Saint of the Day – Our Lady of Guadalupe
On December 12, 1531, a middle aged Indian convert, St. Juan Diego opened his “tilma” where he had placed the roses that the Lady on the Hill had told him to take to the bishop, Fray Juan de Zumarraga. His earlier attempts to tell the bishop of the Lady’s request to build a shrine on the hill of Tepeyac in her honor had met with polite skepticism. The bishop had wanted a sign, and roses in December in the high altitude and cold temperature of Mexico City would have been enough of a sign. However, when St. Juan Diego let down the poncho-like cold weather garment, made of century plant cactus fiber, maguey, the roses tumbled down on the floor and the reluctant messenger followed the eyes of the astonished bishop as he gazed on the Indian’s tilma and fell to his knees. Unique among all of the apparitions of the Virgin Mary, this one produced a physical artifact. On the tilma was the image of the Lady who would come to symbolize a new mixed-race people, a nation, and the aspirations of Catholics throughout the Americas.
Like most Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, my earliest memories are of this miraculous image. Our Lady of Guadalupe is so much a part of the culture, and so pervasive, that the miraculous image is a symbol with multiple layers of meaning. The words of Psalm 147 in Latin “Non Fecit Taliter Omni Nationi” – “He has not done so with any other nation” – are often associated with the image. More idiomatically, they are taken to mean, “He hasn’t done this for anyone else.” While the Psalmist originally applied these words to God’s unique relationship with his chosen people, the meaning has been appropriated by Mexicans and the Latin peoples of the Americas.
From the first days of the apparition to the present, the miraculous image has symbolized a heavenly acceptance of the indigenous and mixed native and European inhabitants. The Virgin does not have blond hair and blue eyes like the Virgen de las Mercedes ( Our Lady of Mercy) of the Spanish conquerors. She is dark complected, with brown eyes and black hair, this Lady of Tepeyac. However, she does not have the pronounced Moorish features of the black Madonna of Guadalupe found in Extremadura in southern Spain.
The devotion to the Spanish Madonna of Guadalupe reached its height in Spain in the 1400s and 1500s, since she was the patroness of the global explorers who set sail from Extremadura and also the patroness of all the Spanish lands of the New World. Many years before the apparition in Mexico City, Columbus named an island in the Caribbean Guadalupe (now Guadaloupe) in her honor. Historians can probably fill us in on the details of how the Lady of Tepeyac became identified with Guadalupe. Perhaps the Spanish preferred to believe that their explorer patroness had made an appearance in the Americas. Nevertheless, the secret password of identity for Mexicans and those of Mexican descent is Tepeyac. For those who have been conquered, scorned, and rejected and yet have built a vibrant and dynamic civilization, what greater recognition could there be? Non Fecit Taliter Omni Nationi.