The Conversion of Mexico

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St Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin

A chapter from the book soon to be published Guadalupe: A River of Light

THE CONVERSION OF MEXICO

We have seen how twelve years after the arrival of Hernan Cortez and about ten years after the end of the conquest of Mexico the Church still struggled to Christianize the natives and keep order in the land.

With the arrival of Hernan Cortez, the natives of Mexico saw the first time some signs of Christianity. Among of them were several images of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Patroness of Extremadura and Protector of Spain. The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe so popular today was still a decade in the future. Juan Diego was still Cuauhtlatoatzin, a commoner in his forties, living in the outskirts of Tenochtitlan. The Spaniards introduced the Spanish advocation of Our Lady in Mexico. The humble image was going to be once again the silent witness to the fall of a bloodthirsty oppressive empire. The pagan Roman Empire had fallen under her watch; the same thing happened with the Muslim occupiers of Spain. Now it was the turn of the Aztec Empire, the worshipers of the Left-Handed Hummingbird, the demon Huitzilopochtli.

Cortez learned very quickly that the Aztecs had set up a system of terror and oppression. About 25,000 men were required every year for the sacrifices performed by the temple priests. Of course, the subjects of Montezuma did not like their oppressors and only needed a leader and a good opportunity to rise up in arms. The arrival of Cortez provided both a strong leader and the opportunity they had long hoped for. As soon as the Spaniards agreed with their new allies to fight against the Aztecs, the pagan temples were emptied of their idols and a copy of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe was set in their place. When Cortez was finally received by Montezuma and taken to the altars of their gods, the Spanish Commander astonished the king and his priests by destroying their idols. Cortez pushed their statues down the slopes still stained with the blood of recent sacrifices. After cleaning the altars Cortez ordered his personal image of Our Lady of Guadalupe to be placed there along with a Crucifix.

In the days that followed Cortez and his officers had to rescue that Crucifix and the image of Our Lady at great risk for themselves. That was the beginning of the war. The Aztec Empire fell only two years after the arrival of the Spanish conquerors. Theirs was the third pagan empire to fall before the humble image of Mary of Nazareth carved by Saint Luke.

Some of the natives accepted the new faith patiently preached by Franciscans first, and later by the Augustinians. Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin was one of the early converts. He was born in 1474 in the village of Cuautitlan. His native name was Cuauhtlatohuac, “he who speaks like the eagle.” He was an artisan and merchant. Juan Diego was fifty-three, and already a widower when Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to him on Tepeyac Hill.

At the time of the apparitions, Juan Diego lived with his uncle, Juan Bernardino in Tulpetlac, a village where there was no church, for that reason he had to attend Mass at Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco. He had lived most of his life under the Aztec rule; he was a young teenager when the Great Temple was built. It is possible that he was a witness of the thousands of human sacrifices offered that day. Juan Diego knew first hand the terror and oppression unleashed by the Aztecs on their humble subjects. Under Spanish rule, he was now under the oppression of cruel and immoral men. Juan Diego was a survivor.

Only one day after Bishop Zumarraga poured his heart in prayer for a supernatural solution to the growing chaos in Mexico, on Saturday, December 9, 1531, Juan Diego was on his way to hearing Mass. On the way to Tlatelolco passing by Tepeyac Hill, he heard birds singing so beautifully that he thought he was in Paradise. He stopped to enjoy the birds singing and when he looked up he saw a woman surrounded in radiant light. She was praying. As he went to greet her, she said that it was her wish that a temple would be built on that spot. She also commissioned Juan Diego to communicate that message to the Bishop.

St-Juan-Diego-Martha-Orozco

Juan Diego obeyed and went to Tlatelolco. There he told the Bishop who did not take Juan Diego seriously. A temple existed in Tepeyac dedicated to the Aztec goddess Toniatzin that was destroyed by the Spaniards during the war. Perhaps the simple man missed his ancient pagan goddess; perhaps he was imagining things. Bishop Juan de Zumarraga prudently told San Juan Diego to go back to that place and make sure his vision was a true one. Juan Diego returned to the hill and the Virgin Mary appeared to him there a second time. She told him to insist and go back to see Zumarraga one more time. Obediently, Juan Diego did as he was told but on this occasion, the Prelate instructed Juan Diego to ask the Virgin for a sign. Returning for a third time to the mountain, Juan Diego met the Virgin Mary again. Our Lady told him to come back the following day when she would give him a suitable sign.

Juan Diego’s uncle, Juan Bernardino, fell seriously ill that Monday and poor Juan Diego had to care for him. Fearing the man was in danger of dying he left him to seek the assistance of a priest that would give Juan Bernardino the last rites. It was Tuesday, December 12, quite early in the morning when passing by Tepeyac Hill he met the Lady from Heaven for the fourth time. She inquired what was going on. He told her about Juan Bernardino’s illness and the Lady informed him that his uncle was now in good health. Then she ordered him to climb to the top of the hill to pick up some flowers. It was December, a time when frost ruins everything. We can interpret this strange request as a gentle test of Juan Diego’s faith. Always docile with a childlike disposition, Juan Diego climbed to the top of the hill to find exquisite Castilian roses in full bloom in spite of that being the coldest part of the hill and the most exposed to the chilling winter wind. He selected the most beautiful and filled his tilma with them, returning to the base of the mountain. Our Lady arranged the flowers in a motherly gesture of love and sent Juan Diego to the church in Tlatelolco warning him not to show the flowers to anyone on the way but only to Bishop Zumarraga.

After arriving at the Bishop’s residence Juan Diego had to wait a while to be received. Servants tried to touch the flowers twice but both times the flowers miraculously disappeared into the tilma. Scared by the strange phenomenon they hurried in and interrupted the Bishop who was at the time in the company of a group of people. Juan Diego then told the interpreter that he had in his ayate the sign that the Bishop has asked for. He then let the flowers cascade to the floor revealing the humble cloth miraculously impressed “as if it was painted by angels”[1] with the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It was December 12, 1531, the year metlactli omey acatl, the 13th reed in the Aztec calendar. The 13th day that was made famous – 386 years later – by the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal. The golden thread of Mary of Nazareth had touched the humblest of the humble in Mexico but that was only one more station in a long journey that started in the first century and would last many more centuries, all the way to our days.

The Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego at Tepeyac Hill in essentially the same way she had appeared to Gil Cordero in Extremadura many centuries before. We must consider the many similarities between both apparitions. The Virgin Mary introduced herself as Our Lady of Guadalupe to Juan Diego and to his uncle Juan Bernardino. According to Scripture, two witnesses are sufficient to establish a fact.

Many believe that the Spaniards heard “Guadalupe” when Juan Diego said “Coatlaxopeuh.”[2] If that was true the participants in the miraculous apparition of Our Lady in Mexico had plenty of time to correct the mistake but they did not. The name Guadalupe remained because Our Lady wanted to give Mexicans the same dignity of the Spaniards who were already her children – in spite of the awful conduct of some individuals among them. Those who favor “Coatlaxopeuh” arguing from Indigenism do not realize that – used in that manner – “Coatlaxopeuh” is a divisive term, pitching native Mexicans against the European. The term “Guadalupe” achieves the opposite effect by uniting both races into a new one: under that name, both the Spanish from Extremadura and the Mexican Natives are now one; Mary of Guadalupe is telling them clearly: “You are brothers born of the same Mother.”

As we have seen, that same Mother was present when the pagan Roman Empire, the Muslim Andalusia, and the Aztec Empire fell. We are beginning to see how throughout history Our Lady of Guadalupe destroyed the pagan gods, crushed the oppressors, and brought liberation to the oppressed.

Our Lady of Guadalupe arrived in Mexico in the same manner that she had arrived in Spain. Spain struggled to unite and become a nation; later Mexico was struggling not to collapse into utter chaos. In both cases, it appeared that the forces of evil had the upper hand. It seems that the Miracle of the Tilma was only the prelude of a greater miracle: the birth of a united Mexico as a new race, and a new nation. Nearly ten centuries were needed to forge the Spanish nation but Our Lady was about to give birth to modern Mexico in only a few days. The words of the prophet Isaiah come to mind: “Who has ever heard such a thing? And who has seen the like of it? Shall the Earth be brought forth in one day? Or shall a nation be brought forth at once, because Zion has been in labor, and has brought forth her children?”

Christendom had been born from the ashes of Rome, Spain had emerged from centuries of war and oppression, and now it was time for Mexico to be born, leaving behind a culture of death to bask in the glorious light of Christ the Lord of life.

Antonio Valeriano and the Nican Mopohua

All written narrations about the apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe are based on a document called the Nican Mopohua, written in Nahuatl using Roman characters at some time in the mid 16th century by a native Mexican scholar named Antonio Valeriano – one of the first to study in the Colegio de la Santa Cruz with Fr. Bernardino de Sahagún – The document was published by Luis Lasso de la Vega in 1649. Valeriano was a governor, a judge, and a scholar who mastered the Spanish language, Latin, and Classical Greek. He received the story related in the Nican Mopohua directly from Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin.

Antonio Valeriano wrote the Nican Mopohua to show clearly how the evangelization of Mexico progressed with the help of God and the Virgin Mary. In a very sober style, he states how the teachings of Christ reached the heart of both natives and foreign conquerors, and how they brought peace to people that could not be reconciled by any natural means. The story is developed as a series of concentric circles:

Heaven comes to rescue the Mexicans: The Virgin Mary appears to Juan Diego and asks for a church to be built on Tepeyac where Christ can be given to the people.

The Church is put on notice: News of the apparition reach Bishop Zumarraga.

The religious fail to believe: The Bishop and his helpers fail to believe the humble messenger. In their distrust, they follow Juan Diego and he disappears before their eyes when crossing a causeway.

Three supernatural signs are given: fresh roses, a miraculous image appears on Juan Diego’s tilma, and Juan Bernardino – uncle of Juan Diego – is healed and brought back from near death.

The conversion of Mexico: The city recognizes the message left on the tilma and surrenders to Our Lady’s motherly love.

The Nican Mopohua (Here it is Told) by Don Antonio Valeriano

Here it is told the orderly account of how the perfect Virgin Mary Mother of God Our Queen appeared recently at Tepeyac now renamed Guadalupe. She first appeared to a commoner named Juan Diego, and later her Precious Image appeared before the recently arrived Bishop Fray Don Juan de Zumarraga.[3]

It happened ten years after the conquest of the city of Mexico when the weapons of war were deposed there was peace in the towns around, and the faith began to flower in the knowledge of the True God for whom we all live.

Saturday, December 9 – The first apparition

In the early days of the month[4] of December of 1531, there was a commoner, a native man called Juan Diego, a well-known neighbor born in Cuautitlan belonging to the parish of Tlatelolco.

Very early on Saturday, he was on his way to church. The day was breaking as he passed near a hill called Tepeyac when he heard the singing of many precious birds. When the singing of the birds paused then the mountain responded with a soft, delightful song. The song surpassed in beauty the singing of the bellbird of the marsh, the green parakeet, and other fine birds.

Juan Diego stopped and thought: Why am I deserving the grace to hear this? Am I dreaming? Maybe I am hallucinating? Where am I? What is this place? Maybe this is the place our forefathers talked about: the land of flowers, the land of plentiful corn, of fleshly pleasures, the garden of abundance, the heavenly realms perhaps?

He was looking over the hill towards the rising sun where that heavenly music was coming from. At one point the singing ended abruptly and he heard someone calling from the hilltop: “Beloved Juan, beloved Juan Diego.” He dared to move towards the call without a single concern in his heart, not feeling troubled in the least, feeling quite happy and content, he climbed the hillside following the voice that called him. Once he reached the top, he saw a young lady standing there who bid him come closer. When he approached he marveled greatly at her perfect beauty and glory. Her garments glowed shining like the sun, and even the rocky crag under her feet glittered in the sunlight. Her brilliance surpassed that of the precious stones found in the most beautiful bracelets. The ground seemed to glow with the splendor of the rainbow in the mist. The mesquite and the nopal, the grass, the trees, and the bushes shone like emeralds; the foliage like fine turquoise; and the branches appeared bright like gold.

Juan Diego bowed before her and the Lady spoke: “Juan, my beloved, my little child, where are you going?” To what he replied: “My lady, my Queen, my beloved, I go to your holy house in Mexico, in Tlatelolco, to receive divine instruction from our priests, who are the image of Our Lord.”

After that brief exchange, she revealed the purpose of her visit. The heavenly Lady said: “Be perfectly aware, my humblest son, that I am Holy Mary, the perfect ever Virgin Mother of the Truest God for Whom we live, the Creator of mankind, Master of the here and now, Lord of Heaven and Earth. It is my wish, my utmost desire that a holy house is built here for me where I will give Him to the people along with all my love, compassion, succor, and protection. I am truly your merciful mother, the mother of all the people of this land, and of all kinds of men who love me, who call for my help, seek me, and trust me. In that holy house, I will listen to their cries and sorrows, cure them of their many sufferings, miseries, and woes. To accomplish the wish of my merciful heart, go to the residence of the Bishop of Mexico and tell him that I am sending you to let him know how much I desire to have that house built for me, a temple here on the firm ground. You shall tell him what you have seen, revered, and heard. Be sure of my gratefulness and my reward. For this, I will give you riches and glory, and I will be rewarding you abundantly for your travails as you carry out this mission I am now giving you. You have heard the words I commanded you, my child, the humblest of my sons; go now and do your best.”

Kneeling before her Juan Diego answered: “My Lady, my beloved child, I am going to do your revered will as you so honorably commanded me. Now this commoner, the smallest and poorest of your servants will depart.” Thus he departed immediately to do as instructed, taking the straightest way to Mexico.

 

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Don Juan de Zumarraga


 

Saturday, December 9 – The first meeting with Bishop Zumarraga

Once in the city, he went right away to the residence of the new Bishop, Don Juan de Zumarraga, of the Franciscan Friars. There he begged servants to let the Bishop know he had an important message. They made him wait and eventually, the Bishop ordered him to come in. As he entered the Bishop’s chambers he knelt before the Prelate and told him everything about his mission, the gracious words of the Queen of Heaven, her message, and all the admirable things he had seen and heard but the Prelate, having heard the whole relation and her message, appeared not to believe it. His answer was: “My son, come again some other time and I will listen to you once again. Then I will evaluate and consider from the beginning why you have come, your requests, and your intentions.” After being dismissed Juan Diego left, dejected because he could not accomplish his mission right away.

Saturday, December 9 – Second Apparition

At dusk, Juan Diego reached the top of the hill. There he joyfully met the Queen of Heaven. She was waiting in the same place where he had seen her the first time. When he saw her he fell to his knees saying: “My Mistress, my Lady, my Queen, my Most Beloved Daughter, Smallest Child of Mine: I went as you commanded me to do your honorable will, your revered word. With difficulty, I could reach the Bishop I told him your command, your words, as you requested. He received me with all kindness and heard me attentively but from his answer I gather that he did not understand me, he did not believe me. He said: ‘my son, come again some other time and I will listen to you once again. Then I will evaluate and consider from the beginning why you have come, your requests, and your intentions.’ By his answer, I realized he thinks that the house you wish to build here is but a product of my imagination, or perhaps that the request did not come from your lips. I beg you, my Lady, my Queen, my Beloved Child so that your sweet words will be believed, to trust your message to someone nobler, someone of importance, well known, respected, and honored. I am truly a hired hand, a nobody, a pack animal, a tail, the end of the wing, a man of no importance. I cannot even carry myself but need to be led on by another man. You are sending me to unfamiliar grounds where I don’t belong, my beloved Virgin, my Young Daughter, my Lady, the Smallest Child of mine. Forgive me, please for being the bearer of displeasure to your heart, for irritating you, and frustrating, my Lady, my Owner.” To that the perfect Virgin who is worthy of honor and veneration responded: “Listen to me, my son, the smallest of my children: be certain that I do not lack servants or messengers that can do my bid, my word, my wishes but it is necessary that you do this personally. By your intercession, my will and my wishes will be accomplished. So I urge you, I insist, my youngest son that you go again tomorrow to see the Bishop. Make him understand on my behalf, let him hear my desire, my will to build the temple that I am asking for. Tell him again that I, the ever Virgin Holy Mary, the Mother of God, have sent you.”

To that Juan Diego responded: “My Lady, my Queen, my Beloved: far from me to upset you. With pleasure, I shall go and do as you said. I will not fail to do it or consider the journey burdensome. I will do as you will although perhaps I won’t be heard, and if heard, perhaps I may not be believed. Tomorrow at sunset I will come to give you an account of the Bishop’s answer. Now I take my leave and go rest for a while, my Daughter, my Small Child, my Lady, my Beloved.” Then he went home to rest.

Sunday, December 10 – Second meeting with Bishop Zumarraga

Early on Sunday, Juan Diego left his house very early and went to Tlatelolco to get his religious instruction and be present for the roll call. Mid morning after Mass ended, he stood for roll call, and the crowd was dismissed. Then Juan Diego walked to the Bishop’s residence and once again, with great difficulty, he was taken before his presence. He knelt before him and weeping he repeated the Virgin’s message sobbing, pleading and hoping that the Bishop would believe it was the will of the perfect Virgin to build a house for her, a small sacred house in the spot she indicated. The Bishop questioned him about all details of the apparition and Juan Diego related everything without error. Even though he declared all things, and it appeared very clearly that she was the perfect Virgin, the merciful, admirable Mother of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Juan Diego’s words were not heeded.

The prelate told him that his petition could not be taken seriously on his word alone. A sign was necessary to prove that the Queen of Heaven sent him. On hearing the prelate’s words Juan Diego responded: “My Lord Bishop please tell me what kind of sign you have in mind so I can ask the Queen of Heaven to provide it.”

The Bishop verified all of his words and noticed that he did not doubt or hesitated, and then he dismissed Juan Diego. Once the poor man left, the Bishop ordered some trusted members of his household to follow Juan Diego and see where he was going, what company he kept, and whom he spoke with. They followed Juan Diego who was on his way along the main road. As he was crossing the bridge over the ravine near the Tepeyac causeway, the attendants completely lost sight of him. So they returned angry and frustrated to tell the Bishop the man had mysteriously disappeared. They convinced the Prelate not to believe Juan Diego whom they deemed a liar and a dreamer. They were determined to punish Juan Diego harshly if he ever returned, charging him not to lie or disturb the people anymore.

Sunday, December 10 – Third apparition

Meanwhile good Juan Diego was with the Most Holy Virgin, updating her on the Bishop’s reply. After hearing him the Lady dismissed him saying: “It is well, my son; you shall return here tomorrow to take to the Bishop the sign he has requested. With that sign he will believe you, he will not doubt your word or your intentions and know, my little son, that I shall reward you for all your travails on my behalf. Go for now; tomorrow I will be here waiting for you.”

Monday, December 11 – Juan Diego cares for his uncle

The next day Juan Diego did not return. Arriving home that night he found his uncle, Juan Bernardino gravely ill. He summoned a doctor in the morning but there was no use for Juan Bernardino was in grave condition. That night his uncle, feeling that his hour had come, asked Juan Diego to go early to Tlatelolco to find a priest to hear his confession and gave him last rites because he was convinced he had little time left.

Tuesday, December 12 – Fourth apparition

Very early Tuesday morning, when it was still very dark, Juan Diego left for Tlatelolco to summon a priest. As he approached Tepeyac Hill, he hesitated. He turned west from the easterly road he was following thinking: “If I go forward, I shall meet Our Lady, who will send me to give the Prelate the sign he asked for. First of all, I will take care of our troubles; I need to bring the priest for my uncle is waiting and his hour is near.” As he circled the hill he crossed eastward towards Mexico to avoid meeting the Queen of Heaven and be delayed in his urgent errand. He imagined she – who can perfectly see everywhere – could not see him. Then he spotted Our Lady majestically descending down the hillside for she had been watching him from the place where they met the previous day. She drew right near him and said, “What is happening, my son? Where are you going?” Maybe because he was embarrassed or ashamed, perhaps because he was afraid in her presence he replied: “My young Lady, my Littlest Daughter, blessed are you. How are you this morning? Is your little body feeling well, my Lady, my Beloved? I am sorry to grieve you with bad news, to know that one of your poor servants, my uncle, is dying of a grievous illness that has overtaken him. I am hurrying on my way to Mexico to call a dear priest to hear my uncle’s confession for we mortals are born merely to wait for death. Once I have done this I will return here to take your message. I beg your forgiveness, my Lady, my Beloved, be patient with me, I am not deceiving you, I will hurry here tomorrow.”

After hearing Juan Diego, the perfect Virgin responded: “Listen, be assured in your heart, my youngest and dearest son, that this thing that disturbs you, this thing that afflicts you, is nothing. Do not let your countenance or your heart be disturbed. Do not fear this sickness of your uncle or any other sickness, nor any piercing or cutting thing. Am I not here? Am I not your Mother? 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 anything more? Let nothing else worry you or disturb you. Do not let this illness worry you because your uncle will not die now. Be assured that he is already well.” Later on, all learned that his uncle was cured at that very hour. When Juan heard those tender words from the Queen of Heaven, he was greatly relieved and his heart was at peace. Then he asked her to send him immediately to go and bring the Bishop the sign he had requested so that he too may believe. The Heavenly Queen addressed him again saying: “Climb to the hilltop, my youngest son, to the place where you saw me before there you shall find plenty of flowers; pick them, gather a bunch, and come down at once to bring them here to me.” Juan Diego went immediately. When he reached the top, he was astonished to find a great variety of fine flowers blossoming out of season for it was that the cold part of the year. The flowers were fresh, diffusing their sweet perfume, still covered with dewdrops looking like precious pearls. Juan Diego gathered the flowers in his tilma. The hilltop was a place where nothing ever grew except thorny bushes, prickly pears the natives call nopal, and mesquites in the midst of crags and rocks and if by chance there would grow some small weed, it was the month of December when the frost destroys everything. Juan Diego went down the slope to bring the fresh cut flowers to the Heavenly Lady and when she saw them she took them delicately into her saintly hands. After arranging them she placed them in the fold of the ayate saying: “My youngest son, my little son, these flowers are the proof, the sign that you are going to bring to the Bishop on my behalf. Tell him to see in them my wishes and through them to accomplish my will. I place all my trust in you; you are my emissary. And I demand that you only open your cloak when you are alone in his presence to show the Bishop and only the Bishop what you are carrying. You will tell him everything, omitting nothing. You will tell him that I sent you to the top of the hill to cut the flowers, and then all that the admirable things you saw, in such manner you will convince the Bishop to do his part and build the temple that I am asking for.” Having heard her commands Juan Diego took off in joyful haste walking the road to Mexico, with the wonderful flowers he was carrying in his arms. Feeling no anxiety in his heart and knowing that all was going to turn out well, he went on to complete his mission.

Tuesday, December 12 – Third meeting with Bishop Zumarraga

He took good care of the contents in the fold of his tilma making sure that nothing was lost and enjoying the fragrance of the many precious flowers. When he arrived at the Bishop’s residence the servants came out to meet him. He pleaded with them to tell the Bishop how much he wanted to see him but none of them wanted to announce him. They feigned not to understand his words or perhaps they did not recognize him because it was still quite early and dark, or perhaps they recognized in him the importunate man that had been recently bothering them. It may have been also that they knew how he vanished in plain sight of his fellow servants when they tried to follow him. Juan Diego had to wait for quite a long time. When the servants saw how long he had been quietly standing there, and suspecting from his attitude that he was hiding something in the fold of his tilma, they approached him to find out what he was concealing. They would not stop bothering him, pushing, and even beating him.

Terrified that the flowers would fall to the floor, Juan Diego lifted a corner of his cloak to placate his tormentors. The flowers appeared fresh and fragrant to the gaze of the servants, and they marveled greatly because that was not the season for flowers to be in bloom.

They tried to take hold of them on three occasions but they failed because every time they tried to grab them, the flowers suddenly appeared as painted on the humble cloak. Astonished they hurried to tell the Bishop about the strange phenomenon, and about how urgently the man had to see him, and how long he had been waiting, and so on. As soon as the Bishop heard this, he realized that the sign he was waiting for had arrived. He summoned the man to his presence immediately.

Juan Diego entered the room and knelt before the Prelate telling him once again the marvels that he had seen: “Dear Bishop, I have done what you asked me to do. I told the Lady from Heaven, my Lady, my Heavenly beloved, Holy Mary, the Mother of God, that you have asked her for a sign so you could believe my message: that a little house is built in the place where she asked it to be erected. I also told her that I have promised you to come back with a sign, a proof of her will, just as you asked. She listened to your insistence, to your words, and she was pleased to receive your request for a sign so that her precious will might be accomplished. Early today when it was still dark she told me to come here to see you. I reminded her that she had promised to give me a sign that I could bring to you.

She immediately fulfilled her word. She sent me to the hilltop where I had seen her before, to cut various kinds of Castilian roses and once I cut them I presented a bunch to her. She took them in her holy hands and arranged them in the fold of my ayate so that I could bring them and give them to you in person. I knew very well that the top of the Tepeyac was not a place to find flowers in bloom since that is a place where nothing ever grows except thorny bushes, prickly pears, and mesquites in the midst of crags and rocks; I did not hesitate to go. When I climbed to the top of the hill I found a Paradise. There were all kinds of beautiful flowers, the finest flowers, covered with dewdrops, blooming splendidly, so I proceeded to cut a bunch. She instructed me to give you these flowers on her behalf so her precious will might be accomplished once you see the proof you have asked for. Now, believe the truth of my words. Here you have them, please accept them.”

Then Juan Diego opened the fold of his tilma where the flowers were placed. As he allowed the beautiful flowers to cascade to the ground they were changed into a sign: the beloved image of the Perfect Virgin Holy Mary, Mother of God, suddenly appeared in the same figure that we now behold in her precious little house, her holy little place in Tepeyac that is called Guadalupe. And when the Bishop and all who were there saw her, they fell to their knees and marveled greatly at her.

As they stood up to see her, they were saddened and with heavy hearts and somber thoughts. Even the Bishop wept in sorrow pleading to be forgiven for not having obeyed her will before. Then the Bishop stood up and untied the tilma – where her image appeared as proof of her being the Queen of Heaven – from around Juan Diego’s neck. Taking it he placed it in his oratory and the Bishop received Juan Diego in his house as a guest for another day.

The little house at Tepeyac Hill

The following day the Bishop said: “Let us get up and go; show us the place where the Heavenly Queen wants us to build her a sacred house” and the people were urged to build it. Once Juan Diego showed them the place where the Heavenly Lady asked him to build a house, he asked permission to go home and see about his uncle Juan Bernardino, who was very ill when he had left him to call for a priest to hear his confession and assist him. The one that the Heavenly Queen said she had healed. The group would not let Juan Diego go by himself so they all went with him. When they arrived they saw his uncle was healed and nothing at all afflicted him. In fact, it marveled his uncle very much to see his nephew being escorted and treated with great honor. So he asked Juan Diego why he was being treated with so much respect. Juan Diego told him that he had left him to summon a priest when the Queen of Heaven appeared to him at Tepeyac Hill and referred to him how she had sent him to Mexico to see the Bishop so that he might build her a house in Tepeyac, and how Juan Diego was consoled when she told him not to be troubled because his uncle was healthy.

His uncle confirmed those words and added that was the precise moment when she healed him. Juan Bernardino described her exactly as she had appeared to his nephew. She had told Juan Bernardino that she had sent Juan Diego to Mexico on an errand to see the Bishop. She also instructed him to inform Juan Diego of everything he had seen when he meets his nephew next time, including the marvelous way in which she had healed him, and that her beloved image should be named: “The Perfect Holy Virgin Mary of Guadalupe.”

They brought Juan Bernardino before the Bishop so the Prelate could hear his testimony. The Bishop invited them to stay at his home in Mexico for a few days while the holy house of the Child Queen was being built at Tepeyac.

In time the Bishop moved the image of the Heavenly Maiden to the main church. He took her out of his oratory so everyone could see and admire her. The entire city – not one of them was missing – came to see it and marveled venerating her. They recognized her divine quality and offered their prayers to her, marveling greatly at how miraculously she had appeared among them, for absolutely no human hand had painted her beloved image.

Here ends the Nican Mopohua by Don Antonio Valeriano.

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After the miracle

The Nican Motecpana[5] is a document containing a whole lot of additional information about Juan Diego, his wife Maria Lucia, his uncle Juan Diego, and some additional miracles not mentioned in the Nican Mopohua.

From the information contained in the Nican Motecpana, we can deduct that it took only thirteen days to build the first chapel at Tepeyac. The miraculous image was transferred from the Cathedral to its new home on December 26, 1531. Bishop Zumarraga, along with Juan Diego, and Juan Bernardino carried the precious tilma followed by all the Spanish authorities, the Aztec nobility, and every person in the surrounding area. It was a joyous occasion. Bowmen celebrated by throwing many arrows into the lake that surrounded most of the area at the time. One of those arrows accidentally hit a man in the neck, killing him instantly. The body of the poor man was taken before the image where the priests were proceeding. When the arrow was extracted from the victim his wound healed immediately and he returned to life.[6]

The astonished crowd praised the Lady of Heaven, the perfect Saint Mary of Guadalupe. The first Christmas after the Miracle of Tepeyac marks the beginning of a period of conversions that would extend for a long time. Through those additional documents, we know that Juan Diego was a widower, his wife Maria Lucia had died two years before the apparitions, that he died in 1548 in a house built for him near the new chapel at Tepeyac. Bishop Zumarraga died that same year.

We also learn that Juan Bernardino died during the plague that affected the city in 1544, after having one last visit of Our Lady of Guadalupe who appeared near the day of his passing.

A contemporary controversy

Should we call her Our Lady of Coatlaxopeuh or Our Lady of Guadalupe?

In my view, Our Lady was extremely clear. This apparition was not meant “for natives only” but also for the Spaniards causing trouble to Bishop Zumarraga and also for those who would deny the natives their humanity and the grace of the Sacraments. In fact, Our Lady’s message was meant to reach the whole world – something we will consider in depth later.

Our Lady of Guadalupe was very dear to the Spanish knights and the whole of Spain. The Mother of Extremadura and the Protectress of Spain was teaching the Spanish conquerors that she was also the Mother of the Mexican natives. Their two races had to become one race, one nation, under one Mother, one language, one King, and One God and Savior.

Juan Diego reports the name of Our Lady as “Guadalupe” and so does Juan Bernardino, and Antonio Valeriano and later on, multiple contemporary sources.

Notice also that most of that business about changing the name of the advocation comes from revisionists, Marxists, Indigenists, etc. the usual crowd of dissidents but on the other side, we have various reliable written testimonies — two of them from the visionaries who saw and heard Our Lady face to face.

Those in favor of “Guadalupe” are in agreement with almost five centuries of the living tradition of the Church in this matter but the revisionists are telling us that it was all a misunderstanding, that Our Lady actually said, “Coatlaxopeuh” – meaning “She who crushes the snake” in Nahuatl.

Mary of Nazareth never instructed anyone to call her that way in Mexico. Coatlaxopeuh certainly is an attribute of our Lady when translated to our language and Christian imagery but Coatlaxopeuh was first an attribute of both Coatlique Toniatzin, the Mother Earth of the Aztecs, and also of the demon Huitzilopochtli the sworn enemy of Quetzalcoatl the feathered serpent. Imagine per absurdum if she had appeared to some other saint in Roman times saying: “I am Venus” because that name is connected in Latin to venerari (“to honor, to favor”) and venia (“grace, favor”) – Would that have been right? Those who espouse that view assume the Nahuatl translator and the Bishop were so simple and irresponsible as to supplant the allegedly given pagan name for one sounding more familiar to their ears.

The revisionists also argue that Juan Diego and Juan Bernardino could not pronounce Spanish sounds for the “g” or the “d” because they don’t exist in Nahuatl — as if it was impossible for two grown men to learn new sounds! Consider Antonio Valeriano de Azcapotzalco who at one time spoke only Nahuatl: later he learned Spanish, Latin, and Greek! And then he studied Roman Jurisprudence and became a Judge for the Spanish Crown! So much for the so-called dumb Natives who allegedly were genetically incapable of learning two new sounds! That argument is so presumptuous it borders on racism! Consider also that Our Lady – who did all kinds of extraordinary things in that miraculous octave of the Immaculate Conception in 1531 – could have easily taught them to retain and pronounce her name supernaturally. After all, it’s just a “g” and a “d” — they did not have to learn theology or civil engineering!

Remember this was the same Mary that appeared in Fatima to three Portuguese children in 1917: Ten-year-old Lucia, nine-year-old Francisco, and seven-year-old Jacinta. Mary of Nazareth as Our Lady of Fatima trusted those small children with a message that the world had to obey to save the souls of billions. Does anyone believe that the children of Fatima could forget the message, perhaps because they were not used to deal with the complex abstractions of history or theology? We are dealing with God’s miracles here not with some forgetful human manager!

Mexicans to this day pronounce the Spanish “g” as an aspired “h” when followed by a diphthong (i.e. Sp. Guadalupe, agua, Paraguay) and so do most people in Central and South America. In fact, the same sound is present in the word “Nahuatl” or “Macehualtin” – Peninsular Spaniards have a more Germanic way of pronouncing the “g” however. So it was no big deal for Juan Diego to say “Huah-dah-loo-peh” using the aspired “h” he was more familiar with. That eliminates one of those “impossible to learn” sounds. Next is the “d” sound. In Spanish, the “d” sounds always like a soft “t”, a sound pronounced by extending the tip of one’s tongue a fraction of an inch forward under the upper front teeth. For someone who never had to soften a “t”, it may be a difficult thing to do at first but not impossible.

I have observed that people lacking upper front teeth (a common thing in the Argentine countryside where I grew up) often pronounce the “t” noticeably softer. Even if Juan Diego mispronounced the name as “Huah-tah-loo-peh” it would have been close enough for any Spaniard to get it by approximation. That is why I believe the theory for calling our Lady using the Nahuatl word “Coatlaxopeuh” is so weak that it barely deserves serious consideration.


[1] Was St Luke the painter of the tilma? The answer is perhaps reserved only to those blessed with a heavenly reward.

[2] “Coatlaxopeuh” means “She who crushes or dominates the snake” in the Nahuatl language. The author Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa, an American scholar of Chicano cultural theory, feminist theory, and queer theory, favors “Coatlaxopeuh” as a possible American etymology for “Guadalupe” arguing –almost five centuries after the facts – that since the two words sound very similar, the Spanish heard “Coatlaxopeuh” as the equivalent of Guadalupe, as in Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of Extremadura. Borderlands – La Frontera: The New Mestiza, by Gloria Anzaldúa, 4th edition, p. 27.

[3] NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: The Nican Mopohua was written by Don Antonio Valeriano (1521–1605) in the Nahuatl language using Roman characters. He studied and later taught at the Franciscan Colegio de la Santa Cruz in Tlatelolco. Valeriano was fluent in Nahuatl, Spanish, Latin, and Greek having studied with Fray Bernardino de Sahagún a renowned scholar of his time. I have translated a Spanish version of the venerable document trying to render it in a way more easily readable in modern English, reducing some of the delightful flowery Nahuatl styles that sound a bit excessive in modern language.

[4] The Julian calendar day for December 9, 1531, was a Wednesday. The Gregorian calendar was not implemented until October 1582.

[5] Nican Motecpana (Nahuatl, “here we present in orderly fashion”) is a document similar to the Nican Mopohua, written in Nahuatl. The author is Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxóchitl, writer, and historian of note who completed it in 1590, according to Don Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora. The Nican Motecpana reports a chronology, men and women, and a series of miracles not mentioned in the Nican Mopohua. It is possible to cross reference many facts mentioned in the various documents: The Annals of Puebla and Tlaxcala, the Cathedral of Mexico general archives, the Codex Escalada and many others.

[6] This is one of the many parallels with the story of Gil Cordero of Extremadura whose dead son miraculously resurrected during his own funeral procession.

 

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3 thoughts on “The Conversion of Mexico

  1. “She also instructed him to inform Juan Diego of everything he had seen when he meet his nephew next time, including the marvelous way in which she had healed him, and that her precious image should be named: ‘The Perfect Holy Virgin Mary of Guadalupe’.”

    So according to this, she desires to be called “Our Lady of Guadalupe,” not “Our Lady of Tepeyac.” Which means that those who say the opposite are wrong. Correct?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I attempted to answer your question in my other article You say Coatlaxopeuh, I say Guadalupe. I see no harm in calling Our Lady of Guadalupe by some other respectful name but her desire was very clearly expressed to be called “Our Lady of Guadalupe”. She places a lot of value on obedience just as any other mother. She really helps those who obey her (I am a witness to that in my own life.)

      I think she wanted to be the same Mother for the Spaniards and also for the Mexicans. Recently I learned that Cortez placed images of Our Lady of Guadalupe (Extremadura, Spain) on the altars after destroying the idols of Huitzilopotchli, Tlaloc, and other two gods I don’t remember now. So Our Lady of Guadalupe was not new to Mexico in 1531. she had been known there for at least ten years.

      Liked by 1 person

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