The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe
The Image of Our Lady of Guadalupe
Far from a simple ‘painting’, the image of Our Lady on Juan Diego’s tilma has some noteworthy features that were immediately recognized by the native Mexicans and their Spanish conquerors.
Carl Anderson underscores the incredible complexity of the Image. Every detail about the mage had a meaning for the indigenous people, The image itself was a pictographic codex, a method traditionally used to record and transmit religious and cultural practices before the arrival of the Spanish. Here are some of the key elements.
- The color of her skin stands out, neither pale like the Spaniards, nor dark like the indigenous, she is a mestiza, a mixed-blood. This identified her with completely with the New World, affirming the uniqueness of both Spanish and Indigenous culture and presenting herself as the link between the two as their mother.
- She stood with the sun at her back and the moon at her feet, traditional imagery associated with the Woman of the Apocalypse (Rev 12:1). To the Aztecs, this symbolized her power over the blood-thirsty Sun god Huitzilopochtli and the lunar, feathered serpent, Quetzalcoatl. This showed a new path to cosmological harmony without human sacrifice, a radical new conception of the universe.
- Beneath her feet is an angel with jewel-colored eagle wings. The eagle in Aztec culture was a herald of civilization and the symbolic conveyor of the Aztec’s sacrificial offerings to the gods. This eagle-winged Angel is a herald of a new civilization and the carrier of the new and ultimate sacrifice in Christ the redeemer. The eagle-winged angel shifted the religious orientation of the Aztecs, instead of striving to touch divinity; this eagle-winged angel brings God to them. This connects to Juan Diego’s indigenous name, Cuauhtlatoatzin which means ‘one who speaks like an eagle’, this humble man was the messenger and herald of this new civilization.
- She is pregnant. The black sash is normally worn at the waist by Aztec women is worn higher up during pregnancy.
- The stars on her veil map the positions of the constellations in the sky at the time of the apparition. The blue-green color was a special color reserved for Aztec emperors and divinity. The rich pink of her tunic represents the earth. The meeting of the veil and tunic in the hands of the angel represent a cosmic harmony from which new-life will come forth. The miraculous image was instituted on the Winter Solstice, a significant day for the Aztecs and also in European Christianity. The Winter Solstice was the shortest day of the year, from which point the days would begin to lengthen. It was symbolic of rebirth and new life.
- Her tunic is covered with gold flowers that were much more than decoration; they were symbols representing words and concepts in Nahutatl.
- The most significant is the Jasmine flower. This simple four-petal flower represented the highest, single divine being, Ometetol, who did not concern himself with the affairs of humanity. This flower is positioned over her womb, identifying her child as divine and more radically, this remote, omnipotent being is now reachable by any human being who delivers himself to humanity through his mother. Our Lady of Guadalupe speaks of her Son in the same titles attributed to Ometetol.
- The eight-petal flower appears eight times and represents the planet Venus. The movement of Venus was a significant measure in the Aztec calendar which by the time of the conquest, had become inaccurate and often was in opposition to the solar measurements. The presence of both the sun and Venus with neither dominating the other represents a new cosmological harmony and peace.
- The large flower clusters represent a new communal concept in Nahutatl. The large triangle blossom represents ‘hill’ and the long curved stem ‘water’ which together, represent the concept of nation or civilization. These particular glyphs were highly significant symbols, mountains and rivers were the most essential geographic features necessary for human life. When the flower cluster is turned upside down, it becomes a human heart and arteries, representing sacrifice in an entirely new way, in which a divine heart and blood, not a human one carries the sacrificial burden in love.
- Her posture indicates a profound humility, pointing towards someone to whom she prays. This is indicated in her clasped hands and down-turned gaze, a gesture understood by both cultures. Significantly for the Aztecs, her entire body is in motion. Her weight is on one foot with the other knee bent in a dance-step position, which was the highest form of prayer for the Aztecs.
While the symbolism of the image demonstrates a remarkable sensitivity to both the Aztec and Spanish cultures, it is the miraculous qualities of the image that have emerged over time and with scientific study that truly astound.
- The tilma, made of fiber from the agave cactus, would normally decay within 40 years, yet the Guadalupe Tilma has survived almost 500 years.
- Unlike a painting or dyed cloth, the image appears to hover less than 1mm above the surface of the tilma, earning it the description of ‘permanent apparition’. No paint, pigment or dye has been detected.
- The stars on her veil perfectly map the positions of the constellations in the sky at the time of the apparition.
- Under magnification, the pupils of Our Lady’s eyes reflect the image of the Bishop and his aids kneeling before her.
- A fetal heartbeat has been detected when a stethoscope is held over Our Lady’s womb.
- The image has survived several disasters including an accidental acid spill and a bombing which disfigured a crucifix, destroyed the altar and blew out the windows but failed to harm the image. Although the bomb exploded in the middle of Mass, not a single person was harmed.
“Every human life, from the moment of conception until death, is sacred because the human person has been willed for its own sake in the image and likeness of the living and holy God.” (CCC #2139)
The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is one of the rare images representing a pregnant Mary. For this reason, Our Lady of Guadalupe is the patron of the unborn child and is a core spiritual devotion in the prolife movement all over the world.
When we hear the word ‘prolife’ the immediate association is with ‘abortion’. However, being prolife is not an issue-based political position. It is a foundational worldview upon which Christian morality stands.
As Catholics, we are especially called to be prolife which, in essence, is to uphold the dignity of human life in every aspect of our life. We live in a culture that is very clever and logical about denying the fundamental Truth about the dignity of life. This is a fight that is not limited to politics, but it is one that begins and ends in the hearts of every human being.
The most dramatic impact of the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe is its unique revelation of the dignity of the human person.
The pregnant Mary shows us Christ at his most vulnerable and dependent, revealing the profound humanity of both Mary and Christ and how as human beings, we find meaning and truth in our lives through other people.