The Speaking Eagle

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

The icon presented to us in St Juan Diego’s tilma is fraught with meaning, loaded with enough signs to befuddle even the most perspicacious analyst. Many talented scholars have studied the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe to gain some understanding about the many symbolic layers contained in it. Obviously, we are contemplating a great mystery that will take generations to unfold. We have no other option but to “stand on the shoulders” of those scholars who came before us and continue their work. One could say that the whole experience of Guadalupe has its own semiosis,[1] its own mode of signification that exceeds the limits of its iconic representation and enters history itself, using people, languages, nations, and even the heavenly constellations to convey a message so rich in meaning and so simple in its soteriology: “Am I not here, I, who am your Mother?” That is not a rhetorical question. Our Lady of Guadalupe is simply stating that if we accept her as our mother she will “give us her Son” to effect our eternal salvation.

When Juan Bernardino was ill and waiting for death to come, Juan Diego had to go and find a priest to assist his beloved uncle. He was on his way to church when he ran into the Lady from Heaven. It was then when she uttered the now famous words of consolation: “Am I not here, I, who am your Mother?” The words of the Lady echoed Jesus’ words from the Cross recorded by John the Evangelist: “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.”[2] For Mary Mother of God, her very motherhood is the fulfillment of a divine commandment: “Be a Mother to my beloved disciples.” At Calvary, John represents all the faithful disciples that will ever be, and Mary is the Mother of all disciples from that very moment.

After the events of 1531, all Mexicans received the image and message of Our Lady of Guadalupe into their homeland and she gave them peace. Throughout Christian history, there have been always iconoclasts who shun the use of images in religious practice basing their actions on a literal and limited interpretation of the Second Commandment. Many Christian apologists over the centuries have effectively refuted that erroneous belief. Here we will only say that images have been rightly used by God to teach and even cure his people. One well-known example is the image made by Moses to save the Israelites from the bites of poisonous snakes:

“The people approached Moses and said, ‘We have sinned by murmuring against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take the serpents away from us.’ So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord instructed Moses, ‘Make [the likeness of] a poisonous serpent, and set it on a staff; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live’. So Moses fashioned a serpent of bronze and put it on a staff, and when a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.”[3]

That account found in the book of Numbers was later used by Jesus to exemplify his own being “lifted up” nailed to a Roman cross: “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”[4]

Rivers of theological ink have flowed to comment those verses but we will concentrate on how Moses’ Bronze Serpent and the Cross of Calvary parallel the lifting of the miraculous image before the humble Mexican people of 1531.

For starts, the image raised in the desert was a bronze reproduction of something real that was harming the people. Moses was instructed to make that image while God gave it a special power: anyone looking at the bronze snake could be healed from the bites of the real snakes. The sign “meant” healing. The Israelites admitted that the serpents were God’s punishment for their own sin. Many centuries later, Christ would use that account as a parable of his own mission: to be lifted up crucified for the sins of the people. As the bronze copy of the snake neutralized the snake’s venom, Christ, a perfect image of Adam neutralized the poison of original sin by being lifted up on the Cross in view of all the people. The principle is clear: God fights sinful fire with holy fire.[5] These examples point also to God and man working together for the salvation of the whole human race.

Here is where we have to recall the figure of Coatlicue Toniatzin, the Mother Earth of Aztec mythology. She was “the one dressed in a skirt made of snakes” but she also was the one reminding mortals that everyone that lives must one day die without remedy.

In the same manner that Moses’ bronze snake neutralized the poison of the real snakes, Our Lady of Guadalupe came to neutralize the poison of the devilish gods, the bloodthirsty spawn of Coatlicue, mother of all the Aztec gods.

When Our Lady of Guadalupe came to evangelize the people of Mexico, she chose to appear before them as a Mother, speaking their own language, using some of the symbols of their religion, gently putting aside what was wrong and keeping what was good as St Paul once counseled the Thessalonians.[6]

Following the example of Moses and Jesus, God presents us with the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Tepeyac Hill where the temple of Coatlicue Toniatzin once stood. In doing so, Our Blessed Mother occupied the territory once ruled by demons and claimed it as her own by right of conquest. She had done the same all across the Middle East, Asia, and Europe where Christians gradually turned the old pagan basilicas dedicated to Venus Aphrodite, Diana Artemis, or Ceres Bona Dea, into Christian temples. Mary of Nazareth was now coming to claim her Mexican children and cure them of the effects of the venomous Aztec doctrine. For that purpose, she made herself a model of a Mother. In the same way, Christ came as a man to save us: “God made Him who knew not sin to be sin on our behalf so that in Him we might convert to the righteousness of God.”[7]

As we delve deeper and deeper into the many signs presented to the Mexicans in the tilma of Juan Diego, we will realize that the image is the amoxtli[8] presented to them by Heaven, a Divine Codex designed to convert them to Christ.

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Aztec amoxtli with Spanish annotations.

Here is when our capacity to marvel is challenged. Anyone can see that a 16th-century ayate cannot naturally survive five centuries. Of course, the skeptics will automatically assume a succession of images re-created from time to time by the “wicked” Church to ensnare the simple Mexicans; that is their first, and perhaps the most honest, of the many objections they present. The simple child-like honesty of the story of Juan Diego, the many authorities that have examined the tilma through the years, and the sincere conversion of so many skeptics – yours truly included – should suffice to counter those who have pooh-poohed the miraculous preservation of the ayate far beyond its natural limits. Of course, God – who lives outside of time – has built into the image a series of proofs that no human being could possibly falsify; those will become apparent as we examine their specific messages.

To my mind, the most impressive element is something that I would call “the Aleph of Mary”[9] because it reminds me of The Aleph, a famous short story by J. L. Borges. There the protagonist discovers a point in space that contains all other points. Anyone looking into Borges’ Aleph could clearly see the whole universe at once in all its instances of space and time. Something similar seems to happen with the image miraculously impressed on Juan Diego’s tilma. As the Israelites could “look at the image” of the bronze snake and be healed by the power of God, Mexico was also healed by looking at Our Lady of Guadalupe. The numerous signs contained in that image of the Virgin Mary would continue to be a matter of contemplation and reflection in the centuries to come. The image contains what appears to be an infinite number of spiritual treasures. It is imbued with the power of God.

For the Christian mind, the Cross will always be a sign of salvation, not of condemnation. Moses’ Bronze Serpent is a copy, an image of a real snake; and the Cross (Gr. “stavros”) is the counterpart of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (Gr. “stavros” in the Septuagint.) In both cases (snake bites, original sin) a bad thing is defeated by its own reflection. The reflection is a sign that God has endowed with the power to destroy that bad thing. In the same manner, as the tilma “reflected” the attributes of Coatlicue Toniatzin the natives could recognize that immediately. They also recognized that the evil qualities of Coatlicue were removed, and this new Mother was not only gentle, tender, and pure; she was also a powerful healer that could return her people to life. Unlike Coatlicue, Our Lady of Guadalupe was not killing her own sons. That becomes evident from the way the Perfect Virgin Mary deals with the failure of Juan Diego to deliver her message effectively. There Juan Diego represents all of us imperfect men, always falling short when trying to do the right thing. The natives observe that Mother Nature could be quite a generous mother but was also unforgiving with those who missed her cues. When Mary of Guadalupe appeared to Juan Diego not as a demanding life-taking goddess but as a merciful life-giving Mother. The natives took notice. They were expecting the “Age of the Fifth Sun”, something that would eventually transform the very rules of nature; a world of mercy and love was replacing the cruel reality they were forced to live in. Our Lady of Guadalupe asked not for the hearts of her children to be cruelly extracted with a knife, instead, she asked them to consecrate their hearts to her with love and merciful deeds. Juan Diego was the model she selected: a humble man known for living a life of service to others.

fbThe beautiful face of Mary is the most touching feature of the image. She is barely smiling, like a mother who is watching over a child recovering from some illness. Sister Lucy of Fatima had the perfect words to describe her maternal feelings: “tender sorrow”. No one would have described Coatlicue and her priests with those words. The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is saying “I am like you, I will take care of you, I am your Mother.”

The speaking eagle

Juan Diego, the visionary of Tepeyac is part of the symbolic complex of the story of Guadalupe. He was a resident of Cuautitlan, a forest that was located a few miles northwest of Tenochtitlan. His native name, Cuauhtlatouac means “speaking eagle” or “he who speaks like an eagle”. He was among the first natives to be baptized, perhaps his Catechist associated his name with St John the Apostle, the Eagle[10] and one of the Sons of Thunder.[11] Both share the name John, derived from the Hebrew name Yochanan. meaning “God is gracious”. As we have seen in previous chapters, John the Apostle and Juan Diego had visions where the supernatural realities presented themselves as precious stones reflecting the glory of God. In the Revelation, John was invited to “go up” just as Juan Diego was invited to climb the Tepeyac. Both of them hear music before ascending; John hears trumpets, and Juan Diego hears birds singing in counterpoint with music coming from the mountain itself. St John in the Revelation: “After this, I looked, and there in heaven a door stood open! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.’” ­ While St John is shown the Throne of God in all his splendor, Juan Diego is shown a glorified Tepeyac where even the common plants of the region shine transformed into beautiful jewels reflecting heavenly light.

Both visions announce the future blessings that God will bestow upon mankind when the world is once again free of sin and wickedness. The throne that St John sees in his vision is something much more glorious that the throne of Zeus-Jupiter that used to be one of the Seven Marvels of the ancient world in his time. In the same manner, Juan Diego contemplates Tepeyac with a glory that never had when the temple of Coatlicue stood there. Both visionaries are allowed to peek into a future age. Since the Aztecs were expecting the Age of the Fifth Sun, that expectation fitted the hopes of the natives perfectly. The Perfect Virgin Santa María de Guadalupe was seamlessly joining two worlds and two ages. Even that was evident to the Mexican mind by the way the tilma was sewn together. The seam was aptly representing a division between “before and after” with the gracious face of Mary confidently gazing into the future, her hands joined in a clapping gesture, and her left knee raised as if she was stepping forward in a joyful, dance-like step.

The story develops along four successive mornings, December 9 to December 12. It is important to remember that in 1531, the Church celebrated the Immaculate Conception on December 9 – today, Catholics observe that feast on December 8. The native Mexicans were preparing to celebrate the day of the Solstice of Winter – December 12 ­­–   the day of the sun god. They believed that four suns had existed in four previous ages, and all of them had died at the end of each age. The arrival of the Spaniards and the end of the ancient imperial order was proof enough for them that a new era was dawning.

The native name of Juan Diego “the one who talks like an eagle” surely did not go unnoticed to the natives hearing the story of Our Lady’s apparitions for the first time. He was the Cuauhxicalli, the eagle that struggled heavenward taking the offerings to the sun-god. The new parable fitted perfectly in the native mind: Cuauhtlatouac spoke to them with the authority of the Eagle, the greatest of all the gods. He met the Perfect Santa Maria de Guadalupe, the Mother of God. A new age that was just starting, she wanted to be a Mother to them just like Coatlicue had been in past ages. But this new mother was powerful, she could heal, she had ended the human sacrifices and the flower wars. Cuauhtlatouac – a native just like them – was her messenger, one of that was chosen to speak the word of God with dignity even to the Spanish Priests. Did not the Bishop himself kneel before him, weeping, and begging forgiveness?

Obviously, it is very difficult to know what went through the natives minds as the story of Juan Diego was told and heard by millions. What we really know is that the natives found a new dignity in the newly arrived Christian order. Perhaps that is the reason why the Perfect Virgin Mary decided to unite Spain and Mexico under the advocation of Santa Maria de Guadalupe. Like many other mothers had done through the ages, she was teaching her children how to get along.

The impossible canvas

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Image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Choir Chapel of the Monastery in Extremadura. Notice the similarities with the image impressed in St Juan Diego’s tilma

A typical tilma or ayate is made of maguey cactus fibers known as ixtle, woven on a back-strap loom. Typically, to make the basic material, the flesh of the plant is removed, exposing the fibers that are later combed, washed, dried, and spun into a yarn. It is a very coarse material similar to burlap but very durable and sturdy.

Juan Diego’s ayate is made of two separate pieces sewn together with a cotton thread. The two panels of cloth join slightly to the left of Our Lady’s head. The seam is very visible and runs vertically along the length of the cloth dividing it into two sections roughly equal in size. Around 1531, native men wore a wide loincloth, sandals, and a tilma. The tilma had many uses. Men could use it as a cloak, or as a bag to carry things.

The fabric only lasts a few years under normal wear but carefully stored may last up to two or three decades. The tilma with the image of Our Lady has maintained its structural integrity and plasticity without any sign of deterioration for nearly five centuries. Its two pieces are about 70 by 40 inches. Juan Diego’s cloak has rejected insects and microorganisms such as fungus and bacteria. For some unknown reason, it also rejects dust and other contaminants present in the air.

An important part of the Miracle of Tepeyac is that no one can explain how the tilma survived to this day. The material should have deteriorated long ago. Many skeptics affirm – without any proof – that the miracle is an ongoing scam, that the tilma is simply replaced periodically. That affirmation has been debunked many times in many ways but some continue to repeat it.

Miguel Cabrera,[12] the famous Mexican painter was allowed to study Juan Diego’s tilma, he made various copies of the image.[13] He is the author of American Marvel,[14] a report for the Colegiata de Guadalupe where Cabrera applied his expertise to analyze the image from a strictly artistic point of view. His naked eye examination concluded that parts of the image were realized in oil paint, others with egg tempera, and yet others, “al aguazo.”[15] He was the first to observe that the sun rays surrounding the image were painted with a technique that made them appear to be part of the tilma fibers. He added that, to his knowledge, no artist had ever attempted to combine techniques in such manner. He also noted that someone capable of such a feat would never choose to work on a surface so coarse and inadequate as canvas made of ayate.

cover-smallOne skeptic was an Austrian Atheist, a Physicist, and Chemist, Dr. Richard Kuhn, who won the 1938 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on carotenoids and vitamins. In 1936 Dr. Kuhn was given two minuscule fibers of the tilma for examination. He was told nothing about their origin. He correctly dated their age to the 16th century but he could not match the colors to any known kind of pigmentation of animal, vegetal, or mineral origin. Using a spectrophotometer he determined that, whatever the pigment was, it did not exist in the periodical table of elements. After the analysis was completed, Dr. Kuhn requested to know the origin of those fibers. He was told they came from the tilma of Juan Diego, the visionary of Tepeyac. Of course, Dr. Kuhn did not know a thing about Juan Diego or the Miracle of Tepeyac but he visited Mexico several times and eventually investigated the matter in more detail. That resulted in his conversion to the Catholic Faith. He died a faithful Catholic in Heidelberg, Germany in 1967. Juan Diego’s tilma had won a convert through faith and reason.

The symbols of Guadalupe

The image imprinted on Juan Diego’s tilma was seen by the native Mexicans as amoxtli, that is a Codex created by a scribe or tlahcuilo. Codices registered stories, history, and other important events on a deerskin, or a foldable sheet of paper made of tree-bark or some other available fiber. Thanks to the work of scholars like Fr Mario Rojas Sanchez, the symbols, and meaning contained in the tilma are now gradually coming to life after centuries of studies. In my personal view, after a few years of contemplating the image and reading about its meaning, is that Juan Diego’s ayate speaks by means of its own semiosis, obviously owning its own process of signification, a process combining the canon developed by the ancient Mesoamerican cultures with the no less ancient Christian Byzantine canon that gradually developed in the Orient from the days of St Luke. I would like to approach one specific view here, that the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is perhaps a very important part of a more complex system of symbols presented to the believers of every age since the days when St Luke carved the first image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the one now being venerated at the Monastery of the same name in Extremadura, Spain.

Dom. Columban Hawkins, O.C.S.O., reports a very interesting anecdote in his essay An Iconography of Guadalupe: “Yet, strangely enough, when a Russian Orthodox Priest, Fr. A. Ostrapovim, Dean of the Chair of Church Archeology in Moscow, and unacquainted with the history of Our Lady of Guadalupe, was presented with a copy of this picture for approval, he replied that this is an icon, definitely of the Byzantine type and presumably of Eastern-Asiatic origin. It was his opinion that the painter of this Icon deviated from the very severe canons of icon painting and introduced much of himself into it.”[16] This precise analysis reinforces my idea that perhaps – and I must strongly warn you, dear reader, that this is only a personal impression – St Luke the Evangelist, may have been involved – from Heaven – in the creation of this icon, although it is quite clear that the inspiration comes from Our Blessed Mother, who is ultimately responsible for its creation. She is a Queen and she can commission a portrait from her favorite artist if she wants to.

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Our Lady of Częstochowa kept at the Monastery of Jasna Góra in Poland.

The inspired author of the Gospel According to St Luke and the Acts of the Apostles may have started something much bigger than a simple account of Jesus’ ministry and the early days of the Christian Church. According to well-documented traditions, he was the author of various portraits and carvings depicting Mary of Nazareth, including the one kept in Extremadura, and the painting of Our Lady of Częstochowa, kept at the Monastery of Jasna Góra,[17] among other works now dispersed throughout Europe. The Gospel of Luke – often called “The Gospel of Mary” – was sent to a man named Theophilus, appropriately called “friend of God”[18] and perhaps a providential sign that Luke’s work was meant for all the people of God through the ages. That may have been the beginning of a Grand Cycle or parable meant to instruct the Church in future, more perilous times. Certainly, a collection of symbolic events, relics, writings, and saints spread through two millennia of history should encourage the faithful to trust that God is in control, that Our Lord is the Lord of History. He is painting, so to speak, the story of salvation on the canvas of space and time. Only God Almighty can do such things.

Having that in mind, we must look into the collection of signs presented to us by Our Lady of Guadalupe. However, we will not restrict our analysis only to the Sacred Image. We will look also at persons, dates, events, and any other meaningful things connected with the signs contained therein. It is a mighty collection meant to be discovered gradually, with messages for every generation. From a distance of five centuries prepare to hear the voice of Our Lady calling us from the Tepeyac.

The Aleph of Mary

We are back before the image trying to think like the 16th century Mexicans who had been subjugated by foreigners. Their culture was alive in them but the invaders did not understand their rich heritage, and the little they could understand they despised as demonic superstition. Mary of Nazareth had come to save the Mexican race, and also to teach her Spanish children a lesson in mercy. From the deep reservoir of God’s grace, she brought a message to reach out to the Mexicans in their terms and symbols, while concealing from the Spaniards those elements she was going to borrow from the Aztec culture to captivate the natives’ hearts.

The soldiers of Cortez had recoiled in horror before the human sacrifices, the ritual homosexuality of the priests, the horrible idols built with a paste made with corn and human blood, their ritual cannibalism, and their merciless flower wars. Our Lady had to find the way to speak to both cultures and bring them together. No diplomat will ever match her skill in making one Christian nation of such a motley crowd.

Painting by St Luke
Icon of Our Lady and Child traditionally attributed to St Luke. Notice the stars on the Virgin’s mantle.

The holy angels are messengers of God. The word angelos (άγγελος, pronounced áng-eh-lohs) means “messenger” in Greek. The Aztec mythology did not include angels, that is why when the natives saw the angel depicted in the tilma, they thought it was Juan Diego. The angel is “bringing” Our Lady on his wings, Juan Diego’s original name was “the one speaking like an eagle” and he was also the messenger of Our Lady, the one that brought “her breath, her words” to the Mexican people. The angel’s wings are painted in three bands of red, white, and blue, associating them in the native mind with Tlaloc, the god of rain and thunder. The red color was normally associated with the edge of the sacrificial knife made of obsidian rock. This time the knife is not there, it has been replaced by harmless feathers. The end of the era of human sacrifices announced by Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent, is coming to an end.

The angel is depicted in motion, he is carrying Our Lady in one definite direction right-to-left. The angel with eagle wings is carrying the Queen from one fading age to a new age. The angel’s face – like the face of Mary – is on the left side of the seam. To the native imagination, her hands are clapping, her left knee is advancing in the same direction. She is entering the “north” of the tilma – remember the Aztecs represented maps with the East up, West down, South to the right, and North to the left. In Mexico, the weather, the cold winter wind, all come from the northern quadrant. The apparition happened on the day of the Solstice of Winter, on the 13th day (Acatl, Reed) of the 1st month (Cuauhtli, Eagle) of the 4th age (Tecpatl, flint knife) when the days begin to grow longer and the sun (Tonatiuh) is reborn. Mary of Nazareth appears to them as a messenger of life, she is pregnant, she brings in her the promise of Spring.

fbThe angel is holding her mantle (the sky) with his left hand and her garment (the earth) with his right. Her mantle is decorated with stars symbolizing Heaven.   The turquoise cloak is the color of the quetzal bird. For the Aztecs, that was the color of Montezuma’s headdress and cloak – no one else was allowed to wear that color symbolizing the blessings of fertility brought by sun and rain. The meaning of the sign was clear: the Perfect Virgin Mary was now her Empress, she was a force for life and fecundity, she was like Coatlicue Toniatzin, the Mother of the Sun but she did not have those menacing claws, her feet were visible under the edge of her garment and they were shod with delicate slippers. Those looking at her picture after listening to Juan Diego’s story could understand she was a loving Mother bringing new life and a new era of peace.

The color of Our Lady’s cloak brought to the native mind the most sacred of birds, the quetzal. Its feathers of lush green were a sign of the fertile forests of Paradise “the land of flowers, the land of plentiful corn, of fleshly pleasures, the garden of abundance, the heavenly realms” that Juan Diego mentions in the Nican Mopohua.

Her cloak covers her pink outer garment. The red hue of Our Lady’s garment is the color of Earth, the silk embroidery laying on top of her dress is decorated with three kinds of flowers. The largest of those flowers are called tepetl,[19] used by the scribes as a graphic symbol for mountains or hills.

The second was the flower of Quetzalcoatl, an eight-petal flower used to symbolize Venus, the morning star. In Aztec mythology, there was the belief that Quetzalcoatl had turned into the morning star after he died. He was the god that had promised to return to claim his throne and end all human sacrifices.

The third flower was the Nahui-Ollin symbolizing the union of all four natural elements: earth, wind, water, and fire; the four seasons, and also the four cardinal points. The four petals also represented the four ages that had passed, with its center representing the Fifth Sun which coincided with the first day of Winter, the day when Our Lady produced the Miracle of the Tilma.

The black ribbon tied high above her womb indicates she is with child in the same manner that Coatlicue though – unlike the pagan goddess – Mary’s ribbon has three bows with six ends visible: that suggests that she is related to the Most Holy Trinity as Daughter of God the Father, Mother of God the Son, and Spouse of God the Holy Spirit. Black is the color of Quetzalcoatl who is sometimes depicted with a black ant on his nose. That symbolizes his power to turn himself into an ant to descend unnoticed into the underworld to give new life to the dead by giving them his own blood.

Our Lady of Guadalupe bows down modestly in a gesture full of tender mercy. The native gods were always looking forward with eyes wide open but mortals could not do that. It was considered bad manners for anyone who was not a priest or a male member of the high nobility. From the tilma, the Perfect Virgin Mary looks not imperiously at her people but with love and compassion. The face of Our Lady is that of a young girl. Today we would consider her a Mestiza, half Indian and half Spanish. There were not many children of mixed race in 1531. In a way, her demeanor is a prophetic look into the future. She is announcing the birth of a new race.

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Her hair is combed as a maiden but she is pregnant. Aztec mores were such that a maiden was always meant to be a virgin – certainly not a common assumption in our early 21st century – but she had told Juan Diego who she was, “the Perfect Virgin Holy Mary, Mother of God”. There is no contradiction between her virginity and her pregnancy. Here is the genius of the symbol presented to the Mexicans: it serves as a way to present them with the Gospel using the symbols of their own religion. I can imagine some of the natives asking: “How could a Virgin be also a Mother?” For those who already had the concept of the miraculous motherhood of Coatlicue Toniatzin,[20] it was not too difficult to accept the perpetual virginity of Mary, and the dogma of the Virginal Birth of Jesus.

Christians see Our Lady of Guadalupe and immediately assume that her hands are joined together in prayer because that is what Christians do. The signs presented to us show a wonderful duality. Her hands remind us of the “casita”, the chapel she wants to have on Tepeyac Hill. A church is, of course, a house of prayer, she also said she wanted to “give her son” to the people in that chapel. That expression is rich in meaning: she wants to give the people her Son, the God of light that is about to be born on that Solstice of Winter. The Eucharist will be given to the faithful there, and that is also her Son given to the faithful as the Bread from Heaven.

Many of the natives, in particular, the ones that were already attending Holy Mass, could look at the Virgin’s hands and associate them with prayer. To those who were not quite familiar with Christian customs, she appeared to be clapping her hands, raising her left knee, and modestly looking down as she danced. The Sacred Image is artfully crafted to prepare the heart of those watching for the reception of the Christian doctrines.

There is an aura of light around her which the natives understood perfectly: it is in the nature of the Mother of the Sun to irradiate light. She is pregnant with and is about to give birth to “the God for Whom we all live”. The position of the sacred flower, the Nahui-Ollin right on her womb further reinforces the Divine Nature living in her. Finally, the Cross adorning her neck, the only purely Christian sign in the whole amoxtli confirms to them that her Son is the Christian God that has triumphed over the bloodthirsty gods of the Aztec priests. A shadow on her tunic shows the Crucified: this is a God that sacrificed himself so that his people can live. He does not need his people to be sacrificed for him. The end of the human sacrifices has arrived in time for the age of the Fifth Sun.

The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is a perfect parable that leaves the natives ready and eager to embrace their new Mother. In time they will embrace a new national identity as well.


[1] Semiosis (Gr. σημείωσις, sēmeíōsis) is a process that creates, assigns or modifies signs, the generation of meaning. Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914) defines it as the interpretation of signs in reference to objects, sign interrelations, or semiotics.

[2] John 19: 26-27.

[3] Numbers 21: 8-9.

[4] John 3: 14.

[5] Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance: Fiery serpent, seraph, from saraph; burning, i.e. figuratively a poisonous serpent; specifically, a saraph or symbolical creature from their copper color, seraph. Curiously enough, the Hebrew word שָׂרָף [Seraph] is the same for “snake” and “fire”.

[6] Thessalonians 5: 20-21 – “Do not despise prophesying, but test everything; hold fast what is good, abstain from every form of evil.”

[7] 2Corinthians 5:21 – “For our sake [God] made him be sin who knew no sin so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

[8] “A Codex is a pre-Conquest or early Colonial document record composed of pictures, an amoxtli, painted by Indian tlacuilos, painter-scribes, on a long strip of fan-folded paper made from maguey fibers or the bark of a wild fig tree.” The Sacred Image is a … Divine Codex, article by Janet Barber, I.H.M. included in A Handbook on Guadalupe, published by the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, New Bedford, Massachusetts, 1997. ©Academy of the Immaculate.

[9] Aleph is the first letter of the Hebrew Alphabet. The original pictograph of the letter was the idealized head of an ox that later evolved to a staff (the Hebrew letter ל lamed) combined with the original ox-head to signify God, strong authority, or the head of a tribe. The modern form of the letter in Hebrew א is sometimes compared to a man plowing a field. Mystically is said to represent a man pointing with one arm up to Heaven and the other to Earth thus indicating that Earth is meant to reflect Heaven.

[10] Revelation 4: 7 – “The first living creature was like a lion, the second like a calf, the third had a face like a man, and the fourth was like an eagle in flight.” These four creatures are traditionally understood to be the Four Evangelists, the “eagle in flight” representing St John the Apostle.

[11] Matthew 4: 13-17 – [Jesus] went up the mountain and called to him those whom he wanted, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve apostles to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the Gospel, and to have the authority to cast out demons. So he appointed the twelve: Simon whom he named Peter, James son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James to whom he gave the name Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder”.

[12] Miguel Mateo Maldonado y Cabrera (1695-1768).

[13] He was allowed to study the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe to make two copies: one for Archbishop José Manuel Rubio y Salinas, and one for Pope Benedict XIV. He copied a third to be used as a master in future reproductions.

[14] Original Spanish title: Maravilla Americana y Conjunto de Raras Maravillas, Observadas con la Dirección de las Reglas del Arte de la Pintura en la Prodigiosa Imagen de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe de Mexico, by Miguel Mateo Maldonado y Cabrera. Imprenta Real del Más Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso, 1756.

[15] Aguazo, gouache: a technique of painting with opaque watercolors prepared with gum.

[16] A Handbook on Guadalupe, p. 63 “The Iconography of Guadalupe” article by Dom. Columban Hawkins, O.C.S.O. Published by the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, New Bedford, Massachusetts, 1996.

[17] Ancient documents state that the icon of Our Lady of Częstochowa came from Constantinople. There is a tradition telling that in 1384, Count Władysław Opolczyk was traveling through Częstochowa with the Icon when his horses refused to go on – a similar event occurred to those carrying the image of Our Lady of Luján, in 1630 – In a dream, Władysław was instructed to leave the icon at Jasna Góra. The mantle covering Our Lady of Częstochowa is decorated with golden stars in a style similar to that of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

[18] Gr. Θεοφιλος “friend of God”. See Luke 1:1-4. The first verses of that Gospel may have inspired the introduction of the Nican Mopohua for they are quite similar.

[19] As in Popocatepetl, the famous volcano in Mexico.

[20] In Aztec mythology, Coatlicue was supernaturally impregnated by a ball of feathers touching her while she was in her temple. That myth explained the conception of the demon Huitzilopochtli without the help of a father.

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