How Mary Converted A Nation

When I was 14, I was lucky enough to travel to Mexico City. Our Spanish teacher took our student group to the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe. Several impressions remain with me; the enormous modern church (built in 1976), the faithful arriving walking on their knees to show their devotion, and the experience of seeing a holy relic. When I reached the image of Mary on Juan Diego’s cloak, it was behind bullet-proof glass. I wanted to stare for hours, but that would have been unfair to the faithful behind me in the long line out the door.

Since then I’ve heard many stories about Juan Diego meeting Our Lady (Mary). His name at birth was Cuauhtlatoatzin (1474). He was born in Cuautitlán. His parents passed away when he was small and he went to live with his uncle. He grew up, got married, and the couple had no children. The Spanish arrived. Cuauhtlatoatzin and his wife were of the first Nahuas to convert to Christianity. The Catholic names they adopted when they were baptized in 1524 were Juan Diego and María Lucía. She died in 1529.

In New Spain one wintry day in 1531, Mary appeared to Juan Diego as he walked 14 miles on his way to Mass.* She was beautiful, her skin was brown, her garments were radiant, and she spoke to him in Nahuatl, his native language. Mary asked him to talk to Bishop Zumárraga about placing a shrine there where she stood on Tepeyac Hill, which Juan Diego did right away. However, the Bishop would not believe his story.

Mary spoke to Juan Diego again at Tepeyac as he returned. He apologized and said the Bishop wouldn’t accept that she had visited a simple indigenous man. He begged her to send someone else. She told him that she had chosen well. Juan Diego said he’d try again the next day. But, the following day the Bishop did not trust his word any more than the first. He wanted a sign from Juan Diego, some proof. Mary visited Juan Diego a third time, and told him she’d give him proof the next day. However, Juan Diego’s uncle became ill and his nephew tried to avoid seeing Mary and look for a priest to give last rites.

Mary appeared and asked Juan Diego where he was going. When he told her, she said not to worry, because his uncle was healed. He took her word on faith and she explained how he could prove the miracle of her visitation. Although it was winter, he’d find a rose bush in bloom. He was to cut the flowers and carry them to the Bishop in his cloak, so he did. When the out of season roses fell in front of the Bishop, he was amazed. In the garment where they had rested was an image of Mary. The church leader built the shrine. The indigenous people converted to Christianity. Juan Diego took care of the shrine until he passed away in 1548. Today, Juan Diego is a Catholic saint.

For centuries, the Mother Earth goddess Tonantzin, an incarnation of Coatlicue and additional Mixteca goddesses, was praised on the Tepeyac Hill. The shrine was destroyed by the Spanish. The Mixteca did not want to change religions. Then Mary appeared to an indigenous man, speaking in Nahuatl, and asked for the shrine on Tepeyac. Her image on Juan Diego’s cloak, showed flowers, stars, and the moon mirroring traditions of the ancient earth mother goddess. She appeared to him four times, a sacred number to the Mixteca, the number of the four directions. Upon hearing Juan Diego’s story, thousands of indigenous people flocked to worship to ask the Virgen de Guadalupe for help, for healing, for miracles. Resistance masquerading as conversion?

The Mixteca and Nahuatl-speaking communities still call the Our Lady of Guadalupe, Tonantzin. Her visitation to Juan Diego is celebrated on December 12 each year.

The Virgin of Guadalupe is a banner symbol for México, Zapata, FZLN (Zapatistas), The United Farmworkers, and Latinos in the Americas. Many people consider her to be a representation of the divine feminine archetype.

What miracles do you find in your own life?

Gracias for reading Fake Flamenco! Olé! –Rebecca

*This account of Juan Diego is based on a translation of the Nican Mopohua, a manuscript written in Náhuatl in 1545 (before Juan Diego’s death) by Don Antonio Valeriano.

bright cape mary


Rebecca Cuningham

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