Thursday, January 26, 2012

Iconic Icons Supplement: Our Lady of Guadalupe

"Am I not here, I, who am your mother?"

I must apologize for taking so long to write about Our Lady of Guadalupe (Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe): though her image is not an icon in the typical sense (that is, made by human hands for the purpose of connection to Christ or the saints in Heaven), it most definitely should be classified as an acheiropoieton (an sacred image not made with human hands).  I apologize for not including it in my original post on these images: it didn't enter my mind until much later.  This post, then, is a supplement for my post on the acheiropoieta.

St. Juan Diego (1474-1578) was a Native American from what is now Mexico (his birth name was Aztec: Cuauhtlatoatzin).  Originally a mystical and devout pagan, around 1520 or so he converted to Christianity, taking the name Juan Diego.  Shortly thereafter, in 1529, he became a widower, yet his faith remained strong.  It was in 1531 that the events for which he is now known began.

On Saturday, December 9, 1531, Juan Diego was running down Tepeyac Hill (near Mexico City) to attend Mass, when suddenly the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to him.  She told Juan Diego to have the bishop build a church on the place she stood.  The obedient saint ran to the bishop and told him these events.  The bishop, understandably wary, examined the farmer (for that was Juan Diego's profession) carefully, and then directed him to ask the Virgin for a sign that she was truly the Mother of God.

The following Tuesday, December 12, the saint was running to get medicine for his dying uncle, and he changed his course to avoid Tepeyac, where the Virgin said she would appear again.  Undeterred, Mary appeared in his path and asked, "What road is this thou takest, son?"  She entered into a maternal dialogue with Juan Diego, reassuring him about his uncle (also appearing to said uncle and curing him) and calling herself "Holy Mary of Guadalupe."  When she told the saint to return to the bishop, he asked for the requested sign.  She instructed him to go to some nearby rocks and gather roses.  Knowing this was neither the proper season for roses nor a place roses would grow, Juan Diego still obeyed the Virgin's command, and, to his surprise, roses abounded among the rocks.  He gathered them into his tilma (a long cloak worn by his people) and returned to the Virgin.  She arranged the roses and asked him to keep them hidden and untouched in his tilma until he reached the bishop.  Keeping the orders of Mary, Juan Diego walked to the bishop's and unfurled his cloak, dropping roses as fresh and dewy as if they had just been picked on a spring morning.  Looking at the bishop and his attendants to see their response, he saw them kneeling before him.  In confusion, he looked down at his tilma.

On the tilma was a life-size image of the Blessed Virgin, exactly as she appeared to Juan Diego.  She appeared in the clothes of a Native American woman of that region (that is, clothes based in Aztec culture), with a sash on her waist and a star-filled cloak on her shoulders.  Unlike most images, the Virgin was most noticeably pregnant, pregnant with the Son of God.  Her eyes were closed, her hands folded in prayer, and her feet on a crescent moon (a symbol of an Aztec god that she was crushing).  Beneath the moon was an angel, shown in an Aztec style (for instance, the wings were colored in blue, yellow, and red), holding up the Virgin's robes.  All around, Mary shone with radiant light, Heaven's light, the light of her Son.

The bishop enshrined the tilma with the Virgin's miraculous image in the preliminary shrine he built according to Mary's wishes, and St. Juan Diego spent the rest of his days as a hermit, guarding this blessed image.  Since that time, the acheiropoieton (for that is truly what it is) has remained at Tepeyac Hill, moving from shrine to shrine as new ones were built.  Presently, it resides in a basilica built to house it in 1904.

Our Lady of Guadalupe is frequently invoked in the Americas.  Indeed, her titles include "Patroness of the Americas" (I've also seen "Empress" often), "Empress of Latin America," and "Protectoress of the Unborn."  She is the patron of the Americas, especially Mexico, and Native Americans especially venerate her.  Due to her pregnancy in the image, she is often invoked among those in the pro-life apostolate.  Her feast day is December 12, while St. Juan Diego's feast day is December 9.

Before I close, I just want to write a short digression on the Virgin's title: "of Guadalupe."  There was no place named Guadalupe where she appeared: indeed, she appeared on Tepeyac Hill.  Why is she not then called "Our Lady of Tepeyac"?  That is due to her own command.  Why did she pick this name, then?  One theory is that she spoke a term in Nahuatl (the language of the Aztecs, the native language of Mexico).  Some alternatives are Tequatlanopeuh ("she whose origins were in the rocky summit"), Tequantlaxopeuh ("she who banishes those who devoured us"), or Coatlaxopeuh ("the one who crushes the serpent"--possibly referring to Quetzacoatl, a popular Aztec serpent god).  Another theory I've heard (which I think I am most inclined to) is that the name is a reference to the city of Guadalupe in Spain.  In this city there was a miraculous statue of Our Lady carved by St. Luke the Evangelist given to the St. Leander, Bishop of Seville, by Pope St. Gregory the Great.  After this statue was lost for 600 years, it was rediscovered in 1326 by Gil Cordero, who was led to it by a vision of the Blessed Mother.  This statue was even referred to as Our Lady of Guadalupe due to its being rediscovered there.  There will probably never be a definite answer, as debate seems to be too common, but the one thing certain is this: the Blessed Virgin declared she wished to be known as Our Lady of Guadalupe, so how can we refuse her wish?

The statue entitled Our Lady of Guadalupe in Spain

Again, I apologize for not discussing Our Lady of Guadalupe with the rest of the acheiropoieta, but it honestly slipped my mind.  I also find her patronage as Protectoress of the Unborn timely to remember due to the recent March for Life in Washington, D.C. and due to the recent mandate by the U.S. government that all health care plans will have to provide not only contraceptives, but abortifacients (drugs that cause an abortion chemically rather than surgically).  Keeping this patronage in mind, let us ask for the prayers of the Theotokos under her title as Our Lady of Guadalupe, and let us ask for the prayers of her faithful servant, Juan Diego.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, Protectoress of the Unborn, save us!
St. Juan Diego, pray for us!

Nota Bene: Most of my information came from the pages on St. Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe.  Additional information came from Wikipedia and Our Lady of Guadalupe.

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