gained and conquered, and the Church founded in its head Mexico. That the image of Guadalupe had appeared and revealed to a prelate like him, consecrated and honored with his name, the illustrious bishop don Juan de Zumárraga… That this city was very similar to the isle of Patmos, for the natives had built it by hand with earth over waters, always remaining surrounded by seas or lagoons.
The woman in St. John’s revelation gives birth to the Church, as is admitted by all exegetes, Protestant as well as Catholic. Similarly, Sánchez asserts, the Virgin Mary has founded the Church in the city of Mexico. He attributes the conquest of the New World to the Blessed Virgin, a claim that he will elaborate later. He sees parallelism with St. John’s revelation in the fact that the image of Guadalupe was revealed to a bishop, a successor of the Apostles, who was also named John (Juan). Again, P. Sánchez considers the image as having appeared in the city of Mexico, not on the hill of Tepeyac, for it was in the house of the bishop that the image was revealed. As St. John received his revelation on the isle of Patmos, so did Juan de Zumárraga receive his revelation in the city of Mexico, which was an artificial island, a veritable wonder built by the Indians atop a lake.
These comparisons with Scripture suggest that P. Sánchez had already received facts about the Guadalupan tradition, which he then interpreted as best he could in his novel theological scheme. The more awkward or forced this fit, the more certain we can be that the facts were not invented or embellished by the author. With this heuristic, we can infer that it was already received tradition that the bishop who witnessed the miracle was Juan de Zumárraga (for no other early bishop was named Juan), and this prompted Sánchez to draw a parallel with the name of St. John the Evangelist. It was also a received tradition that the miraculous image was revealed to the bishop in the city of Mexico, prompting an analogy with the isle of Patmos.
As mentioned, the image of Guadalupe contains some of the physical imagery of St. John’s revelation. She is “clothed in the sun,” being surrounded by rays, and she has “the moon beneath her feet.” P. Sánchez, nonetheless, offers a more allegorical interpretation of the woman in the Apocalypse. He says that the “woman clothed in the sun” is Mexico, since Mexico is in the torrid zone, long thought to be uninhabitable due to its proximity to the sun. She would eventually become illuminated by the sun that is Christ. The “moon beneath her feet” refers to the fact that the city of Mexico was built over water, and according to all astrologers, the moon predominates over water. (Luna dominatur aquis, et humidis.) These contrived interpretations further attest that the legend of Our Lady of Guadalupe was not an invention of P. Sánchez, but a received fact that he tried to harmonize with the Revelation of St. John, with uneven success.
The Dragon of the Apocalypse, who represents Satan, persecutes the woman. To Sánchez, the dragon is the demon of idolatry in the New World, which had long deceived the people of Mexico. The seven heads and seven crowns of the dragon represent the original seven nations of what would become Nuevo México. Six of these nations would be subjugated by the king of the Aztecs (mexicanos, as they were then called), so that imperial Mexico represented all seven crowns.
In the twelfth chapter of the Apocalypse, St. Michael and his angels wage war against the Dragon, ultimately defeating him and restoring the earth. P. Sánchez finds in this martial imagery a clear parallel with the taking of Mexico by the fierce conquistadores and their battling Prince “don Fernando Cortés.” They fulfilled the office of avenging angels, because they conquered the idolatrous empire and converted it to the faith. Yet they also fulfilled two distinctively angelic offices. First, when the conquerors arrived at the port, they celebrated the first Mass there, and the soldiers acted as the choir, there and at later Masses elsewhere. In singing these hymns, they fulfilled a classic angelic role. More importantly, they acted like angels by turning everything over to God (for Cortés obediently relinquished his claim to rule before the Crown), placing the conquered land in the hands of God. Their victory would be complete when the Virgin Mary would appear in her holy image of Guadalupe.
Modern historians, especially in the Protestant and secular world, look unfavorably on the conquest led by Cortés, in part because of veritable crimes committed by the conquistadores, but also because of a profound hostility to the Catholic Church, and a staunch refusal to admit the superiority of the faith over Aztec idolatry. Under such a paradigm, Sánchez seems to be a monstrous apologist for Cortés’ sanguinary expedition, and there is no redeeming feature to be seen in the conversion of Mexico to the Catholic faith. Against this black caricature, we should note that Sánchez does not attempt to hide the ferocity of the conquistadores, but rather he compares their martial spirit with the equally terrifying image of apocalyptic angels. He sees nothing wrong with the conquest because (1) he does not gloss over or diminish the evils of Aztec idolatry, as do his modern counterparts, and (2) he recognizes the goodness and beauty of the Catholic faith, the receipt of which is a great gift to the people of Mexico. Indeed, what we know from indigenous histories suggests a great receptivity to the faith in Mexico, even among those who bitterly recalled the crimes of the military conquest.
Pertinent to our inquiry, more than a few historians have supposed that P. Sánchez invented or embellished the Guadalupe legend as a propaganda device for justifying the conquest. In the first place, the justification of the conquest and conversion of Mexico was already universally accepted in his day, making such propaganda superfluous. Second, the sometimes awkward fit between the story of Guadalupe and Sánchez’s panegyric shows that the former was not invented to fit this scheme. Whatever we may think of Sánchez’s lionizing of Cortés, it can hardly be said to be the basis of his devotion toward Guadalupe. On the contrary, he makes the conquest subservient to Guadalupe; its merit lies primarily in the fact that it made Guadalupe possible.
The twelfth chapter of the Apocalypse speaks of the woman being taken up on eagles’ wings. According to the Jesuit commentator P. Diego de Baeza, these wings represent the two arms of the Holy Cross, on which the Son of God was exalted and which lifts the faithful to victory and freedom over dangers. Sánchez finds it prophetic that the conquerors arrived at the port on Good Friday, dubbing it the Port of the True Cross (Puerto de la Vera Cruz). Since then, the city of Vera Cruz would be filled with images of the Holy Cross, and it would be the headquarters of the Most Holy Tribunal of the Inquisition, whose role was to discover and administer penance to the enemies of the faith, with its customary mercy (con su acostumbrada misericordia). The enemies of the faith were called by St. Paul “enemies of the Cross of Christ” (Philippians 3:18), making it fitting that the Inquisition should be based there. We note that P. Sánchez considers the Inquisition to be an agent of mercy, not of persecution, for her role is to administer penance and forgive the errors of heretics.
Revelation 12:15-16 describes the defeated Dragon as spewing forth a torrent of water to sweep away the Woman, but the earth opens its mouth and swallows the flood, thereby saving her. P. Sánchez sees the waters as representing the early “persecution of Mexico,” by which he means the bad reports of Mexico given to the Spanish crown, resulting in the punishment of Mexican leaders or the subjugation of the territory to parties hostile to Mexico. Such intrigues date back to the time of Cortés, who was repeatedly falsely accused of involvement in various scandals, though history has acquitted him of everything except his ruthlessness during the conquest. Similar misfortune and false accusation, we shall see, would envelop the first bishop of Mexico, Juan de Zumárraga. The same would be true for Viceroys don Luis de Velasco and don Gaston de Peralta.
Today, of course, when one speaks of persecution in colonial Mexico, one usually means the punishment of heresy or any other behavior that today is considered to be a lawful exercise of civil freedoms. This is a totally ahistorical analysis, for it simply projects today’s values onto the sixteenth century. At the time, these things were not perceived as persecutions, but as punishment or penance for real crimes, just as we do not consider ourselves to be “persecuting” murderers, rapists, thieves, child pornographers, and the like. For P. Sánchez, the punishment of crime is not persecution; rather the only persecutor is the Dragon himself.
The Dragon, unable to assault heaven, must turn to the woman’s children, who are in the city of Mexico, which is a new Jerusalem, a city of peace, according to P. Sánchez. Those who are persecuted in Mexico are invited to turn to Psalm 16 (in the Vulgate enumeration; in other versions, Psalm 17).
(Exaudi, Domine, justitiam)
Hear, O Lord, my justice;
attend to my supplication.
Give ear unto my prayer,
which proceedeth not from deceitful lips.
Let my judgment come forth from thy countenance;
let thy eyes behold the things that are equitable. ...
Protect me under the shadow of thy wings.
From the face of the wicked who have afflicted me.
My enemies have surrounded my soul.
They have cast me forth and now they have surrounded me;
they have set their eyes bowing down to the earth.
But as for me, I will appear before thy sight in justice;
I shall be satisfied when thy glory shall appear.
(Ego autem in justitia apparebo in conspectu tuo:
Satiabor cum apparverit gloria tua.)
The last verse, Sánchez notes, is often translated Cum apparaverit Similitudo tua, or Figura tua, or Imago tua. These alternate renderings, speaking of the semblance, or figure, or image of God appearing, naturally call to mind the image of Guadalupe, which consoles Mexico in all her sufferings. The semblance and image of God is Mary in her holy image of Guadalupe, which displays the glory of God. This is the “great sign in the heaven” described by St. John. The Virgin Mary is the most perfect living image of God, and her image of Guadalupe has prevailed over the conquered land, so that those born in it have the consolation of being an image of God, and also find themselves accompanied by the image of Mary, to defend them from the Dragon.
Sánchez explains the appearance of the image of Guadalupe in the context of the miraculous birth of the Blessed Virgin to St. Anne in her sterility. He quotes a famous commentary by St. John Damascene on the topic:
Quonians scilicet oportebat, ut adid, quod solum sub Sole novum erat, ac miraculourum omnium caput, via per miracula sterneretur, ac paualatim ab humilioribus, ad sublimiora fuisset progressus.
Because it was certainly proper, that for that which was the only new thing under the Sun, and the head of all miracles, the way was paved by a miracle, and it may advance gradually from the more humble to the more sublime.
The “only new thing under the Sun,” and “the head of all miracles” was the Virgin Mary herself, and the way for her was paved by the miracle granted to St. Anne. It is fitting that the Blessed Virgin, the head and font of all miracles, should herself be brought into the world by a miracle, reflecting how smaller miracles would be precursors of greater miracles. Just as St. Anne’s miracle anticipated a much greater miracle, so did the numerous miraculous images of Mary anticipate the great prodigy of Our Lady of Guadalupe. P. Sánchez considers the image of Guadalupe to be a greater miracle than any of the other religious icons of miraculous origin, and it is especially exalted since it is the image of the Blessed Mother who herself is the greatest miracle and the font of all miracles. This belief, Sánchez says, informs the entire narrative that he is about to relate.
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As I recount this narrative, I will closely follow the wording of P. Sánchez, even in parts that are paraphrased for the sake of brevity, in order to relate only the version of the Guadalupe story that he tells, without injecting elements of other versions. I will make my own comments on the content and literary intent explicit. Otherwise, what follows is essentially a précis of P. Sánchez's narrative.
The great imperial city of Mexico, long mired in barbarism and idolatry, “received the light of the Gospel by the hand of the Virgin Mary Mother of God, assistant conqueror.” (recibió la luz del Evangelio por mano de María Virgen Madre de Dios, asistente conquistadora.) The conquest was completed on the thirteenth of August, in the year 1521. Our story takes place ten years later, in the beginning of December 1531, “in the place that is now called Guadalupe, and in the original language Tepeyácac.” On this rocky, barren hill, about a league away from the city of Mexico, a recently converted Indian passed by one Saturday, and he heard “sweet melodies, harmonious chords, uniform tones, executed counterpoints and sonorous accents” (note the mention of European musical concepts), yet they were not from any known birds or musical instruments.
There was a pause in the heavenly chorus, and the Indian heard a voice from the mount calling his name, Juan Diego. P. Sánchez notes that the Indian’s name and surname were fitting, since the mother of the apostles James (Diego) and John (Juan) was also named Mary. Juan Diego followed the voice toward the top of the hill, where a lady beckoned him to draw near. In a sweet voice, she said Hijo Juan, ¿adónde vas? (“Son Juan, where are you going?”). Again, Sánchez finds this fitting, since Christ entrusted the care of the Blessed Virgin to the Apostle John, who then became her son. These artificial interpretations suggest that the name Juan Diego was an already existing fact in the Guadalupan tradition, which the author now attempts to harmonize with his exegetical scheme.
Juan Diego told the Virgin that he was going to study catechism under the religious fathers at Tlatelolco (a predominantly indigenous borough of Mexico that was originally a distinct city). The lady replied:
Sabe, hijo, que yo soy María Virgen Madre de Dios verdadero. Quiero que se me funde aquí una casa y ermita, templo en qué mostrarme piadosa Madre contigo, con los tuyos, con mis devotos, con los que me buscaren para el remedio de sus necesidades. Para que tenga efecto aquesta pretensión de misericordia, has de ir al palacio del obispo de México, y en nombre mío decirle, que tengo particular voluntad de que me labre y edifique un templo en este sitio, refiriéndole lo que atento has escuchado y lo que devoto has percibido, ve seguro de que te pagaré agradecida con beneficios el trabajo y con mercedes la solicitud.
Know, son, that I am Mary the Virgin Mother of the true God. I wish that a house and hermitage be founded for me, a temple in which I may show myself a pious mother with you and yours, and with my devoted, with those who seek me for the remedy of their needs. For this endeavor of mercy to take effect, you must go to palace of the bishop of Mexico, and in my name tell him, that it is my special will that a temple be fashioned and built on this site, reporting to him what you have attentively heard and devotedly perceived, go certain that I will pay you thankfully with rewards for the work and with graces for the petition.
The humble Indian paid his respects to the Lady, and swiftly carried out her requests without delay. He sought the palace of the bishop in the city of Mexico. The bishop was don Juan de Zumárraga, a man of renowned virtue and a member of the Franciscan order, which was responsible for the initial evangelization of Mexico.
P. Sánchez invites us to consider a similar occurrence with another Juan, the Apostle John on the isle of Patmos. There he heard an angelic voice call him, saying, “Come, and I will show thee the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” (Rev. 21:9) Then the angel took John up in spirit to a high mountain, and there he showed him a new city, called Jerusalem, coming down from heaven. The angel shows John all the marvelous features of the city, but what strikes the Apostle is that there is no temple there, for God Himself serves as its temple. (21:22) When John sought to prostrate himself before the angel, he was corrected: “See thou do it not, for I am thy fellow servant (conservus).” (22:9) By implication, the Apostle is co-servant of the angel, and therefore fulfills a similar office, that of a messenger of God.
We can see the parallels with Guadalupe: Juan Diego was summoned by musical angelic voices to the top of a mountain, where he was shown the Virgin Mary, who is the legitimate spouse of God, and she illuminates the city of Mexico with the lights of God, just as the Lamb is the lamp of the heavenly Jerusalem. (21:23) It was not presumptuous for Sánchez to see the new Jerusalem in Mexico, for the new Jerusalem is the Church, and the Church was in Mexico in an especially eminent way. There was no temple on this mount, just as the new Jerusalem lacked a temple, but here the Virgin asks Juan Diego to request one to be built. Also, like the Apostle before the angel, the Indian kneels before her in due reverence, and then fulfills the office of an angel by swiftly obeying her instructions. The imperfections in some of these analogies further suggest that the facts of the narrative are a received tradition, not the invention of P. Sánchez, who merely tries to fit these facts into his interpretation of the Apocalypse.
On the same day (Saturday), Juan Diego returned to the mount with the bishop's reply. The Indian told the Lady:
Obedecí Señora y Madre mía tu mandato, no sin trabajo entré a visitar al obispo, a cuyos pies me arrodillé me recibió, amorosamente me bendijo, atentamente me escuchó y tibiamente respondió diciéndome: 'Hijo, otro día cuando haya lugar puedes venir, te oiré más despacio para tu pretensión y sabré de raíz aquesa tu embajada.' Juzgué por el semblante y las palabras, estaba persuadido a que la petición del templo que tu pides edifique en tu nombre en aqueste lugar, nacía de mi propia imaginación y no de tu mandato, a cuya causa te suplico encargues semejante negocio a otra persona a quien se dé más crédito.
I obeyed, my Lady and Mother, your command; not without effort I entered to visit the bishop, at whose feet I kneeled and he received me, lovingly he blessed me. He listened to me attentively and responded lukewarmly, telling me: 'Son, another day when there is time you can come, then I will hear your claim more slowly and I will learn the source of your embassy.' I judged from his appearance and his words that he was persuaded that the petition for the temple that you asked to be built in your name in this place, originated from my own imagination and not from your command, for which cause I beseech you that you entrust this matter to another person who will be given more credence.
The Blessed Virgin assured Juan Diego that it was suitable that he should make the request, and that her wish should be fulfilled by his hand (mas conviene que tú lo solicites, y tenga por tu mano logros en mi deseo). She told him to return to the bishop the next day, to make the request again and repeat that it is she, Mary the Virgin Mother of God, who has sent him there. Juan Diego promised to carry out her mission with haste the following morning.
P. Sánchez, as narrator, tells Juan to wait before he descends the mount, so that all may be helped by the words of Christ, who praises the Father for having hidden great mysteries “from the learned and wise, and Thou hast revealed them to the small.” (Lk. 10:21) So, too, the Blessed Virgin, attentive to her Son's words, has seen fit that her heavenly mission be entrusted to a humble, poor and ignorant man. With this interjection complete, the narrator tells the holy messenger to go down the mount and continue on his path.
The following day, Sunday, Juan Diego left at dawn for catechism and Mass at the church of Santiago Tlatelolco. At ten o’clock, he went to the bishop’s palace. He was finally able to obtain entry after much diligent pleading and shedding of tears to testify to his sincerity.
The narrator again interjects, inviting us to come aside while Juan explains himself to the bishop’s men. Juan obeyed the Virgin this second time, even though he knew he was a man of no repute. Although the messenger is humble, in matters of truth it is a grave thing not to believe, or even to doubt. The bishop Zumárraga was prudent not to immediately believe that the Virgin had sent the Indian. Similarly, when Mary Magdalene, that lowly public sinner and demoniac who had converted, was the first to be entrusted with the news of Christ’s resurrection, she was not immediately believed by the Apostles. It was not that they found Mary Magdalene untrustworthy, or that they could not believe Christ was raised, but rather they found it doubtful that she would have been the first to whom He would appear. The mystery of the Resurrection was trustworthy, but the doubt was in the circumstance of Mary Magdalene. Likewise, Bishop Zumárraga did not doubt in the mercies and love of the Blessed Virgin, but he did find it doubtful that the first apparition of the Virgin in this land should be revealed to an Indian “so recently converted and relieved… from the demons of idolatry.”
At the signaled hour later in the day, Juan Diego returned to the mount of Guadalupe (again Sánchez uses this name to refer to the hill), which is the new mount Tabor (site of the Transfiguration). He told the Blessed Mother that he had carried out her embassy before the bishop, pleading before him with sighs and tears, fearful that he would be dismissed as an obstinate nuisance.
El obispo, algo severo y al parecer algo desabrido, poco halagüeño en el estilo, me respondió diciendo: que si solamente mis palabras, informes y persona habían de moverle a negocio tan grave: examinóme curioso en todo lo que había visto en tu persona y lo que había entendido de tu proceder; yo como púde te pinté con noticias humildes, te declaré con razones de corta capacidad y pienso que valieron, pues entre dudoso y persuadido se resolvió a que para creerme y saber que tú eras María Madre de Dios verdadero, que me enviabas y le mandabas te aposentase en un templo en sitio tan desierto, que te pidiese alguna señal, prenda o seña que certificase tu voluntad y lo convenciera en mi demanda.
The bishop, rather stern and seeming somewhat gruff, with little charm in his manner, replied to me, saying: whether it is only my words, reports and person that were to move him to such a serious business. He examined me, being curious about all that I had seen in your person and what I had understood of your conduct. I described you as I could with humble reports. I testified of you with reasons from my meager ability and I think that they were effective, so that being somewhere between doubtful and persuaded, he resolved that in order to believe me and to know that you were Mary, Mother of the true God, that you sent me and commanded him to lodge you in a temple in such a deserted place, that he should ask of you some signal, pledge or sign that should certify your will and convince him of my claim.
We note that Juan Diego speaks of housing the Blessed Virgin in a temple, though there is yet no image of her to place there. She will truly be present in her shrine, much as God is present in every church, which is a house of God. Consistent with Sánchez's earlier description, the barren mount of Guadalupe is characterized as a deserted place prior to the building of the shrine.
Juan had confidently asked the bishop what sign he wanted, trusting that the Blessed Virgin would fulfill any sign whatsoever, but the bishop left the specifics to his care. So the Indian now asked the Virgin to provide a signal of her choosing to bring to the bishop. The Queen of Heaven answered:
Mañana, hijo Juan, me verás, yo te daré la señal tan bastante, que te desempeñes en tu promesa, te reciban con aplauso, y te despachen con admiración, y advierte, que semejante cuidado, cansancio y camino, no se han de perder en tu comodidad, ni olvidarse en mi gratitud; aquí te espero, no me olvides.
Tomorrow, son Juan, you will see me. I will give you a signal so sufficient for you to redeem your promise that they will receive you with applause and they will dispatch you with admiration, and be advised that similar care, fatigue and travel must not be lost in your convenience, nor forgotten in my gratitude. I wait for you here; do not forget me.
Having been duly warned to attend to this next errand with the same diligence he has shown previously, Juan continued back to his village. Little did he know that Bishop Zumárraga, impressed by the certainty with which the Indian had promised to bring back a sign, had sent some servants to follow him and see where he went and with whom he spoke. They diligently kept him in sight until they reached the bridge of Guadalupe crossing the river near the mount. There they lost sight of him. They searched the entire area, but no one there had seen him, leaving the servants not only frustrated but now enemies of Juan. They discredited him before the bishop, claiming that the Indian must have been relating a trick, a fiction, or a dream.
This is the first time the narrative departs from Juan Diego's point of view, not counting the theological interludes by the narrator. This episode also seems chronologically out of place, since the servants followed and lost Juan Diego before he reached the mount, yet this event is narrated only after his meeting with the Virgin and descent from the mount. Neither of these are sound reasons for supposing that this episode is an interpolation by P. Sánchez. The author consistently introduces his asides and commentaries explicitly, yet there is no such indication here that this is anything but a part of the historical narrative. As for the placement of this portion of the text, we must recall that we do not find out what happened with the bishop and his servants on Sunday until Juan Diego gives his report at the end of the day. Only after this establishing narrative is given does it make sense to mention the spies following Juan Diego.
If this is a truly historical narrative, we must give an account of how facts unknowable to Juan Diego could have become part of the received tradition. This is not as difficult as it appears. The servants made a factually accurate report of their pursuit and loss of Juan Diego to the bishop, though they colored their report with an unflattering interpretation of the Indian’s motives, suggesting he had deliberately eluded them in order to conceal his deceit. Once the authenticity of Juan Diego’s mission was established, the bishop and any others who had heard the servants could now disregard the slanderous elements in their report, and accept the basic physical fact that Juan Diego had simply disappeared from their sight.
Sánchez finds further prophetic parallels as Juan Diego will now be called to the mount a third time, just as Moses was thrice called to the top of Sinai. All three times, only Moses was allowed to come to the top of the mountain. Sánchez notes that, analogously, the bishop’s servants were not permitted to come to the top of the mount with Juan Diego, who was hidden from them much as Moses was hidden in a cloud. Also, just as Moses ascended the mount so that God could speak to him of the fashioning of the Temple, so was Juan Diego summoned alone to receive the message to build the temple of Guadalupe, which would house the true Ark, which is Mary. The sometimes contrived nature of these analogies suggests again that Sánchez is dealing with a received narrative tradition about Guadalupe, which he then subjects to Biblical comparisons. Thus not even the episode about the spying servants should be attributed to his invention.
The following day (Monday), when Juan was supposed to bring the signs from the Virgin to the bishop, he was not able to do so, because when he had returned to his village, he learned that his uncle was sick. Instead he went to find someone to apply medicines for his uncle, but they were of no use. The illness was aggravated so that he was declared cocolistli (“pestilence; plague”), which meant he was on the verge of death and contagious. On the “third day with respect to when he had been with the Virgin Mary” (presumably Tuesday), Juan Diego left his village early in the morning to go to Tlatelolco, in order to summon a cleric to administer the sacraments to his dying uncle.
Although it was his custom to take the path on the west side of the mount of Guadalupe, this time he went to the east, in order to make haste and not be detained by the Blessed Virgin. In his simplicity, he supposed she might not see him on the other side of the hill. Of course, the eyes of heaven see everywhere, and the Virgin appeared to Juan Diego on this alternate path. Juan, whether from sadness or shame or fear (o contristado o avergonzado o temeroso), kneeled before her and greeted her. The Blessed Mother lovingly listened to his plea for pardon, as he assured her that it was intention to fulfill her command the next day.
María Virgen satisfecha en la verdad sencilla del informe, le reconviene piadosamente en sus favores: que por qué habia de recelar peligro, temer enfermedades, ni afligirse en trabajos, teniéndola a ella por su Madre, por su salud y amparo, con que no había menester otra cosa, que descuidara de todo, que no lo embarazara la enfermedad de su tío, el cual no había de peligrar de muerte, y le aseguraba estaba ya desde aquel punto enteramente bueno.
The Virgin Mary, satisfied in the simple truth of his report, piously expostulated to him her graces: that why should he have to fear danger, dread disease, or be grieved in labors, having her as his Mother, for his salvation and refuge, with which he would need no other thing, that he should not worry about anything, that his uncle's illness should not obstruct him, for he was not in danger of death, and she assured him that from that point he was entirely well.
One of the most iconic pieces of dialogue in the traditional Guadalupe narrative, “Am I not here, who is your Mother?” is here given only in paraphrased third-person narration, despite the fact that elsewhere Sánchez frequently resorts to direct dialogue for exposition. The content of this discourse, we shall later see, is similar to first-person versions in other sources.
Sánchez notes that it would later be confirmed that Juan Diego’s uncle was cured at the same time Juan Diego saw the Virgin on this fourth occasion. He praises the faith of the Indian so new to Christianity (la fe de aqueste tan moderno cristiano), who trusted in the word of the Blessed Virgin that his uncle was healed, and immediately carried out her task of delivering a sign to the bishop.
Juan Diego asked what sign he should bring. The Blessed Virgin signaled toward the hill where she had first called him, and said, “Go up that mount to the same place where you have seen me, spoken and listened, and from there cut, gather and carry all the roses and flowers that you discover and find; come down with them to my presence.” Juan did as he was told, even though it was the frozen winter in December (it was much colder in the sixteenth century), and the hill was all flints and boulders. Further, he had seen no roses or flowers when he was the Virgin on the mountain previously. Now he went up to the top of the hill, and saw there flowers of every color that had grown miraculously: roses, violets, jasmines, among others. He felt driven by hidden impulses to cut these flowers, and so he did. He carried them in his “coarse, poor and humble cloak (tosca, pobre y humilde manta), clean with the white of its native color, returning the two points and extremes from the bottom to the chest with his two hands and arms, tying them from his own nape hanging from his neck (which is the common style and dress of the Indians).”
Juan brought the cut flowers down from the mountain to the Blessed Virgin. She took them in her hands, “so that for a second time miracles were reborn, fragrances were recovered,” and the flowers were generally refreshed. She returned them to Juan Diego and told him that these roses and flowers would be the sign to give to the bishop, from which he would know the will of she who asks and the faithfulness of he who brings the sign. She cautioned Juan to open his cloak only in the presence of the bishop, and to relate how he had gone up to the mount to cut the flowers and other circumstances, so that the prelate would be obligated to begin the fashioning of her temple. After this, Juan Diego set off for Mexico.
Sánchez finds the flowers to be a fitting sign, and again finds analogies in Scripture. In Numbers 13, we read that God told Moses to dispatch scouts to the promised land. Moses instructed the scouts, among other things, to bring some fruit of the land as a sign of what grew there. The scouts brought back some grapes as a sign, and confirmed that the land did indeed flow with milk and honey. One of the explorers (Caleb) was so enamored of the land that he tried to persuade the Israelites to go up and seize the land, notwithstanding the dangers. Sánchez asks why it was necessary to get a sign of the land’s fruit, when God had already promised that the land flowed with milk and honey. St. Augustine provides the key when he says that the promised land is an image of holy Mary, and the grape is a figure of Christ. (D. Aug., 100 de tempore) The fruit and signs of the land pleased God so that the wandering Israelites would have a representation of Him and of Mary His Mother. The heart of Moses would be moved, not as one who had doubted God’s promise, but as a prophet desirous of such a sign showing the image of God and His Mother.
St. Bernard interpreted the statement in Song of Songs 2:1, Ego flos campi, “I am the flower of the field,” as spoken by Christ. The flower of the field differs from the flower of the garden in that the latter only grows by human cultivation, while the flower of the field grows only by the influence of heaven, without human intervention. To call Christ the flower of the field, then, signifies that the virgin field of his mother sprouted and gave birth without human intervention.
The bishop of Mexico, like Moses, asked Juan for a sign and sent him like a scout to the mount of Guadalupe, an improved land of promise. The Virgin Mary gave him as signs the flowers of the field, not of a garden, in order to send the same sign that the Israelite scouts brought of Christ. In every flower was Christ, and each flower spoke of the bounty of the earth: milk like that of a mother, and the honey of piety, which are in holy Mary. Those seeing the signs would desire to possess the land, which in this case is the home of Mary in the land of Guadalupe, where all may enjoy her graces. This pious reflection by P. Sánchez again suggests that he is dealing with a received tradition, in this case that of the flowers, which he then analogizes to passages in Scripture and their Patristic interpretations.
We should note that Sánchez’s exaltation of Guadalupe as a land of promise is not motivated by a sense of nationalist superiority. It is Mary who makes the land fruitful, and the advantage of Guadalupe is her special favor that is manifested there. The fruit of Guadalupe is none other than Christ Himself, symbolized in the flowers. Sánchez does not pretend to explain in these passages why Mexico received such a singular favor, but he does clearly identify it as a favor or grace, not something that has been earned by human merit.
Juan Diego brought the flowers in his cloak to the bishop's palace, where he encountered his majordomo and some servants. He begged them to notify the bishop that he wished to see him. None would do so, either because it was early or because they recognized the Indian and saw him unfavorably because of what the spies reported. He waited a long time, and the servants, seeing his patience, as well as the fact that he carried something covered in his cloak, asked him what was in there. Since he was in no position to resist, Juan showed them the roses. Impressed by the fact that he carried fresh, beautiful roses in winter, each servant wanted to take one of the flowers. After attempting three times, they could not, as it seemed that flowers were painted or woven into the cloak. Since they did not want Juan to leave with his admirable novelty, they notified the bishop that the Indian was there to see him.
In the presence of the bishop, Juan Diego related all that had happened regarding the miraculous flowers, which he now offered to the prelate. He uncovered his cloak to show the flowers to the bishop. The latter saw a holy bouquet on the cloak, a miraculous spring, filled with the colors of every flower, and all the flowers “falling from the cloak left painted on it Mary the Virgin Mother of God, in her holy image that is now preserved, kept and venerated in its sanctuary of Guadalupe of Mexico.” All kneeled before the image, having witnessed a singular miracle.
After an extended theological interlude, Sánchez returns to the narrative. The bishop reverently took the cloak from Juan’s shoulders and carried it to his oratory. He arranged so that the following day Juan Diego could return with reputable persons to the mount of Guadalupe, to point out the site where the Virgin Mary asked for the hermitage to be built. These “new explorers of the land of promise” (taking the imagery from Numbers 13) would relate what they had seen to their prince.
The witnesses reported that they had arrived at the place that Juan indicated to them, and they all did homage there. All of them kneeled, and some even touched their mouths to the holy ground, so that their hearts might come out and imprint it. They marked the boundaries of the site, and then followed Juan Diego to his village and his house. There his uncle was found in perfect health. Nephew and uncle shared their experiences of recent days. The uncle, whose name was Juan Bernardino, said that Mary the Virgin Mother of God had miraculously given him his health. She was at his side at the same time that Juan Diego was away to get a cleric to administer the sacraments. Further, the Virgin told him that the bishop should be told all that happened, and that her image should be called Mary, Virgin of Guadalupe, with his restored health as proof of this request. Juan Bernardino was brought to the bishop, who allowed both Indians to live in his palace for some time.
In order that the hermitage would be built quickly and alms could be raised for the project, the bishop displayed the image publicly, to inspire the faithful. He removed it from the oratory in his palace, which was already guaranteed to be blessed, just as the house of Obededom was blessed for keeping the Ark of the Lord for three months. (2 Sam. 6:11) Mary, of course, is the Ark of the New Covenant. The image was moved to the cathedral, and the whole city learned of it. Like the shepherds at the nativity, people set aside their chores and entertainments, even in the winter, and came to see the Virgin. The image was the first thing they saw upon entering the church. Those who saw it all became preachers of the miracle, giving thanks to God for this blessing, professing what they had heard in stories of the apparition and the miraculous that they had seen in the holy image.
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As the narrative concludes with people returning from the church proclaiming the miracle, P. Sánchez says that for his part he will remain kneeling before the image. His duty has been to discuss the original in prophecy, the drawing in the land of Mexico, and the painting in the miraculous occurrence. In his writing, P. Sánchez has acted as a painter making a copy, with his love of country drawing it, and with Christian admiration painting it, and with diligence retouching it. He admits that the retouches are shadows of his ignorant ingenuity, but perhaps such shadows bring the painting into sharper relief, and make the color more vivid. Since the painting is of another nature substituted by God, it does not disdain any brushes to communicate it. The author leaves his heart in the painting and image of Mary the Virgin Mother of God of Guadalupe. Quoting St. Augustine, he concludes:
In secreto tibi dixit cor meum: quae siui non à te, aliquod extra te premium, sed vultum tuum huic inquisitioni perseveranter instabo.
Mi corazón te comunica en secreto, dice que no quiere otro premio sino verte, y que ha de vivir perseverando en las diligencias de buscarte y en las esperanzas de verte.
My heart speaks to you in secret, saying that it wants no other reward than to see you, and that it must live persevering in the diligences of seeking you and in the hopes of seeing you.
Sánchez then continues with an extensive comparison of the sacred image with that of the Apocalypse, constituting “retouches” of his earlier discourse. I will note only what he says about the physical features of the image. “The cloth and cloak (lienzo y manta), on which this holy image appeared painted from the flowers, is of a weave so native to this land, that only in it can one find the material that composes it.” The plant is called maguey, a providentially useful plant that the Indians are able to weave finely enough to resemble coarse cotton, also used in this land. The native name for that type of cloak is ayatl, which is a common dress among the poor Indians. The cloak is composed of two cloths sewn together with cotton thread. This junction is still visible today, running down the length of the image, through the left side of the painted figure. He estimates the cloak’s dimensions as more than two varas (5.6 ft) in length, and more than a vara (2.8 ft) in width, again similar to those of today.
The remainder of his observations are all consistent with the image as it exists today. He mentions the stars of gold covering her cloak, the angel and cloud beneath her feet, and numerous other physical details all confirming that the image as we see it today is the same as it was in 1648. After continuing with an extended theological discourse on each element of the image, P. Sánchez describes the translation of the image to its shrine, and the shrine itself.
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When the shrine or hermitage (ermita) was complete, Bishop Zumárraga organized a general procession to move the miraculous image there. Although the image of Guadalupe had appeared in the city of Mexico, which was properly its homeland, yet the flowers of which it was made were planted in the paradise of the mount. Sánchez finds an analogy with Adam, who was created in one place and then placed in another. (Gen. 2:7-8) St. Basil the Great explained that it was because of Adam’s special dignity that he, unlike the animals, was moved from the place he was formed, to an appointed place where he would receive favors and privileges from God. Sánchez reasons that a similar motive made it fitting for Zúmarraga to order the translation of the image to the mount of Guadalupe, which we have already seen is an image of the earthly paradise.
Sánchez says the procession was scheduled for the second day of Christmas, which was a Tuesday, fifteen days from the discovery of the image. By “fifteen days from” (a los quince días de), we should understand the fifteenth day, inclusive of the starting point. The image was revealed on a Tuesday, and the procession is also on a Tuesday, so it is on the fifteenth day from, or fourteen days after, the day of the icon’s revelation. We note that December 26, 1531 indeed was on a Tuesday, and so the image was revealed on Tuesday, December 12.
The image was moved in a solemn procession, accompanied by lights, music, trumpets, and various native dances, such as the mitotes and the tocotines. Upon arrival at the shrine, the bishop blessed and dedicated it, and celebrated Mass there. Juan Diego asked the bishop for permission to move from his village and live at the hermitage, and this was granted to him.
In his description of the sanctuary of Guadalupe, P. Sánchez begins by commenting on the mount where it would be built. The Indian histories of the gentile period say that on this mount was worshipped an idol who was called the mother of the gods, or Theothenantzi. Sánchez finds it fitting that the Virgin should dispel this idolatry, so that instead the Mother of the true God should be known, and that what had once been the site of a sacrilegious altar should now become the throne of a most pure Virgin. We note that in Sánchez's account, the worship of the pagan goddess on this hill seems to have already ended some time before the miracle of Guadalupe, presumably during the conquest. As for the physical features of the hill, cracks and breaks reveal that from top to bottom it is made of hard rock to a great depth. Such a hill is incapable of producing flowers of any sort, save by a miracle.
Bishop Zumárraga sought to build the shrine swiftly, out of a desire to obey the command of the Virgin Mary, moved as he was by the miracle he had witnessed. The citizens of Mexico built it at the base of the hill, in order to protect it from the northern winds, and it was located in view of the royal road, used by travelers from throughout New Spain. Sánchez recognizes that they had taken a liberty in building the shrine at the base of the hill, rather than at the top where the Virgin first appeared and the miraculous flowers grew. He uses a Biblical analogy to explain why such license was permissible. When Jacob’s wife Rachel died on the road to Bethlehem, he could have easily had her taken to the city which was already in sight. Instead, he had her buried by the roadway, prophetically knowing that future pilgrims would pass by her tomb, and ask for her to pray, intercede, and weep for them. Undoubtedly, Sánchez concludes, Most Holy Mary, in her mercy, would be pleased that her shrine would be in view of countless travelers, who could pray for her intercession in their journeys. Of this original shrine, only the foundation remains visible (i.e., as of 1648).
Juan Diego, for his part, served at the shrine, and lived a life of exceptional virtue. He died in the expectation of salvation, founded in Christian piety and the graces of the Blessed Virgin, after sixteen years of service. This would place his death in 1547 or, more likely, 1548, since his service began in December 1531. As an epitaph for Juan Diego, P. Sánchez makes a comparison with the story of Jacob. Rebecca, the mother of Jacob, helps her son win his father's blessing by giving him his brother Esau’s clothes to wear. Isaac gives his blessing as soon as he smells the fragrance of the clothes, saying, “Behold the smell of my son is as the smell of a plentiful field, which the Lord hath blessed.” (Gen. 27:27) St. Ambrose says that this fragrance signifies the virtues of Jacob. In similar fashion, Sánchez says, the Virgin Mary gave Juan Diego clothing that was fragrant with flowers, each of which would convert into a virtue to learn how to live well and die well. He would be presented to his Eternal Father who, moved by the fragrances of that cloth, would give him the blessing of His glory. We should bless and praise Juan Diego because through him the most Holy Virgin will pay us with blessings, just as Isaac said of Jacob: “Let him that blesseth thee be filled with blessings.” (Gen. 27:29)
Sánchez says that the devotion of the faithful to the image had been great from the beginning, yet it grew with the miracles it worked and the blessings they received. Their alms of gratitude made possible the building of another hermitage which was dedicated by don Juan de la Serna, Archbishop of Mexico, in November 1622. This second hermitage, which still stands (as of 1648), was built a short distance from the first. Sánchez describes the architecture of the second hermitage, but this is not of concern to our historical inquiry, since it was only built in the seventeenth century.
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Sánchez next describes seven miracles that were attributed to Our Lady of Guadalupe. The first miracle took place on the very day that the sacred image was brought to the new hermitage. The Indians celebrated according to their custom, with troops of archers, but an arrow let loose struck one Indian in the neck, giving him a mortal wound. With great alarm, the Indians carried the dead man to the presence of the Virgin and her holy image in the shrine, begging for remedy. When the arrow was removed, he returned to life, without any injury. All that was left were marks where the arrow had penetrated. The miracle aroused the Indians admiration and won many hearts among the recently converted. Padre Sánchez, evidently dealing with a received tradition, finds an apt parallel in the words of St. Augustine, who says that none can shoot arrows of true love better than God. Mary, being so similar to God, has arrows that can win souls, and perhaps permitted the arrow to let loose so that she could heal the wound and move the Indians to love and trust in her favor.
In 1544, a strong pestilence (cocolixtli) arose among the Indians, killing more than twelve thousand people in the towns surrounding Mexico. The Franciscans led a procession of Indian children aged six to seven from the convent of Santiago Tlatelolco to the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, where they made supplication. The following day the effects were evident, for instead of burying a hundred corpses a day, only one or two died each day, so that soon all were fully relieved from the plague. This was a very public miracle and gave rise to great devotion to the holy image among the Indians.
One miracle of the Virgin of Guadalupe pertains to the seer of the Virgin of Los Remedios. The image of Nuestra Señora de los Remedios was brought to Mexico by the conquistadores. In 1520, Captain Juan Rodríguez de Villafuerte hid it in an Indian shrine on the hill of Otomcapulco, west of the city of Mexico. Twenty years later, guided by supernatural signs, an Indian named Juan (called Juan de Tobar or Juan del Águila in other accounts) discovered the image there under a maguey. As P. Sánchez tells it, the image “appeared” to the Indian, though we are not here talking of an apparition of the Virgin herself. Don Juan, who was the cacique (roughly, “mayor”) of the town of San Juan Totoltepec, kept the image in his home for several years. At one point he fell gravely ill (in 1544 according to other accounts), and he asked his companions to bring him to the shrine of Guadalupe. There the Virgin spoke to him, that he may know that she and the Virgin of Los Remedios were the same person, and she restored his health. She told him to return to his house and build a humble shrine for the image of Los Remedios. The shrine of Totoltepec was built for it in 1550. A greater temple was built in its place by order of the Archbishop in 1574-75.
Another miracle was witnessed by a gentleman named don Antonio de Carvajal, who was traveling with his company from the city of Mexico to the town of Tulancingo. A young relative of his was carried away by his angered horse at full gallop for half a league across rocky ground. His companions found him on the ground with one foot in a stirrup, and fully expected him to be dead and dismembered. Instead, they found him alive and intact. The young man explained that when they had stopped to pray at the shrine of Guadalupe, and later heard much talk of the miracles of that holy image, he was deeply impressed, so he invoked the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe when he was in danger. He instantly saw the Virgin appear just as she is painted in the image of Guadalupe. She stopped the horse, which obeyed her reverently. The man was so moved that he wished to kneel and kiss the ground in her presence.
On another occasion, a man was in the major chapel of the hermitage, kneeling and praying before the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, when the cord holding a large hanging lamp broke. The heavy lamp fell a great height onto the man's head, with enough force to kill him or severely injure him, yet he was unharmed. The lamp was not dented, nor was its glass broken, nor its oil spilt, and its flame stayed alight.
Lic. Juan Vázquez de Acuña, who was vicar of the hermitage for many years (c. 1600), went up to the main altar to say Mass. The lights were all extinguished because of the strong winds. A minister went out to start a light. The priest, waiting at the altar, saw two rays of sun, in the middle of which was the miraculous image of the Virgin. The two candles on the altar lighted miraculously, in the view of other persons present. The minister came back with the light, and found that candles were already lit, and he knew without being told that they had been lit by a miracle.
The seventh and last miracle recorded is that which occurred during the inundation of Mexico (in 1629). This was a time recent enough to be remembered by P. Sánchez, with much sadness and tenderness. The flooding of the city began on Tuesday, September 25. To console the afflicted people, Archbishop Francisco Manzo y Zúñiga brought the miraculous image of Guadalupe from its shrine down to his palace, where it was displayed that night, “perhaps so it may see the place and house where it had been reborn among the flowers and appeared painted on that cloak.” The next morning it was moved to the main altar of the cathedral, where it remained throughout the flood. While the people feared that the city would remain permanently underwater, after a while the waters subsided little by little, and the city was dry. On Saturday, May 14, 1634, the Archbishop offered Mass and started a solemn procession of the image back to its shrine. The following morning it was returned to its original sanctuary. Everyone proclaimed the miracle of the image.
Following each of the seven miraculous accounts, P. Sánchez offers a theological interpretation based on Scriptural or Patristic testimony. These attempts at explanation suggest that the accounts themselves are a received tradition, not the invention of P. Sánchez. He compares the last miracle to that of the woman in the Gospels who had a hemorrhagic disease for twelve years, and touched the garment of Jesus in order to be healed. The sick woman is the city of Mexico, whose illness is a flow of water rather than blood. The garment of Christ is the image of the Virgin Mary, which, touching the city, restored it to health.
It has become fashionable among disbelievers in Guadalupe to contend that the five-year delay in the disappearance of the waters is evidence that the image failed to perform a miracle, and that the image was returned to its shrine only after such failure. While even a faithful Catholic may legitimately disbelieve in a particular miraculous occurrence, no one has the right to fabricate historical testimony. Those who actually lived through the flood (as one finds in this and other sources) concur that the image was brought for the purpose of consoling the people, and that the end of the flood was widely acclaimed as a miracle. The inundation was so severe that it was feared that the city would have to be rebuilt on another site, and serious plans for such a move were actually made. One may disbelieve that the end of the flood was miraculous, but one may not falsely claim that the image was returned because of a perceived failure to give remedy.
Other historical sources relate that when the Archbishop had the image of Guadalupe brought to Mexico in a canoe, he proclaimed that it would not return to the shrine until it could be brought over dry land. This was then a bold claim, as tens of thousands had died in the storm that caused the flood. Yet from that point on, the city endured, and Our Lady of Guadalupe consoled the people in their sufferings, until finally the waters passed away, just as the woman with the hemorrhagic illness waited twelve years until she was healed. Those who always expect a quick fix have little understanding; it is only through shared suffering that a deep and abiding love develops, and while unbelief may hide miracles from sight, no fair-minded historian can deny the great love of Our Lady of Guadalupe experienced by the people of Mexico in the 1630s.
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Sánchez concludes with further theological exposition, and his work is followed by three letters to the author that are of interest to us as historical testimonies. The first is from Francisco de Siles, a university theologian and rector of the metropolitan cathedral of Mexico. The second is from Luis Lasso de la Vega, the vicar of the shrine of Guadalupe, and author of the second published account of the apparitions, to be discussed. The third is from a priest, Francisco de Bárcenas.
Dr. Francisco de Siles praises the author for his work, and also for having taught him to trust in the intercession of the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe. He says he had listened to Sánchez’s preaching since his youth, and was influenced by his style and method. He credits all his successes to the Virgin of Guadalupe. Evidently, Sánchez had been teaching about Guadalupe long before the present history was published. Siles adopts a nationalistic tone, referring to Our Lady as nuestra soberana criolla, and to her image as su imagen criolla de Guadalupe, para que intercede siempre por su patria. Here criolla should not be taken to mean of European descent, but rather it is a byword for the integrated Mexican nation as a whole. Indeed, there is little that is European about the image of Guadalupe; it is distinctively Mexican in its features and in its origin.
Nonetheless, the use of such language suggests a tendency, if not to de-Indianize Guadalupe (for the story itself is saturated with Indian culture), to at least subject it to the Spanish social order. Some modern scholars have gone so far as to suggest that Sánchez’s work was written for that purpose, yet the narrative’s supposedly Castilianizing elements, such as the intervention of Bishop Zumárraga, were all part of the received tradition among the Indians. Though the Spanish clergy interpreted Guadalupe as justifying the existing social order, this does not mean that the narrative was of their invention, and we will later see much evidence showing this was not the case.
The letter from Lic. Luis Lasso de la Vega, vicar of the shrine of Guadalupe, opens by saying:
Each day I am more grateful to our most illustrious prince and much beloved archbishop D. Juan de Mañozca, for the favor, honor, and preference with which he named me vicar of this sanctuary of Guadalupe, delivering to my care the sovereign relic of the miraculous image of the Virgin Mary, to whom only the angels deserve to have as a companion to serve her. And although I have always venerated, admired and praised her as much as my thoughts could reach, after I read the history of her miracle, that Your Mercy has written and stamped with such lively emotion, I confess that there has grown in my heart the desire to be fully hers, and the glory of having her as my own with the title of her ministering priest, and I think that the same has happened to me as to our father Adam.
Lasso de la Vega had long held a deep veneration and admiration for the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, but Sánchez’s work stoked in him an even greater appreciation of her miraculous nature. This implies that there are some parts of Sánchez’s account that were not already known to Lasso. The vicar invokes an analogy with Adam, who was favored by God and placed in paradise, much as Lasso de la Vega was favored by the archbishop to be made vicar of Guadalupe. The first man was put into a deep sleep, while God removed one of his ribs, and formed the marvelous creature Eve. He placed her before the eyes of Adam, who awoke, and claimed her as his own, “for this is flesh of my flesh and bone of my bones.” (Gen. 2:23) For the love of a woman, a man forgets the love of mother and father, preferring her love to all others. Lasso comments that this is mysterious, for Eve had always been his, since she had been part of himself. Yet it is only when he perceived her from a distance, with her own distinct perfections created by God, that he was able to recognize her as his own. Only then did he offer her the most singular praises, and dedicate himself to her with his whole will. Lasso adds:
Yo y todos mis antecesores, hemos sidos Adanes dormidos poseyendo a esta Eva segunda en el paraíso de su Guadalupe mexicano, entre las milagrosas flores que la pintaron, y en sus fragrancias siempre la contemplábamos admirados. Mas ahora me ha cabido ser el Adán que ha despertado para que la vea en estampa y relación de su historia, formada, compuesta y compartida en lo prodigioso del milagro, en el suceso de su aparición, en los misterios que su pintura significa y en breve mapa de su santuario, que habla ya descifrado lo que antes calló tantos años, puedo decir lo que Adán.
All my predecessors and I have been sleeping Adams, possessing this second Eve in the paradise of her Mexican Guadalupe, among the miraculous flowers that she painted, and in their fragrances that we have always contemplated in admiration. Now that it has befallen me to be the Adam who has awakened so that he sees her image and the relation of her story, formed, composed, and shared in the marvel of the miracle, in the occurrence of the apparition, in the mysteries that the painting signifies and in brief the map of her sanctuary, that speaks now deciphered that which before was silent so many years, I can say what Adam said.
The first part of this quotation, “All my predecessors and I have been sleeping Adams,” has been used by many skeptics to argue that Lasso de la Vega had no knowledge of the legend of Guadalupe before Sánchez published his work. This line of argument, however, fails to interpret the metaphor of “sleeping Adam” as Lasso himself interpreted it. The sleeping Adam, we recall, was already favored with the blessing of paradise and already had Eve within him. Similarly, Lasso de la Vega and his predecessors had the favor of being appointed vicar of the “paradise” of the Guadalupe shrine. They already possessed the second Eve “among the miraculous flowers that she painted, and in their fragrances that we have always contemplated in admiration.” Thus the vicars of Guadalupe already attributed a supernatural origin to the image, regarding it as having been miraculously painted by flowers, consistent with the Sánchez narrative. At least one vicar, Juan Vázquez de Acuña, had even witnessed a miracle, as discussed previously and as would be reaffirmed by Lasso de la Vega himself in the work he would publish the following year. Clearly, the current chaplain of Guadalupe did not intend to declare that the previous vicars were ignorant of the supernatural origin of the image or of the miracles it wrought.
Just as the waking Adam was only able to recognize Eve as his own when she had a distinct form, so was Lasso de la Vega able to recognize Our Lady of Guadalupe as his own when he saw her story put down in writing. It is one thing to have received oral traditions, but quite another to have everything systematically put down in writing, giving it a meaning that even those devoted to Guadalupe might not have recognized. P. Sánchez's account gave the vicar new insight into the prodigy of the miracle, the occurrence of the apparition, the mysteries of the painting’s meaning. The extensive theological commentary that modern readers have thought cumbersome is what most inspires Lasso, who considers the miracle to be now deciphered. Sánchez’s claims were indeed bold and profound, for he saw the image of Guadalupe as a fulfillment of the image of the Woman of the Apocalypse, and he saw the apparition and miracles of Guadalupe as justifying and completing the Conquest and the formation of the Mexican nation. These reflections helped Lasso appreciate the magnitude of what the Blessed Virgin had done for Mexico, far beyond the superficial miracles of imprinting an image and healing the sick. It must be remembered that, in the seventeenth century, there were many sacred images considered to be of miraculous origin, or at least capable of working miracles. Guadalupe's singularity comes from its theological and world-historical significance, which P. Sánchez, as far as we know, was the first to bring out in detail.
Most modern historians have failed to appreciate the true significance of Lasso de la Vega’s comment about “sleeping Adams,” for they unconsciously assume that what is most significant to them was most significant to him. Modern readers care only about the narrative portion of Sánchez’s work, and skip over the theological commentary, even though that constitutes the bulk of his work. Yet the extensive parallels with the woman of the Apocalypse and with other Scriptural precedents would have touched the ecclesiastics of the seventeenth century most profoundly. Theological and devotional reflection stirred an ecclesiastic’s soul more deeply than a plain historical narrative of miracles. Indeed, Lasso concludes his letter with gratitude to the author for composing the Novenas de Guadalupe as an essential devotion for the sanctuary. He sees the urgency of encouraging greater devotion to Guadalupe. He recognizes more forcefully that she is his, and that he in his obedience is hers.
In the third and final letter, the priest Francisco de Bárcenas, a longtime friend and colleague of the author, attests that P. Sánchez had pious motives from the very beginning in composing his history of the image of Guadalupe. Interestingly, he is concerned that some will not receive the work favorably, and he proceeds to an extended metaphor from the book of Jonah. The prophet Jonah was commanded to preach to the people of Nineveh, and they humbly submitted themselves into a state of penitence, even including their beasts in such discipline. Jonah, instead of glorying in this effect, was greatly afflicted and angered by the fact that God should forgive these people. The point made by Bárcenas seems to be that enemies of Mexico or perhaps of its indigenous people, unwilling to accept that so great a mercy should be bestowed on such a lowly people, will be afflicted or angered by the assertion.
Although belief in the miraculous image of Guadalupe did not begin with P. Sánchez’s published history, this work exalted the miracle’s significance to Biblical proportions. Accordingly, one could expect that others should become envious or incredulous that so great a marvel was bestowed upon the new nation of Mexico, and especially upon the Indians only recently converted from paganism. Such affliction is as misguided as that of Jonah, for the marvel of Guadalupe is a glorious effect of God’s mercy, not a sign of the superior worth of the people who received it. Those critics who would deny Mexico this prodigious divine favor, like the prophet Jonah, fail to rejoice in a great good God has effected, be it the penitence of the Ninevites, or the great devotion of Mexicans of all races for Our Lady of Guadalupe.
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In fact, P. Sánchez’s publication of 1648 was generally well received in Mexico, and it was the definitive history of Guadalupe until the more scholarly work of Luis Becerra Tanco eventually supplanted it. In 1660, at the behest of the bishop of Puebla, the Jesuit priest Mateo de la Cruz published a succinct version of Sánchez’s narrative, without the theological digressions, under the title: Relación de la milagrosa Aparición de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe de México. This simple narrative is the more commonly reproduced version of Sánchez’s history.
Mateo de la Cruz’s edition of Sánchez’s work was not an attempt to reject the theological interpretations of his predecessor. On the contrary, at the end of his Relación, De la Cruz praises Sánchez’s extensive discussion of the image of the woman in the twelfth chapter of the Apocalypse. De la Cruz goes further, pointing out that many theologians see the woman in the Apocalypse as an image of Mary’s Immaculate Conception. In the year of the apparition, feast of the Conception was on Friday (December 8), and the following day the Virgin appeared to Juan Diego. All the subsequent apparitions occurred within the octave of her feast.
De la Cruz finds a further allusion to the Immaculate Conception in the name Guadalupe that the Blessed Virgin requested for her sanctuary. That name calls to mind the Virgin of Guadalupe of Extremadura in Spain. That sacred image was reputed to have been made by St. Luke the Evangelist, and later was sent by Pope St. Gregory to San Leandro the archbishop of Seville. There it was venerated for a time, until it was taken by the Christians and hidden in a cave during the wars (against the Muslims). It remained buried for six hundred years, until the Virgin appeared to a cattle tender, and asked him to remove her from there and build her a temple. There the image remains in a niche of silver.
The parallels between the two images are striking to de la Cruz. One icon was made by St. Luke, the other by God or the Virgin or at least the angels. The first was sent from Rome to an archbishop of Seville, while the latter was sent from heaven to an archbishop of Mexico. The one was buried for six hundred years, as if sown, and two hundred years after its discovery, it would flower forth in Mexico, more than 3040 leagues away. In Spain she appeared to poor herdsman, while in Mexico she appeared to a poor Indian. In both cases she asked for a temple, and a temple was built. That of Spain was visited by kings, while that of Mexico was visited by viceroys. Both had a tabernacle of silver, and both have the name Guadalupe, which is an Arab word meaning “river of wolves.”
De la Cruz explains that the first image was called “of Guadalupe” because that place was full of wolves. For the image in Mexico, the wolves must be understood as representing demons, which was a traditional figure among Latin Christians. Medieval Europeans believed that if a wolf sees a man before the man sees it, the man will lose his voice. On the other hand, if the man sees the wolf first, the wolf becomes hoarse and flees. By analogy, many Christians believed that demons could be repelled if one saw them first, hence the rustic practice of warding off evil by figuratively poking demons in the eyes. In this vein, de la Cruz says that the Most Holy Virgin always saw the demons first, causing them to flee. Thus the name Guadalupe signifies that she is driving away the demons from the place of idolatry where the false Mother of the Gods Theotenantzin was worshipped.
Lastly, de la Cruz invites the reader who wishes to study the matter in more fullness to read the erudite book by Lic. Miguel Sánchez, from which this brief Summa has been extracted. We have already done so, so we shall now proceed to the history of Guadalupe as told by Lic. Luis Lasso de la Vega in the Nahuatl tongue, and compare this work with that of P. Sánchez.
Continue to Part II
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