The Miracle of Tepeyac
Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin was a widower at age 55, and turned his life to God. It was his custom to attend Mass and catechism lessons at the Church in Tlatelolco. At daybreak, on Saturday, December 9, 1531, Juan Diego began his journey to Church. As he passed a hill named Tepeyac, on which once stood a temple to the Aztec mother god Tonantzin, he heard songbirds burst into harmony. Music and songbirds presaged something divine for the Aztec. The music stopped as suddenly as it had begun. A beautiful girl with tan complexion and bathed in the golden beams of the sun called him by name in Náhuatl, his native language, “Juan Diego!”
The girl said: “Dear little son, I love you. I want you to know who I am. I am the Virgin Mary, Mother of the one true God, of Him who gives life. He is Lord and Creator of heaven and of earth. I desire that there be built a temple at this place where I want to manifest Him, make him known, give Him to all people through my love, my compassion, my help, and my protection. I truly am your merciful Mother, your Mother and the Mother of all who dwell in this land, and of all mankind, of all those who love me, of those who cry to me, and of those who seek and place their trust in me. Here I shall listen to their weeping and their sorrows. I shall take them all to my heart, and I shall cure their many sufferings, afflictions, and sorrows. So run now to Tenochtitlan and tell the Lord Bishop all that you have seen and heard.”
Juan Diego went to the palace of the Franciscan Don Fray Juan de Zumarraga, and after rude treatment by the servants, was granted an audience with the Bishop. The Bishop was cordial but hesitant on the first visit and said that he would consider the request of the Lady and politely invited Juan Diego to come visit again.
Dismayed, Juan returned to the hill and found Mary waiting for him (second apparition). He asked her to send someone more suitable to deliver her message “for I am a nobody.”
She said on this second visit, “Listen, little son. There are many I could send. But you are the one I have chosen for this task. So, tomorrow morning, go back to the Bishop. Tell him it is the ever holy Virgin Mary, Mother of God who sends you, and repeat to him my great desire for a church in this place.”
So, Sunday morning, December 10, Juan Diego called again on the Bishop for the second time. Again with much difficulty, he was finally granted an audience. The Bishop was surprised to see him and told him to ask for a sign from the Lady.
Juan Diego reported this to the Virgin (third apparition), and she told him to return the following morning for the sign. However, when Juan Diego returned home he found his uncle Juan Bernardino gravely ill. Instead of going back to Tepeyac, he stayed home with his dying uncle on Monday.
Juan Diego woke up early Tuesday morning, December 12th, to bring a priest from the Church of Santiago at Tlatelolco, so that his uncle might receive the last blessing. Juan had to pass Tepeyac hill to get to the priest. Instead of the usual route by the west side of the hill, he went around the east side to avoid the Lady. Guess who descended the hill on the east side to intercept his route!
The Virgin said, “Least of my sons, what is the matter?”
Juan was embarrassed by her presence (fourth apparition). “My Lady, why are you up so early? Are you well? Forgive me. My uncle is dying and desires me to find a priest for the Sacraments. It was no empty promise I made to you yesterday morning. But my uncle fell ill.”
Mary said, “My little son. Do not be distressed and afraid. Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not the fountain of your joy? Are you not in the fold of my mantle, in the cradle of my arms? Your uncle will not die at this time. This very moment his health is restored. There is no reason now for your errand, so you can peacefully attend to mine. Go up to the top of the hill; cut the flowers that are growing there and bring them to me.”
Flowers in December? Impossible, thought Juan Diego. But he was obedient, and sure enough found beautiful Castilian roses on the hilltop. As he cut them, he decided the best way to protect them against the cold was to cradle them in his tilma – a long, cloth cape worn by the Aztecs, and often looped up as a carryall. He ran back to Mary and she rearranged the roses and tied the lower corners of the tilma behind his neck so that nothing would spill, and said, “You see, little son, this is the sign I am sending to the Bishop. Tell him that now he has his sign, he should build the temple I desire in this place. Do not let anyone but him see what you are carrying. Hold both sides until you are in his presence and tell him how I intercepted you on your way to fetch a priest to give the Last Sacraments to your uncle, how I assured you he was perfectly healed and sent you up to cut these roses, and myself arranged them like this. Remember, little son, that you are my trusted ambassador, and this time the Bishop will believe all that you tell him.” This fourth apparition was the last known time Juan Diego ever saw the Virgin Mary.
Juan called for the third time on the Bishop and explained all that had passed. Then Juan put up both hands and untied the corners of crude cloth behind his neck. The looped-up fold of the tilma fell; the flowers he thought were the precious sign tumbled out on the floor.
The Bishop rose from his chair and fell on his knees in adoration before the tilma, as well as everyone else in the room. For on the tilma was the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary just as described by Juan Diego.
While Juan Diego was calling on the Bishop, Juan Bernardino, the dying uncle, suddenly found his room filled with a soft light. A luminous young woman filled with love was standing there and told him he would get well. During this fifth apparition, she told him that she had sent his nephew, Juan Diego, to the Bishop with an image of herself and said, “Call me and call my image Our Lady of Guadalupe.”