Historiography of the Apparition of Guadalupe

Daniel J. Castellano


Part II

4. Guadalupe according to Luis Lasso de la Vega

4.0 License
4.1 Prologue
4.2 Nican mopohua
4.3 Description of the Image
4.4 Nican moctepana
4.5 Biography of Juan Diego
4.6 History of the Blessed Virgin in New Spain
4.7 Concluding Prayer

Among the many admirers of P. Sánchez’s work was the vicar of the Guadalupe shrine, Lic. Luis Lasso de la Vega (spelled ‘Laso’ or ‘Lazo’ in modern Spanish). The following year (1649), he published a history in the indigenous Nahuatl language (using Latin letters, since there was no Nahuatl alphabet), in which he was fluent, under the title Huei tlamahuizoltica Omonoxiti ilhuicac tlatoca ihwapilli Sancta María Totlaconantzin Guadalupe in nican huei altepenahuac Mexico Itocayocan Tepeyacac, which means The great occurrence in which appeared Our Lady the Queen of Heaven Holy Mary our beloved Mother of Guadalupe, here near the City of Mexico, in the place named Tepeyácac. The work consists of seven sections: (1) a prologue; (2) an account of the apparitions and the miraculous image; (3) a description of the image as it appeared in the author’s time; (4) an account of fourteen miracles of Guadalupe; (5) a biography of Juan Diego after the apparitions; (6) a history of the Blessed Virgin in New Spain; and (7) a concluding prayer to Our Lady of Guadalupe. The account of the apparitions (2) is commonly called the Nican mopohua (“Here it is told”), and the account of the later miracles (4) is called the Nican moctepana (“Here it is told in order”), after the first words of the titles of these sections.

Since few people of indigenous or Spanish descent could read Nahuatl, not many copies of Lasso de la Vega’s history were printed, and only a scant few survived into the nineteenth century. No part of this work was republished until the canon of Guadalajara, D. Agustín de la Rosa, reproduced the Nahuatl text of the Nican mopohua in 1887. By 1921, there were only two complete copies of the 1649 edition left in Mexico, one in the national library and another in the basilica. Both of these were lost shortly afterward, so Lic. Primo Feliciano Velázquez had to piece together the text from various fragmentary copies. This resulted in his 1926 publication of the Nahuatl text with Spanish translation of the full Huei tlamahuizoltica, which was reprinted in 1931. This edition stimulated wide interest in Lasso de la Vega’s long neglected account, especially as Velázquez and other scholars claimed that the Nican mopohua and Nican moctepana were not composed by the vicar, but were copied from earlier indigenous accounts. In this view, the Nican mopohua represents the oldest written tradition about Guadalupe.

Before we assess the merits of such claims, we should examine the content of Lasso de la Vega’s work, to see what clues it may reveal as to its provenance. To begin with two general observations, the narrative content of Lasso’s account closely matches the facts related by P. Sánchez. However, the narrative is worded very differently throughout, even after taking into account the differences in language, suggesting that this is not a mere translation of Sánchez’ work, or even a paraphrase. The modern historians Ernesto de la Torre Villar and Ramiro Navarro de Anda claim Lasso de la Vega wrote the Huei tlamahuizoltica in 1646, three years before publishing and two years before Sánchez’s work was published, but it is not clear on what ground they base this assertion.

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4.0 License

If Lasso de la Vega did base his work on that of P. Sánchez, he would have had only a few months to compose it. The license to publish his work was issued on January 11, 1649, and the review of the work was completed on January 9. This means Lasso wrote no later than 1648, mere months after his letter of praise to P. Sánchez (July 2).

Since Lasso de la Vega’s work was in Nahuatl, it was reviewed by an expert in that language, the Jesuit father Baltasar González. In his stated opinion, which is printed at the beginning of the published work, he affirms:

I have seen [i.e., the work regarding] the miraculous apparition of the image of the Virgin Most Holy, Mother of God and Our Lady (who is venerated in her hermitage and sanctuary of Guadalupe), which in proper and elegant Nahuatl [idioma mexicano] the bachiller Luis Lasso de la Vega, chaplain and vicar of said sanctuary, has proposed to send to press.

This praise of Lasso’s prose suggests that the work is an original composition, yet P. González adds, “I find it is in accordance with [está ajustada a] that which is known of the event by tradition and annals…” Here González is not necessarily asserting that Lasso relied on indigenous annals and other traditions when writing, but only that, from his own knowledge of such sources, he finds that the author’s work is consistent with known facts.

Padre González declares his opinion that a license ought to be given, since it is consistent with known facts, contains nothing contrary to the faith, and “will be very useful and advantageous to enliven the devotion of the lukewarm, and to generate it anew in those who live in ignorance of the mysterious origin of this celestial portrait.” This suggests there were many indigenous who knew little or nothing about the miraculous origin of the image, which would mean that the annals and traditions mentioned earlier were not universally known among the Indians.

On the basis of P. González’ opinion, the vicar general of the archdiocese of Mexico, don Pedro de Barrientos Lomelín, authorized a license for the publication of Lasso de la Vega’s work in the indigenous tongue.

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4.1 Prologue

The author opens with a brief prologue addressed to the Queen of Heaven. It begins:

Ever since I was entrusted, although unworthy, with the temple where we venerate your most devotional image, you saw that I made you the offering of my heart upon entering your blessed house. Striving eagerly to promote your cult, I have written your miracle in the Náhuatl language. Do not receive it with disgust, but accept with kindness the relation of a humble slave. Your love has done more, for you called and spoke to a poor Indian in his tongue, and on his tilma of ayate you painted your image with the colors of fragrant roses, so that he would take you for another, and also so that he would understand and manifest your words and will.

Lasso de la Vega was named chaplain of the shrine of Guadalupe and vicar of its jurisdiction in 1647, according to the research of Velázquez (who adds that he continued in this role until he was named canon of the cathedral of Mexico in May 1657). Francisco de Florencia writes that the new vicar “greatly advanced the adornment of the church and altars of the cult of the sacred image.” (Estrella del Norte, c. 32.) Jacinto de la Serna, making a pastoral visit to the shrine on behalf of the archbishop on March 30, 1648, praised the order and tidiness of everything. He also reported that the principal Indians attested to the promptness of the vicar in administering the sacraments, and that he preached good doctrine to them in their tongue.

Seeing that the Blessed Virgin did not find the indigenous tongue to be profane, Lasso de la Vega will write her history in that language.

That has moved me to write in the Náhuatl language your marvelous apparition and the present of your image to this your blessed house of Tepeyácac, so that the natives may see and know in their tongue how much you have done for the love of them and in what manner it occurred; of which much has been erased by the circumstances of time.

The vicar appears to indicate that this work is his own composition, and he does not refer to any sources, neither indigenous annals nor the work of P. Sánchez. He says that much of the story of Guadalupe has been forgotten by the natives, or at least a good number of them, impelling him to give a complete written account lest the tradition should be lost.

Lasso de la Vega says he is also motivated by the words of St. Bonaventure, who said the miracles of Our Lord must be written in diverse languages, so that they can be seen and admired by all the nations. A figure of this is seen in the fact that the inscription over the Cross was in three languages. The vicar also summons the image of the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles in the form of tongues of fire, enabling them to teach in different languages. The Blessed Virgin was then with the Apostles, praying for them and requesting for them the gift of the Holy Spirit, which was given for her sake. The author now asks the Virgin to cause the same Spirit to alight upon him, that he may obtain His tongue of fire, in order to write in the Náhuatl language the most exalted miracle of her apparition to the poor natives, as well as the equally great miracle with which she gave her image.

This humble prayer again suggests that Lasso de la Vega is composing a narrative, and not merely transcribing an indigenous document, nor translating the work of P. Sánchez. He would hardly need to pray for the gift of tongues if he were simply transcribing an existing document, though this might make sense if he was relying on oral and pictographic indigenous traditions. In fact, the tenor of his prayer suggests that a written Nahuatl account of Guadalupe did not yet exist, to his knowledge. A prayer for the gift of tongues might make sense if he were translating P. Sánchez's account into Nahuatl, yet he makes no mention of Sánchez, directly or obliquely, though he had written a letter of effusive praise to that author in July 1648. It seems he is appealing to the Blessed Virgin not that he may render Spanish phrases intelligibly in Nahuatl, but that he may be guided by the Spirit in composing this work in that tongue. It is a far more difficult thing to compose a narrative in a foreign language than to translate a document into that language. Accordingly, the only credit Lasso de la Vega gives for his work to the Blessed Virgin herself: “If I can do something with your help, accept it kindly, for it is yours [es cosa tuya]. I will say no more, except that I prostrate myself at your feet as your humble slave.”

The prologue gives us no clear clues as to the sources that may have been used by Lasso de la Vega. All that may be reasonably established is that the text as we have it was formulated by Lasso de la Vega himself, with difficulty yet, as P. González first attested, with elegance and diction befitting the usage of the indigenous people of that time.

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4.2 Nican mopohua

Without further introduction, the text proceeds to a narrative of the apparitions, titled Nican mopohua (“Here it is told…”), as explained previously. The narrative is very similar in factual content to the account by P. Sánchez, yet there are many distinctions in wording, narrative style (e.g., first person versus third person), factual details and idiomatic expressions. We will draw attention to these distinctions in order to minimize repetition, and to help elucidate the possible literary relationship between the two histories. Again, I will follow the author’s wording (as translated into Spanish) closely even when I am not quoting directly. When I do quote directly, I will make notes of Nahuatl spelling or orthography in brackets. Instead of Velázquez’s translation, I will usually follow that made by Miguel León-Portilla in 1999 (except where otherwise indicated), as it is a more literal rendering of the Nahuatl.

Here it is told, it is put in order (Nican mopohua, motecpana), how, not long ago, in a portentous manner, the perfect lady showed herself. Holy Mary, little mother (diminutive: Inantzin) of God, there in Tepeyacac, the nose of the mount, that is called Guadalupe. First she showed herself to a little man, named Juan Diego. Later her precious image appeared before the recently chosen bishop Don Fray Juan de Sumárraga, and all the marvels that it did [are also told].

These lines serve as an introduction not only to the apparition narrative, but also to the account of the miracles. Nowhere in the apparition narrative is the bishop ever named. We might suspect, then, that this is an introduction composed by Lasso de la Vega, while what follows may be a more primitive indigenous tradition.

Ten years after the water, the mount, the city of Mexico was conquered… in the year one thousand five hundred thirty-one [the Nahuatl text has this number written out in Castilian Spanish], a few days into the month of December, it happened that there was a little man, a poor little one, named Juan Diego. It is said that he had his house in Quauhtitlan.

This is the first mention of Juan Diego’s hometown of Cuautitlán; it is not found in P. Sánchez’s history. The expression “it is said” suggests a reliance on oral tradition. Lasso de la Vega says that Juan Diego’s spiritual duties were carried out in Tlatelolco [Nahuatl: Tlatilolco], and that it was on a Saturday very early in the morning that he was on his way to performing such duties.

Upon arriving next to the hill named Tepeyácac, dawn broke; and he heard singing on top of the hill; it resembled the song of various precious birds; at times the voices of the singers went silent and it seemed that the mount answered them. Its song, very smooth and delightful, surpassed that of the coyoltótl and the tzinizcan and other lovely birds that sing. [from Velázquez’s translation]

Only Lasso, not Sánchez, mentions the detail that dawn broke just as Juan Diego reached the hill. Sánchez had described the singing in terms of European musical concepts, and said that they resembled no known instrument or bird, neither sparrows (gorriones), nor goldfinches (jilgueros), nor mockingbirds (zenzontles). The Nican mopohua, by contrast, says that the singing does resemble that of birds. Further, there is a distinction between the initial singers and the song of the mountain that seems to answer them, and this latter song is said to surpass that of the coyoltótl and tzinizcan, birds known to the indigenous peoples.

The coyoltótl is likely what other sources (e.g., a 1788 medical encylopedia) call the coztototl, a canary-like bird, the size of a starling, with black neck, back, and rump, a golden saffron-colored chest, belly and sides, and wings that are ashen from below with shades of black and white on top. Its song is said to be similar in quality to that of a canary. The tzinizcan is described as having the size of a pigeon, and a small, crooked yellow bill. Its head, neck, and tail are green; its breast and belly are white, while its wings are black and white. This bird lives on seacoasts. (Francisco Saverio Clavigero, La historia de México, 1807) Neither of these birds were mentioned by P. Sánchez, though he was familiar with native songbirds, such as the famous mockingbird (Centzontli in Nahuatl). These disparities strongly suggest that Lasso de la Vega was not referring directly to Sánchez’s work when composing his own narrative.

Hearing the songs from the hill, Juan Diego paused to look and wondered to himself if he was dreaming. He said to himself: “Where am I? Perhaps the place beyond of which our ancestors spoke, the land of flowers, of maize, of our flesh, of our sustenance; perhaps Heaven?” [following the Nahuatl more literally than Velázquez] Here Juan Diego appeals to purely indigenous Mexican images of the afterlife. None of this internal monologue or its content is mentioned in P. Sánchez’s account.

Juan Diego was looking to the east, at the top of the hill, from which the precious celestial song proceeded. It ceased suddenly and there was silence; then he heard voices calling from the top of the hill and saying to him: “Juanito, Juan Dieguito.” (Nahuatl: “Juantzin, Juan Diegotzin.”) He was not frightened or startled; on the contrary, he joyfully went up the hill to see from where they were calling. The Nican mopohua mentions a plurality of voices, while P. Sánchez indicated only one voice.

At the top of the hill, he saw a lady standing there who told him to draw near. Her clothing was as radiant as the sun, and the crag on which she stood resembled an anklet of precious stones, illuminating the ground like a rainbow. The mezquites, prickly pears (nopales) and other small plants seemed as of emerald; their foliage as of fine turquoises, and their branches and thorns shined as of gold. None of this detail is in Sánchez’s account, which depicts the hill as completely barren.

The Lady said to Juan: “Little Juan, the smallest of my sons, where are you going?” (“Juanito, el más pequeño de mis hijos, ¿adónde vas?” [Velázquez]) Sánchez rendered this simply as: “Son Juan, where are you going?” (“Hijo Juan, ¿adónde vas?”) Consistent with the indigenous manner of speaking, the Nican mopohua uses multiple diminutives in a single sentence to signify endearment. In reply, Juan Diego addresses the Virgin as “My Lady and my little girl,” which may sound irreverent to Western ears, but was a respectful expression of endearment among the Indians. He explains that he is going to Tlatelolco to follow the divine things taught by the priests there.

The Lady replied:

Sabe y ten entendido, tú el más pequeño de mis hijos, que yo soy la siempre Virgen Santa María, Madre del verdadero Dios por quien se vive; del Creador cabe quién está todo; Señor del cielo y de la tierra. Deseo vivamente que me erija aquí un templo, para en él mostrar y dar todo mi amor, compasión, auxilio y defensa, pues yo soy vuestra piadosa Madre, a ti, a todos vosotros juntos los moradores de esta tierra y a los demás amadores míos que me invoquen y en mi confíen; oír allí sus lamentos y remediar todas sus miserias, penas y dolores. Y para realizar lo que mi clemencia pretende, ve al palacio del obispo de México y le dirás como yo te envío a manifestarle lo que mucho deseo, que aquí en el llano me edifique un templo: le contarás puntualmente cuanto has visto y admirado, y lo que has oído. Ten por seguro que lo agradeceré bien y merecerás mucho que yo lo recompense el trabajo y fatiga con que vas a procurar lo que te encomiendo. [Velázquez]

Know and have understood, you the littlest of my sons, that I am the ever-Virgin Holy Mary, Mother of the true God by whom there is life; of the Creator from whom everything exists; Lord of heaven and earth. I intensely desire that you erect me here a temple, in order to show and give all of my love, compassion, aid and defense in it, for I am your pious Mother, to you, to all of you together the residents of this land and the rest of my devotees who call upon me and trust in me; to hear there their laments and to remedy all their miseries, sufferings and pains. And in order to realize what my clemency endeavors, go to the palace of the bishop of Mexico and you will tell him as I have sent you to show him what I much desire, that here on the plain he may build for me a temple. You will tell him exactly what you have seen and admired, and what you have heard. Be certain that I will thank you well and you will much deserve that I recompense the work and fatigue with which you will strive to attain what I entrust to you.

The above quotation contains in its entirety, almost verbatim (with due allowance for difference in vocabulary and phrasing due to translation), the reply of the Blessed Virgin as recorded by P. Sánchez. The version of the Nican mopohua, however, is more detailed, and contains the additional text that is highlighted. It is a practical certainty that both versions of the quotation come from a common source, or else one is copied from the other. P. Sánchez did not know Nahuatl, so he could not have translated from the Nican mopohua or any other document in the indigenous tongue. The only possibilities, then, are that Lasso copied from P. Sánchez, or that the common tradition on which both relied contained a highly precise account of the Virgin Mary's words.

On the assumption that Lasso de la Vega translated this passage from the Sánchez narrative, we would have to infer that all the highlighted text was his own embellishment, either as a literary amplification or to include material from traditions he had heard. Most of the added phrases are redundant poetic embellishments, consistent with the style of speech used throughout the Nican mopohua. However, it is strange that Lasso should choose to make this monologue lengthier without adding much narrative content, when on the whole his narrative is much more concise than that of P. Sánchez, even after excluding the theological commentary. Moreover, some of Lasso’s supposed additions to Sánchez’s text would be extremely awkward insertions. The first:

[Sánchez:]…templo en qué mostrarme piadosa Madre

…temple in which to show myself a pious Mother…

[Lasso de la Vega:]…templo, para en él mostrar y dar todo mi amor, compasión, auxilio y defensa, pues yo soy vuestra piadosa Madre…[Velázquez]

…temple, in order to show and give all of my love, compassion, aid and defense in it, for I am your pious Mother…

In Sánchez’s version, the Virgin will show herself in the temple, but Lasso apparently divorces verb and object, inserting a completely different phrase, thereby requiring a new verb “I am” to correspond to the object “pious Mother.” If the latter text is an amplification of the former, it is an extremely awkward insertion. A more natural supposition is that Sánchez’s text is an abbreviated version of a tradition that Lasso de la Vega records more completely. The same may be said for this second excerpt:

[Sánchez:]…con los que me buscaren para el remedio de sus necesidades.

…with those who seek me for the remedy of their needs.

[Lasso de la Vega:]…que me invoquen y en mi confíen; oír allí sus lamentos y remediar todas sus miserias, penas y dolores. [Velázquez]

…who call upon me and trust in me; to hear there their laments and to remedy all their miseries, sufferings and pains.

Again, Lasso’s supposed insertion into Sánchez’s text completely alters the grammatical structure and referents, yet fortuitously happens to make a coherent sentence. Two verb phrases are inserted between “those who seek me” and “for the remedy,” severing their reference and grammatical form. This is a highly awkward way to add content, and for little gain. In fact, the Nahuatl text is even more ample than Velázquez’s rendition. The latter part may be read as a separate sentence: “There in truth I will hear their lament, their sorrow; so I will set straight, I will remedy all their various needs, their miseries, their sorrows.” (From Miguel León-Portilla’s 1999 Spanish translation) It is far more plausible that Sánchez relates an abbreviated version of the Blessed Virgin’s traditional dialogue than that Lasso has made such a convoluted interpolation.

In terms of narrative substance, the two versions differ only in two significant details. The first is that only Sánchez's account refers to the shrine as “a house and hermitage, [a] temple,” while the Nican mopohua simply calls it a temple (noteocaltzin, “little divine house”). This difference is attributable to language differences, for Nahuatl would have no proper term for “hermitage.” This is the only instance where Sánchez’s version of the monologue contains something lacking in the Nican mopohua.

The second difference is more substantial: only the Nican mopohua specifies that the shrine is to be built “on the plain” (tlalmantli, “flat land”). This is in sharp contrast with Sánchez's text, where the Virgin simply says to build the house “here,” as if to mean the top of the hill. Indeed, Sánchez later says that the bishop’s men marked the spots where Juan Diego indicated the apparitions occurred, in order to build the shrine there. He even feels compelled to give an explanation of why the shrine was not built on the summit after all, in apparent disregard of the Virgin’s command. No such explanation is necessary in Lasso’s version, for the Blessed Virgin specifically requests that the shrine be built upon the plain.

Juan Diego replied to the Blessed Virgin (in León-Portilla’s more literal translation): “My Lady, noble Lady, truly I now go, I will fulfill your reverenced breath, your reverenced word. Now then I leave you, I your humble servant.” The Nican mopohua, here as elsewhere, renders as first-person dialogue what Sánchez relates cursorily in the third person.

The humble seer went down to go fulfill his charge; he came to find the path that goes straight to Mexico City. When he arrived at the interior of the city, he then went straight to the palace of the bishop. (The Nahuatl text renders “bishop” in Spanish: Obispo.) The bishop is identified as the recently arrived “governor of the priests,” whose name was don Fray Juan de Sumárraga, a priest of Saint Francis. After a long wait, the Indian was admitted to the bishop’s presence, and he told of all that had happened. The bishop, seeming doubtful, responded, “My son, you will come again. I will hear you more calmly; I will look at it carefully from the very beginning; I will consider the reason why you have come, your will, your desire.”

At the end of the day (Saturday), Juan Diego returned to the top of the hill where he again saw the noble Lady of Heaven. Prostrating himself on the ground, he addressed her: “Notecuiyoé, Tlacatlé, Cihuapillé, Noxocoyohué, Nochpochtziné,” which translates roughly as “My dear Mistress, Lady Queen, my Youngest Child, my dear Beloved Daughter.” The last two diminutive titles sound jarringly inappropriate in English or Spanish. In Nahuatl, however, such diminutives can have reverential meaning, and may be broadly translated as “beloved.” The use of such odd titles strongly suggests that at least this part of the Nican mopohua was composed in Nahuatl, and is not a translation from Spanish. As he recounts his failed mission, Juan Diego uses other indigenous expressions to describe himself: “I am a (porter’s) rope; I am a back-frame, a tail, a wing, a man of no importance.” He repeats the bishop’s words to him verbatim though they were previously told to the reader. Sánchez, by contrast, records the bishop’s reaction only now when Juan Diego is recounting it to the Blessed Virgin.

Before dawn the next morning, Sunday, Juan Diego set out again for Tlatilolco, to learn divine things and to hear Mass, which ended at ten o’clock. Then he proceeded to the bishop’s palace, where he was eventually granted an audience. This time the bishop questioned him at length, but ultimately decided that he would not act on the request to build a chapel without some other sign showing that the Queen of Heaven had sent this messenger. Juan Diego responded, “Think about what the sign you ask for will be, because then I will go to ask for it of the Queen of Heaven who sent me.”

After dismissing Juan Diego, the bishop instructed his servants to follow him to see where he went, but they lost track of him at the bridge over the brook near Tepeyac. Frustrated by Juan Diego’s elusiveness, they advised the bishop that he was a liar or a dreamer, and resolved among themselves to punish the charlatan if he returned. Meanwhile, Juan Diego told the Blessed Virgin of the bishop’s response, and she replied: “That's fine, my dear son, you will come back here tomorrow so that you may take the bishop the sign he has asked you for.” This last conversation is omitted from León-Portilla's version, but it is in Velázquez and other translations.

The next day, Monday, Juan Diego did not go to see the Blessed Virgin, for his uncle Juan Bernardino had fallen gravely ill. Late that night, the sick man begged his nephew to go to Tlatilolco to obtain a priest for his last rites. Early Tuesday, before dawn, Juan Diego set out for Tlatelolco (Tlatilulco). He went around the hill, climbing it halfway, and went on the east side, in order not to be detained by the Heavenly Lady. He thought she would not see him, though she sees everywhere.

As the Blessed Virgin appears to Juan Diego and asks where he is going, the Nican mopohua includes this response, which is not found in Sánchez:

But he, perhaps was a little perturbed? Or perhaps ashamed? Or maybe he was scared or frightened? Before her he prostrated and greeted her. He said to her: "My little girl, my smallest daughter, noble lady, I hope you are feeling well? How are you this morning? Does your precious little body feel well, my lady, my revered daughter?"

Here we find Juan Diego sweet talking the Blessed Virgin! Even after taking due account for the indigenous use of abundant diminutives and terms of endearment, it is evident that Juan Diego is changing the subject away from his failure to carry out her mission. It is incredible that Lasso de la Vega would add such an unflattering depiction of Juan Diego if his only source were Sánchez. We seem to have here an independent indigenous tradition, which again has preference for the dialogue form, while Sánchez only paraphrases Juan Diego’s response.

Juan Diego proceeds to explain that his uncle, her servant, is at the point of death, so he is going to her house in Mexico, where he will call “one of the beloved of Our Lord, one of our priests,” to give confession and leave him [the uncle] prepared. “Because in truth for this we were born, we have come to await the work of our death.” He assures his Lady that he will return as soon as he has done this, to carry out her word. “Pardon me, still have patience with me, because I do not mock you, my daughter, the littlest, my little daughter, tomorrow I will come with haste.”

The Virgin responded with compassion, telling him there was nothing to fear in this illness or any other illness. “Am I not here, I, who am your mother? (Nahuatl: “Cuix amo nican nica nimonantzin?”) Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not the source of your joy? Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Do you need something more?” This beautiful speech, which has become emblematic of the love and protection of Our Lady of Guadalupe, is unique to the Nican mopohua, as it does not appear in Sánchez’s account. Like the other dialogue in this narrative, it is replete with authentic indigenous expressions.

The Blessed Virgin assured Juan Diego that his uncle would not die, and even now had become well, as he would later find out. Trusting in her assurance, he beseeched her to send him as her messenger to the bishop, to bring a sign for him to believe. The noble Lady of Heaven sent him to the top of the hill, where he had first seen her. There he would cut and gather the flowers he found.

When Juan Diego reached the top of the hill, he marveled at the many blooming flowers there, of many precious varieties “like those of Castile” (Caxtillan). Velázquez interprets this as “roses of Castile,” which surely relates the author’s intent. Roses are not native to Central America, so there is no Nahuatl word for “rose.” To an indigenous Mexican, a rose would be simply a flower of Castile (Caxtillan xochitl), since he would only know those brought from Spain. This is not the only variety of flower on the hill, but is the only one the author singles out by name. Sánchez, by contrast, names many varieties besides roses.

The narrator comments that (ordinarily) no flowers grew on the top of that hill, because it is flinty and has thistles, plants with thorns, prickly pears, and mezquites. What few small plants did grow were destroyed by the ice in December. Recall that Mexico in the sixteenth century was considerably colder and drier than it is today, due to the “Little Ice Age” that prevailed in the northern hemisphere until the 1840s. Later writers such as Joaquín García Icazbalceta, living in a warmer era, could not understand why the blooming of flowers in wintertime was considered miraculous. The narrator of the Nican mopohua states matter-of-factly that in December the frost eats and destroys everything, as this was common knowledge in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Moreover, the rocky terrain was not a place where flowers grew even during warm seasons.

Juan Diego cut the flowers and gathered them into his cuixantli (or cuexantli), which can refer to a sack or a piece of clothing. Later in the narrative, the author occasionally uses the term tilmatli, which is a blanket-like cloak worn over the shoulder, called a tilma in European languages. Juan Diego brought the flowers to Our Lady, who took them in her hands and returned them to his cuexantli, saying that these flowers would be the sign to bring to the bishop. She instructed Juan Diego to open his tilma only in the bishop’s presence, and then to explain all that had occurred.

Calmed by Our Lady’s words, Juan Diego set off for Mexico, taking care that nothing fell from his cloak, and delighting in the aroma of the flowers. When he arrived at the bishop’s palace, he was met by the one who watches the house (i.e., a steward or majordomo) and other servants of the governing priest. They did not let him see the bishop, either because they did not want to hear him or because it was still dawn. Or perhaps they recognized him, and he irritated them, and their companions who had followed and lost sight of him had spoken to them of this. This is all presented as speculation by the narrator.

Juan Diego simply stood there with his head down for a long time, waiting for the servants to give the word to let him in. Seeing this patience, and also that he carried something in his tilma, they drew near to him, to see what he brought. Juan Diego, seeing that he could not hide what he carried, and that they might beat him over it, showed them a glimpse that they were flowers. They saw that they were all varied flowers like those of Castile. They admired them since it was not the season for them, and they were all fresh and in open bloom, fragrant, and beautiful. They wanted to grab a few, and three times they tried to do so, but nothing happened, because on each attempt, they did not see flowers, but only saw them as something painted or woven on the tilma.

The servants went to tell what they had seen to the bishop. The bishop, hearing this, felt in his heart that this was the sign. He ordered that the little man be brought in to be seen. Juan Diego recounted to the bishop all that he had seen and heard. When describing the flowers he had gathered, he calls them simply “flowers like those of Castile.” This phrasing, along with earlier mentions of “various flowers, like those of Castile,” might account for why other sources, to be discussed later, claim that all the flowers were Castilian roses.

After concluding his account, which substantially repeats what was narrated earlier, Juan Diego offers the flowers as the sign of Our Lady’s will. He then extended his white tilma, and as the different flowers like those of Castile fell to the floor, there appeared as the sign the precious image of the Ever Virgin Holy Mary, Mother of God, just as it is still preserved in her precious house, her little temple on Tepeyácac, where it is called Guadalupe.

The bishop and all others present kneeled before the image in admiration, and then rose to see it, as they trembled and were afflicted in their hearts. The bishop, with tears, begged that she pardon him for not having fulfilled her will. He rose, untied the tilma from Juan Diego’s neck, and took it to place it in his oratory (i.e., his private chapel).

Juan Diego stayed in the bishop’s house, and the following day he showed the location where Our Lady had asked for her chapel to be built. Then, he asked for permission to see his uncle Juan Bernardino, who had been ill when he had last seen him, but was declared cured by Our Lady. They not only let him go, but accompanied him to his house, where they saw that his uncle was indeed now healthy and free from all pain. Juan Bernardino was surprised at how his nephew was accompanied and honored. Juan Diego explained that the Heavenly Lady appeared to him at Tepeyácac as he was going to summon a priest, sending him instead to Mexico City so the bishop would build her a chapel, while assuring him not to worry about his uncle, who was now cured. Juan Bernardino confirmed that he had been healed at that moment, and that he saw the Blessed Virgin just as she had appeared to his nephew. She instructed him to appear before the bishop and describe what he had seen, as well as his miraculous cure. He should also name her image as the Perfect Virgin, Holy Mary of Guadalupe (Cenquizca Ichpochtzintli Santa María de Guadalupe).

They took Juan Bernardino to give his testimony before the bishop. Both he and his nephew Juan Diego stayed in the bishop’s residence for several days, while the little chapel was being built for Our Lady at Tepeyácac. The bishop moved the miraculous image from his private chapel to the principal church (Iglesia Mayor), so that all could see it. Everyone in the city came to see the image and acknowledge its divine character, as no man on earth had painted her precious image.

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4.3 Description of the Image

The narrative proceeds seamlessly (without introducing a new section) to a physical description of the image. If the apparition narrative is from an early indigenous source document, it is not clear at first whether or not the present description is attributable to the same source. Here, as in the rest of the Huei tlamahuizoltica, we will follow the translation of Velázquez.

The cloak of Juan Diego, upon which the miraculous image appeared, was made of ayate that is a bit stiff or taut, and well woven. According to the narrator, this is because, in that time, all the clothing and coats of the poor Indians were made of ayate. Only the nobles and the warriors dressed in white cotton cloaks. Ayate, as is known, is made of ichtli, which comes from maguey. This precious ayate upon which appeared the Ever Virgin Queen is of two pieces, sewn together with soft thread.

Lasso de la Vega’s subsequent description of the image closely matches that of Sánchez. (1) From foot to crown, the image of the Virgin is six and a half spans tall. (2) Her face is noble and slightly dark. (3) Her hands are joined over the chest, from where the waist begins. (4) Her belt is mulberry (morado) in color. (5) Only her right foot is slightly uncovered. (6) Her gown (Sánchez: “tunic”) is colored rose and vermilion (Sánchez: “carmine”); and embroidered with flowers in gold. (7) She has a golden brooch hanging from her neck, surrounded by black rays, and with a cross in the middle. These and all subsequent points of description match those related by Sánchez, in the exact same order. We can hardly avoid the conclusion that Lasso’s description here is nothing but a translation of Sánchez’s description.

Lasso de la Vega’s description of ayate was a bit more amplified than that of Sánchez, due to the chaplain’s greater familiarity with indigenous culture. Only he notes, for example, that the wealthier Indians in the sixteenth century dressed in cotton. Otherwise, his account follows that of Sánchez, who did not have the linguistic ability to translate from a Nahuatl document. With this clear evidence of borrowing from Sánchez, we know that Lasso certainly did have Sánchez’s narrative at his disposal when composing this portion of the Huei tlamahuizoltica. It is not unreasonable, then, to suppose he also had recourse to Sánchez when writing the Nican mopohua and Nican moctepana, that is, the narratives about the apparitions and subsequent miracles.

However, we have seen that the Nican mopohua departs substantially from Sánchez in many respects, providing extended dialogues that the first Guadalupan author omits. There is still reason to believe, then, that Lasso de la Vega had recourse to other sources in composing his narrative, a suspicion that will receive further corroboration as we examine the Nican moctepana.

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4.4 Nican moctepana

A new section begins in the Huei tlamahuizoltica, with the title, “Here is narrated in order all the miracles that Our Lady of Heaven Our Blessed Mother of Guadalupe has done.” The first words of this title, Nican moctepana ("Here it is told in order"), has become the accepted shorthand name for this miracle narrative. The introduction of a new section suggests at least the possibility that Lasso de la Vega used a different source document or tradition to compose this part of his work. Again, as with the Nican mopohua, the introductory lines or title of the Nican moctepana were likely composed by Lasso, while the narrative proper is all that is subsequent.

Interestingly, Lasso does not record anything of what Sánchez narrates regarding the building of the chapel and the preparations to transfer the image there. He begins directly with a description of the first miracle, which occurred during the procession for translating the image. The Nican moctepana has details omitted by Sánchez, noting that many Indians were in canoes, as the lagoon of Mexico was still deep at the time. We are also told that the poor Indian who was miraculously revived (after being killed by a stray arrow) remained from then on at the shrine of Our Lady, where he swept the temple, its patio and its entrance.

The Nican moctepana includes not only factual details but entire miracle narratives not found in Sánchez. There are fourteen miracle accounts in all, summarized below.

  1. An Indian killed by an arrow during the procession was miraculously restored to life.
  2. In 1544, during a severe plague, the Franciscans in Tlatelolco led a procession to Tepeyácac. From that day onward, only two or three persons died each day, instead of a hundred.
  3. Juan of Totoltépec, the Indian who discovered Our Lady of Los Remedios, fell ill and was brought to Tepeyácac, where he was cured.
  4. A young relative of don Antonio Carbajal was dragged by his startled horse for half a league, but was miraculously spared any injury. He had invoked Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose shrine they had passed.
  5. A large hanging lamp fell on a Spanish man who was praying at the shrine. The witnesses thought he died, but he was uninjured and the lamp was undamaged and still lit.
  6. The vicar of the shrine, Juan Vázquez de Acuña, was about to say Mass, when all the candles went out. While he waited for someone to get a new fire, two beams of light appeared and lit the candles, to the marvel of those in attendance.
  7. A spring appeared behind the shrine. Its water is clean but acidic, and countless cures have been attested by those who drank or bathed in it.
  8. A Spanish lady who lived in Mexico City began to have swelling in her belly. After ten months of failed treatment, she was brought to the shrine of Guadalupe in the morning. After praying and drinking some water from the spring, she fell asleep. An Indian saw a snake come out from under the sleeping woman, and she awoke in fright. They killed the snake, and her swelling went down. Four days later, she was able to walk back cured.
  9. A noble Spaniard, a resident of Mexico City, had strong pains in his head and ears. He was brought to the shrine of Guadalupe, where he prayed to be healed and swore that, if cured, he would make an offering of a head of silver. He was cured shortly after his arrival, and he remained in her shrine for nine days.
  10. A youth named Catalina had dropsy. The doctors said she could not get up, or she would die. She was carried to the shrine of Guadalupe. She prayed for her health; then two men came to take her out, and she use all her strength to go to the fount, and drink the water there. She was instantly cured as she drank.
  11. A discalced Franciscan friar, named Pedro de Valderrama, had a pestiferous cancer in his toe, which needed to be amputated. They took him to the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. In her presence, he untied the rag around his toe and prayed to be healed. He was instantly cured and walked back to Pachuca on foot.
  12. A Spanish nobleman, don Luis de Castilla, had a badly swollen foot, which the doctors could not cure, and so he was sure to die. It is said that the above-mentioned friar told him of his cure by Our Lady of Guadalupe. The nobleman ordered silversmiths to make a foot of silver, the size of his foot, and he sent it to the shrine to be placed before her, entrusting her to heal him. When the messenger left to deliver the foot, the sick man was so afflicted that he wanted to die. Yet when he returned, he found the man well, having been cured.
  13. A sacristan named Juan Pavón, who was in charge of the temple of Our Lady of Guadalupe, had a son with a large swelling in the neck. He was so gravely ill that he wanted to die and could not breathe. The sacristan took his son to the presence of Our Lady and anointed him with oil from the lamp that was burning. He was instantly healed.
  14. Don Francisco Quetzalmamalitzin, of Teotihuacán, turned to Our Lady when his town was destroyed and left deserted, because they opposed being deprived of the Franciscan friars. The viceroy Luis de Velasco wanted to replace the Franciscans with Augustinians, which the townspeople thought a great offense. Since he was sought everywhere, don Francisco went in secret to Azcapotzalco, to pray to Our Lady of Guadalupe to change the heart of the viceroy and nobles so that his people would be pardoned and could return to their homes, and again be ministered by the Franciscans. This indeed occurred: the people were pardoned, including don Francisco and his courtesans in hiding; the Franciscans were again sent there, and all could return to their homes without incident. This was in the year 1558. Don Francisco entrusted his soul to Our Lady of Guadalupe at the hour of his death, which was 2 March 1563.

Only the first six of these miracles are found in Sánchez’s narrative; the rest are unique to the Nican moctepana. The first six miracles are narrated with similar factual details as are found in Sánchez. For example, in the account of the second miracle, both Sánchez and Lasso de la Vega record that the children in the procession were as young as “six or seven years.” Yet they differ in other details, for Sánchez says that deaths were reduced to “one or two” per day, while Lasso says “two or three.” These and other differences suggest that Lasso did not simply copy from Sánchez, but relied on other sources even in the case of the first six miracles.

In the account of the seventh miracle, describing a spring or fount that appeared behind the shrine, the Nican moctepana says it is at the location where the Virgin intercepted Juan Diego when he was going to fetch a priest for his uncle, and where she pointed out the plain where they should build a temple, “all of which has just been said” [i.e., in the apparition narrative]. This last phrase implies a continuity of authorship between the Nican mopohua and Nican moctepana. Also, we see a reiteration of the notion that the Blessed Virgin asked for the temple to be built on the plain, not on top of the hill as Sánchez indicates.

In the latter miracle accounts, the voice of a single author can be seen in the repetition of certain phrases. In both the eighth and ninth miracle narratives, for example, the afflicted person is described as being “at the point of bursting,” and then, after being cured, is said to have “went home happy and nothing hurt.” These last eight miracle accounts, or rather, a discussion of the healing spring or fountain followed by seven miracle stories, evidently are the work of a single author other than Sánchez.

The Nican moctepana is likely composed of two parts. The first six miracles are taken from Sánchez's account, and amplified by details from oral tradition known to Lasso de la Vega. The accounts of the spring and the subsequent seven miracles come from a distinct source, and are simply appended to the miracles from Sánchez. Evidence of this artificial merging of two parts can be seen from the chronology of the miracles.

The first six miracles from Sánchez are in apparent chronological order, from 1531 through 1544 to the time of Juan Vázquez de Acuña, c. 1600. The seventh miracle in Sánchez, the flood of the 1620s, is not included by Lasso de la Vega, perhaps because it is a more doubtful miracle, or perhaps because it does not figure among the traditionally enumerated miracles of Guadalupe. We saw that Sánchez mentioned it particularly because he was alive to witness it. Lasso de la Vega seems to confine himself to the more ancient tradition, as his additional miracles end with one that occurred in 1558. This incompatibility with the chronology of the earlier miracles shows that Lasso’s Nican moctepana is not simply a fuller rendering of Sánchez's supposed source document, but must be a composition of Sánchez's account and another source or sources.

If Lasso de la Vega’s Nican moctepana relies on some indigenous source document, we may expect that document to contain as few as seven miracles (enumerated 8 through 14 above) and possibly the account of the spring's appearance (item 7). The document would have to have been composed some time after 1563, the last date mentioned.

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4.5 Biography of Juan Diego

After the last miracle is related, the narrator says that there were countless other miracles worked for Indians and Spaniards, and all who invoked Our Lady of Guadalupe. He then sharply transitions to a discussion of Juan Diego's life after the apparitions, which provides many details not given by Sánchez.

Juan Diego was troubled that he lived so far from the shrine of Our Lady, and wished to serve her daily. He petitioned the bishop to live near the shrine and serve there. The bishop acceded and he was given a little house adjoining the shrine. He immediately abandoned his village, leaving his house and land to his uncle Juan Bernardino. He was daily occupied in spiritual activities and he swept the temple.

The narrator now gives details not found in Sánchez. Juan Diego was a widower; his wife, named María Lucía, had died two years before the apparitions. They had lived chastely; his wife died a virgin, and he never knew a woman. This was because they had heard a sermon by Fray Toribio Motolinia, one of twelve Franciscan friars who had just arrived. The sermon was about how chastity was very pleasing to God and his Most Holy Mother, and how the Queen of Heaven would concede all that was asked of her by the chaste.

Juan Bernardino wished to go with Juan Diego to live by the temple, but the latter refused, saying that it was better that he stayed at home, to take care of the houses and lands that their ancestors left them, as Our Lady had arranged that he alone should be there.

During the plague of 1544, Juan Bernardino became gravely ill, and saw the Queen of Heaven in dreams. She told him the hour of death approached, but not to worry, for she would preserve his place in the celestial palace, for he had always called upon her. He died on the fifteenth of May that year, at the age of eighty-six. He was brought to Tepeyácac, to be buried in the temple, by order of the bishop.

After serving Our Lady for sixteen years, Juan Diego died in the year 1548, in the same season that the bishop died. At that time, the Virgin consoled him, appearing and telling him that it was the hour for him to enjoy his heavenly reward, as had been promised. Juan Diego was also buried in the temple; he was seventy-four years old.

From this brief biography, we can gather dates for the life of Juan Diego (c. 1474-1548), his wife María Lucía (d. 1529), and his uncle Juan Bernardino (c. 1458-1544). Juan Diego was about fifty-seven years old at the time of the apparitions, and his uncle was about seventy-three. Bishop Juan de Zumárraga died on June 3, 1548, so Juan Diego died around the same time of year.

From other historical sources, we know that Bishop Zumárraga was in Mexico from December 1528 to May 1532, when he was technically only bishop-elect, but acted as bishop. Pope Clement VII named him as bishop in 1530, but he was not formally consecrated until 1533, in Spain. He returned to Mexico in October 1534, where he remained until his death in 1548. Thus he would have been present during the apparitions and at Juan Bernardino’s death, as recorded by Lasso de la Vega.

Fray Toribio de Benavente, called Motolinia by the Indians, was among the first twelve Franciscans to arrive in Mexico in May 1524. He resided in Mexico from 1524 to 1527, consistent with the account of Juan Diego and his bride hearing the friar’s sermon on chastity. Juan Diego, therefore, was married at the age of fifty to fifty-three, and his wife died only a few years afterward.

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4.6 History of the Blessed Virgin in New Spain

After the death and glorification of Juan Diego, the text says:

Here concludes the account of the miracle with which the image of the Queen of Heaven, Our Most Holy Mother of Guadalupe appeared, and of some things that are written of the miracles that she has come to work, to show her aid to those who have called upon here and put their trust in her. Much has been left unsaid, which time has erased and no one remembers any more, because the elders did not take care that it was written when it happened.

In this recapitulation, it appears to be indicated that the miracle accounts, at least, were based on written sources. This was undoubtedly the case with the first six miracles, which are found in Sánchez, but the written source for the remaining miracles is unknown. Many other miracles have been forgotten because the elders did not take care to write them down, suggesting that those in the Nican moctepana were in fact preserved in writing, as some of them occurred as much as a century ago.

The author laments that so many heavenly favors have been forgotten, and says it is Our Lady’s will that some of these should be written and printed. He recapitulates all that the Mother of God has done for New Spain, under various apparitions. He begins with the image of the Virgin that was brought by the Spanish conquerors and hidden at Totoltépec, until she appeared to an Indian and ordered him to build her a shrine. (This is Our Lady of Los Remedios, mentioned previously.) Another Marian image at Cozamalloapan, by the sea, has worked many miracles. The same is true of an image at Temazcaltzinco, as well as in other towns.

In particular, she wished to be seated at Tepeyácac, with her image which was not painted by any painter of this world, but that she herself drew. She appeared to two Indians, before they were totally illuminated by the faith, in order to show them to seek her and have her as their Queen. There were many dignified ecclesiastics at that time who had long served the Queen of Heaven, but she did not appear to any of them. Instead, she appeared only to the Indians, many of whom still served false gods even though they had heard the Christian faith. After hearing of her miraculous apparition and image not made by human hands, many had their eyes opened.

And later (as the elders left painted) some nobles, the same as their servants, of good will cast out of their homes, threw down, and scattered the images of the devil and began to believe and venerate Our Lord Jesus Christ and his precious Mother.

The reference to paintings left by the elders suggests that Lasso de la Vega—who is certainly the original author of this section, as evidenced by the mention of printing—used indigenous pictographic histories among his sources.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, the narrator explains, appeared to Indians not only to aid them in their mundane sufferings, but to give them light so that they may know the one true God and through him know the life of Heaven. She strengthened the faith that had been sown by the Franciscans, who persecuted idolatry and cast down the kingdom of the devil. As was common at that time, Lasso de la Vega believed that idolatrous practices were caused by demons who blinded and deceived the natives into thinking they were gods and giving them the worship due to God alone. He sees the destruction of idolatry as a traditional Marian attribute, expressed in the Church’s prayer, Gaude, Maria Virgo, cunctas haereses sola interemisti in universo mundo, which means, “Rejoice, Virgin Mary, that you alone have trampled all heresies in the whole world.”

Given that the Blessed Virgin did indeed destroy all idolatry and false belief in the New World, the author deems it important that the natives open their eyes and read what has been written of all the Queen of Heaven has done for them. They may repay her love by calling upon her or visiting her in her house to see her blessed image. Then her word will be fulfilled, that she wanted to make this her residence, in order to aid the natives. This exhortation to devotion essentially summarizes Lasso de la Vega’s purpose in writing this work.

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4.7 Concluding Prayer

The Huei tlamahuizoltica concludes with a prayer to “the Queen of Heaven, Our Precious Mother of Guadalupe.” This was likely composed by Lasso de la Vega himself, though it may have been influenced by the devotional works of Sánchez. Recall that Lasso, in his letter at the end of Sánchez's history, expressed his gratitude and admiration for the Novenas de Guadalupe written by the latter (eventually published in 1665).

The prayer is evidently designed to be said by the natives. It praises the Blessed Virgin for descending from heaven and miraculously appearing to the poor Indians. It beseeches her to not be repelled by our sins, but to fulfill her word to aid and favor us, that by her intercession these sins may be forgiven and the divine wrath placated. It ends with the hope that the devil will be foiled at the hour of our death, and that our soul may be placed in her hands to appear before the Creator.

Thus ends the mysterious Huei tlamahuizoltica, which appears to be a combination of Lasso de la Vega’s own composition, translation from Sánchez’s work, and some unspecified indigenous sources. Determining the exact provenance of this work, particularly of the sections titled Nican mopohua and Nican moctepana, will occupy much of the remainder of our study. To this end, we will find it helpful to examine the works of Luis Becerra Tanco and Francisco de Florencia, both of whom seem to use indigenous sources very similar to that of the Nican mopohua.

Continue to Part III

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