From the soon to be published book Guadalupe: A River of Light
The idea for this book came to me in the wee hours of the morning of April 2, 2017, after reading about the origins of the Royal Monastery of Santa Maria of Guadalupe, which is located in the town of the same name in Extremadura, Spain. The imposing building has humble origins harking back to the days of King Alfonso XI of Castile who was born on August 13 of 1311 and died on March 26 of 1350. He was called “El Justiciero” (Sp. avenger, dispenser of justice) and held the crowns of the Christian kingdoms of Castile, Leon, and Galicia. His father was Ferdinand IV of Castile. His wife was Mary of Portugal, daughter of Alfonso IV of Portugal, known as “El Bravo” (Sp. fierce, brave.) During his reign, the Virgin Mary appeared to a peasant called Gil Cordero and revealed to him the location of certain relics buried in a cave near the Guadalupe River. Among those relics, there was a carved image of the Virgin and Child, known today as Our Lady of Guadalupe. King Alfonso XI and his peer of Portugal, Alfonso IV invoked the help of Mary Mother of God before the Battle of Rio Salado where the combined Christian armies of Spain and Portugal were facing vastly superior Muslim forces. After the battle, Alfonso of Castile credited the resounding victory to the intercession of the Madonna. In gratefulness, he declared the church at Guadalupe a royal sanctuary rebuilding the modest original structure into a magnificent Romanic church that survives to this day.
As I was reading the story of Gil Cordero I was reminded of Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, the Mexican visionary of Tepeyac to whom the Virgin Mary appeared in 1531 also as Our Lady of Guadalupe. Soon I was able to notice some parallels between the two stories. Both Gil and Juan Diego were humble men, both exemplary Christians and family men. Gil Cordero returned home to find his child dead but the child resurrected miraculously while Juan Diego’s uncle Juan Bernardino was cured of a nearly fatal illness in the same way. Most importantly Gil and Juan Diego were living in times of profound religious and political change. The Spanish man saw the expulsion of the last Muslim Moors and the birth of Christian Spain; his Mexican counterpart was a witness to the political and religious end of the Aztec Empire and the birth of Christian Mexico.
Those would be nothing but a chance collection of similarities were not for the fact that the Virgin Mary introduced herself to Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin as “Our Lady of Guadalupe” – the name Guadalupe inevitably connects the two stories supernaturally. Later I took a step back and considered the origin of the Spanish image and its Mexican counterpart and began to suspect that both images could be the work of the same author. Unfortunately, that will remain a mere suspicion since I am not able to interview St Luke. According to well-documented tradition, St Luke carved the image now in Extremadura at some point in the first century. The image was deposited along with him in his burial place in Thebes, Greece and was later taken to Constantinople with his relics.
That utterly fantastic possibility led me to meditate about the long trail traced by that image through history from the times of the Roman Empire to the times of Emperor Montezuma and then to our own days. That humble image somehow was present at the fall of three great dominions: the Roman Empire, Moorish Spain, and the Aztec Empire. In time I read about how scientists in the 20th century, using the latest scanning technology, discovered thirteen people “photographed” in the eyes of the image depicted in Juan Diego’s tilma. That extraordinary discovery made me aware that the image not only contained a message for the Mexican people of the 16th century, it also had something for future generations of mankind. The author of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe patiently waited four centuries until men developed sufficiently advanced technology to read that message hidden in the image’s eyes.
Often I have to endure some well meaning Protestant friend reading from Psalm 115:4-6 “Their idols are silver and gold, the work of man’s hands. They have mouths, but they cannot speak; they have eyes, but they cannot see; they have ears, but they cannot hear; they have noses, but they cannot smell.” That is, of course, a misguided critique of the use of images in Catholic worship. The image on Juan Diego’s tilma has been found to contain in its eyes a scene perfectly defined as in real living eyes. No one has been able to determine how it was painted. Perhaps the best definition is that of those who saw it appear miraculously on the modest cloth “as if it was painted by angels” because it is definitely not the product of human hands.
I gradually came to understand that both Our Lady of Guadalupe in Spain and Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico are part of a majestic parable presented to us across centuries of Christian history. I tried to condense the many aspects of that divine parable in a few words but I fell short of my objective. The many facets presented to us are so deep in meaning, rich in wonderful lessons that can only emanate from Almighty God. We have to weave through history to understand the grand parable sometimes going back and forth in time to understand important details. The reader will forgive me for not following a strictly chronological order. More than looking at a succession of events in time we will be looking at the many branches of some ancient tree. Intertwined among the tree branches there is a lesson that we must contemplate before we can understand it.
The center of the grand parable is Blessed Mary. God the maker of Mary of Nazareth has decided to teach us the ways of justice through her. God is light (1 John 1:5) and He presents to us His Mother fully illuminated, dressed in a wave of light as it were. In the 1940’s Sister Maria Lucia de Jesus Rosa Santos, at that time the last surviving visionary of Fatima, used those words to describe the mantle of Our Lady to Fr Thomas McGlynn: “The mantle was a wave of light” and regarding the mantle and tunic: “There were two waves of light, one on top of the other.” That simple but powerful observation by Sister Lucia reminds me of these verses of the Apocalypse of St John: “And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; she was with child and she cried out in her pangs of birth, in anguish for delivery.” Those verses in Revelation 12:1-3 perfectly reveal both a Mother of Light and a Mother of Sorrows.
We were taught that the woman of Revelation 12 is Israel that later becomes the Christian Church continually giving birth to the faithful through the ages. I believe the scene may also represent Our Blessed Mother, the Mother of the Savior of Israel and the undisputable Mother of all faithful Christians. Some believe that he who saves a man saves all the generations coming from that man. How could the Mother of the Messiah – Savior of Israel and the human race – not be the Mother of all those whom He saved giving them eternal life? Who else is clothed with the Sun, surrounded by the light of God, as she who was born full of grace? (Luke 1: 28)
Before going into the lessons in this marvelous parable painted by God on the canvas of space and time, please consider the words of Jesus in the Gospel of John, God shows us history as the development of his purpose: to give life to mankind. To give us life, God gave us a Mother first.