“Hear, my son, what I now say to thee: let nothing trouble or afflict thee. Fear neither pain nor sickness nor
other grievous accident. AM NOT I HERE, I WHO AM THY MOTHER? Thou art beneath my shadow and protection. And am not I life and health? In my lap art thou, and counted as mine. What more dost thou need?”
“...as a loving Mother to thee
and those like thee, I shall show my tender clemency and the compassion I feel for the natives and for those who love and seek me, for all who implore my protection, who call on me in their labors and afflictions; and in which I shall hear their weeping and
their supplications that I may give them consolation and relief.”
APPARITION OF HOLY MARY OF GUADALUPE
THE INDIAN NARRATIVE
There is reason to rejoice that the Guadalupan story was retold by the Oratorian, Father Louis Becerra
Tanco. He had at command the best traditions and the best manuscripts, and he was capable of profiting by them.
As he was born towards the end of the
first century of the Spanish domination, when the two civilizations and peoples were fairly blended, he got the fullest education that New Spain could afford. He was, as in his book he has occasion to mention, reared among the Indians, whose language, customs,
and traditions he learned thoroughly. His studies were made at the Royal University of Mexico, in which he afterwards held different chairs of literature and science. Among his ecclesiastical and religious brethren he held, for more than thirty years, the
position of Minister of Doctrine. Many fruitful labors are recorded of him; but, as things now appear, his greatest work was his elucidation and authentication of the Guadalupan history.
In writing he repeatedly feels called on to give his credentials; “not” as he ingenuously states, “to magnify his own littleness, but to give sufficient reason for what he is affirming and certifying.”
Having mentioned his various opportunities and obligations of learning thoroughly the native language, oral and written, he naively remarks: “To which may be added the more than common acquaintance I have with other languages, such as Latin, Tuscan,
and Portuguese, as well as enough to read, write, and pronounce the Greek and Hebrew tongues.”
As a redactor, Tanco certainly inspires confidence.
Contemporary authorities, and his own writings, go to prove that he was a priest of the humblest piety, and, for the time, of very profound erudition. In his devout zeal he labored systematically, turning to account all the sources of tradition found among
the Indians. Having examined the maps and hieroglyphics, and listened to the various family chants, he was able to testify that this specially native evidence was in perfect accord with what the general public held concerning the Shrine and the Picture. He
thus thoroughly verified and digested the beautiful Indian narrative.
When putting it into Spanish he held closely to the Mexican diction, both because
he much revered the original, and because he had to swear to the authenticity of his version. It was the Apostolic Commission of 1667 that imposed the work on his willing zeal; and the ecclesiastical judges stood by, waiting to take his document as a sacred
With regard to the translation, Tanco complains of the difficulty of rendering the diffuse simplicity and affectionateness of the Indian speech
into ordinary Castilian. But manifestly the difficulty is much greater in the case of our coldly masculine English. Yet I give the narrative word for word, in the belief that it will read none the less racy and authentic, for its divergence from our commoner
modes of thought and expression.
The Indian Narrative.
“In the year of Our Lord, 1531, when the Spaniards had ruled in this city of Mexico and province of New Spain for ten years and four months, the war having ceased and the Holy Gospel having commenced to flourish
in this Kingdom, on the morning of Saturday, the ninth day of the month of December, a poor Indian peasant, simple and humble, one of those recently converted to the holy Catholic Faith, was on his way to the Franciscan mission at the church of St. James the
Greater, the Patron of Spain, to hear the Mass of the Virgin Mary. Juan Diego, as he was called since his Baptism, was a native of Cuantitlan, which lies four leagues north of the city; and he was married to an Indian woman of his own class, who bore the name
of Maria Lucia. The church mentioned was in the suburb of Tlatelolco, and the Indian was coming from the village in which he then resided, and which is supposed to have been the neighbouring Tolpetlac. He, therefore, reached, at the first gleam of dawn, the
foot of the Tepeyacac, or sharp point of the hills – so called because it stands out from the other elevations which surround the lake and the valley, where lies the Capital of Mexico, and because it is nearest to that city. At the present day,
for reasons to be given immediately, it is named after Our Lady of Guadalupe.
“Towards the hilltop and the rocky pinnacle which overhangs the plain
on the lake-side, the Indian heard a canticle resounding sweetly, which, as he said, seemed to him like the warbling of many different birds that sang together in dulcet harmony and quired to one another with wonderful accord. The higher hills behind repeated
and multiplied the echoes.
“Lifting his eyes to the place whence he thought the canticle proceeded, he saw a white shining cloud, having around it a magnificent rainbow whose colors were formed by rays of most dazzling light that blazed from a
central point. Absorbed and almost ravished out of himself, but otherwise calm and untroubled, the Indian felt in his heart an inexpressible joy and jubilation. So he asked himself: What must this be that I hear and see? Or whither have I been carried? Can
it be that I have been translated to the heaven of delights which our ancestors called the origin of our flesh, the garden of flowers, the earthly paradise hidden from the eyes of men?
“While he was in this rapturous wonder the canticle ceased, and he heard himself called by his name, in a woman’s sweet, gentle tones. The voice came from the brightness of the cloud, and bade him draw near. Advancing
and hastening up the ridge he saw in the midst of the refulgence a most beautiful Lady – very like her whom we now see in the blessed Picture, and well represented in the description which the Indian gave before the Picture was produced or copied. Her
apparel, as he described it, so shone that, struck by its splendors, the rocks on that rough summit looked like well-cut, transparent precious stones; while the leaves of the cactus and the brambles – which the exposed situation makes poor and stunted
– seemed to be clusters of fine emeralds, with thorns, branches, and trunks of bright, burnished gold, and the very soil of the little tableland was as jasper of many colors.
“With an affable, encouraging look, the Lady spoke to the Indian, in his own language.
“ ‘My son,’
she said, ‘Juan Diego, whom I tenderly love as a little one and weak, whither goest thou?’
“The Indian replied: ‘I
am going, most noble Mistress and Lady mine, to Mexico, to the Tlatelolco ward, to hear the Mass which the ministers and substitutes of God show us.’
“Having heard him Most Holy Mary continued: ‘Know, my son, my much beloved, that I am the ever Virgin Mary, Mother of the true God who is the Author of life, the Creator of all things, the Lord of heaven and earth, present
everywhere. And it is my wish that here there be raised to me a temple in which, as a loving Mother to thee and those like thee, I shall show my tender clemency and the compassion I feel for the natives and for those who love and seek me, for all who implore
my protection, who call on me in their labors and afflictions; and in which I shall hear their weeping and their supplications that I may give them consolation and relief. That my will may have its effect thou hast to go to the city of Mexico and to the palace
of the bishop who resides there, to tell him that I have sent thee and that I wish a temple to be raised to me in this place. Thou shalt report what thou hast seen and heard; and be assured that I will repay what thou dost for me in the charge I give thee:
for it I will make thee great and renowned. Now thou hast heard, son, my wish. Go in peace, remembering that I shall reward thy labor and diligence; in this, therefore, employ all the strength thou art able.’
“Prostrating himself, the Indian replied: ‘I go, I go, most noble Lady and Mistress mine, to do as an humble servant what you have ordered. Fare-you-well.’
“Departing with profound reverence the Indian descended the western shoulder of the hill and took the road to the Capital. In fulfilment of his promise he
went straight to the city, the distance being a league, and entered the palace of the Prelate, who was the Illustrious Don Fray Juan de Zumárraga, first Bishop of Mexico. Having gone in he began to ask the servants to tell the Lord Bishop that he wanted
to see and speak to him. They did not do so immediately, either because it was so early, or because they saw that the Indian was poor and humble. They kept him long waiting; but finally, moved by his patience, they ushered him in.
“When he reached the presence of his Lordship, he fell on his knees and delivered his message. He said that the Mother of God had sent him; that he had seen her and spoken to her
that very morning. He then reported all that he saw and heard, just as we have related it.
“The bishop heard with astonishment what the Indian affirmed,
and marvelled at the strange occurrence; but of the message, to which he gave little credit, he seemed to make slight account, thinking it was mere imagination on the Indian’s part, or nothing better than a dream. Perhaps, too, he feared it might be
a delusion of the demon, as the natives were but lately converted to our holy religion. Though, therefore, he questioned the man closely on his story and found all his answers consistent, he nevertheless sent him away, promising to hear him more at length
and to consider the affair more thoroughly if he came again after some days. It is evident that he wanted time to deliberate and to get information about the character of the envoy.
“The Indian was very sad and disconsolate as he left the bishop’s palace, both because he saw that he was not believed and because the will of Most Holy Mary who had sent him was not to be accomplished.
“The evening of
that same day, about sunset, Juan Diego was returning to his village, which, as far as it can be traced, was Tolpetlac, situated below the slope of the higher hill, at a league’s distance northeast. Tolpetlac means the place of the cat’s-tail mats,
for at the time the only occupation of the villagers was to make mats of that plant. Passing, therefore, by the height on which he had that morning seen and spoken to the Virgin Mary, he found her waiting to get the answer to her message. As soon as he saw
her he prostrated himself before her and cried out:–
“ ‘O little one, most dear! (a Mexican address of affection to a superior)
my Queen and most high Lady, I did what you told me. Though for a long time I was not let in to the bishop, I finally saw him and gave him your message just as you ordered me. He listened to me with kindness and attention; but from what I noticed in him and
from his questions, I gathered that he did not believe me: for he told me to come again that he might at leisure inquire into my affair, and examine it more closely. He supposed that the temple you demand was an imagination or whim of mine and not your will.
I therefore beg of you to send some noble and influential person, some one worthy of respect, to whom credit ought to be given; for you see, O my Sovereign, that I am a poor serf, a mere lowly peasant, and that I am not fit for this embassy of yours.
“ ‘Pardon, O Queen, my boldness, if I have at all failed in the respect due to your greatness. Far be it from me to incur your indignation,
or to displease you by my reply.’
“Most Holy Mary heard the words of the Indian benignly, and then said:–
“ ‘Hear, much loved son, and understand that I am not without clients and servants to send, for I have many that I might employ if I wished, many
that would do whatever they were ordered; but it much befits that thou undertake this affair and conduct it. My wish and desire has to be accomplished by thy means. So I ask thee, my son, and I order thee, to go back in the morning, and see and speak to the
bishop. Tell him to erect me the temple I demand, and say that she who sent thee is the Virgin Mary, Mother of the true God.’
Diego answered: ‘Be not offended, Queen and Lady mine, at what I said. For I shall go with great good will, and obey your order with all my heart. I’ll bear your message, for I am not offering excuses, nor do I think the journey any
trouble. Perhaps, indeed, I shall not be received nor willingly heard; or if the bishop listens to me he may not believe me; but all the same I will do as you tell me. And here, Lady, in this spot, I shall be waiting to-morrow evening at sunset to give you
the answer that I shall have received. So peace be with you, my little one most high, and may God keep you.’
“The Indian took
his leave with profound humility and went to his home in the village. It is not known whether he mentioned the occurrence to his wife or any one else, for history says nothing on that point. Perhaps being confused and ashamed that he had not been believed,
he did not dare to speak till he saw how things would turn.
“The following day, Sunday, December 10th, Juan went to the Church of St. James to hear
Mass and assist at the Christian doctrine. And when the Ministers of the Gospel had as usual gone through the whole list of the native Christians of the parish, ward by ward, he went again to the bishop’s palace to fulfil the mandate of the Virgin Mary.
The members of the household were very slow to announce his arrival; but when he was-let in, humbling himself in the bishop’s presence, he told, with tears and sighs, ‘how he had again seen, in the same place, the Mother of God who awaited him
for the answer to her message; how she had ordered him to come back to the bishop and tell him to have a temple erected to her where she had appeared and spoken; and how she certified that she who sent him was the Mother of Jesus Christ, the ever Virgin Mary.’
“The bishop heard with greater attention this time and was less disinclined to believe. But to make surer of the facts, he questioned and requestioned the
Indian, warning him to take good care what he asserted. He made him describe the Lady who sent him; and from the description he had to recognise that the man had neither been dreaming nor inventing. Nevertheless, to acquire greater certainty, and to avoid
the apparent levity of believing an Indian peasant’s simple tale, he told Juan that ‘his story was not enough to start such an enterprise as he proposed; and that, therefore, he should tell the Lady who sent him to give him some signs by which
it might be known that the message was really from the Mother of God, and that it was indeed she who wished the temple erected.’
replied ‘that the bishop might see what sign he preferred, and that he would ask it.’
“The prelate noticed that the man neither doubted
nor hesitated about asking the sign, but that utterly unruffled he had said to name any sign desired. He then called the two most trusted persons of his household, and, in the Castilian tongue which was unintelligible to the Indian, bade them look closely
at the man and be ready to follow him as soon as he left the house. He directed them not to lose sight of him, but without his notice to keep after him till he reached the place where he said he had seen the Virgin Mary. They were to observe with whom he spoke,
and bring back an account of all they saw and heard.
“They did as they were ordered. When the Indian was dismissed from the bishop’s presence,
they followed him and, without his knowledge, kept their eyes on him.
“But as soon as Juan Diego reached the bridge on the eastern side of the city,
where a stream passes and, almost at the foot of the hillock, runs into the lake, he vanished from their sight. They eagerly sought for him, and searched both sides of the hill, but all in vain. Indignant with him, therefore, they called him an impostor and
liar or else a wizard. So when they came back and gave their account to the bishop, they besought him not to believe this fellow, but, if he returned, to punish him for his imposture.
“When Juan, who had gone on in advance but yet within sight of the bishop’s
servants, reached the summit of the hillock, he found Most Holy Mary again waiting to get the answer to her message. Humbling himself in her presence he related ‘how, in fulfilment of her order he had returned to the bishop’s palace and delivered
her message; how he had been questioned and requestioned, and finally told that his simple story was not enough to decide so important an affair, but that he must ask the Lady for a sure sign; in order,’ he added, ‘that it may be known that it
is you who sent me, and that it is you who wish a temple to be here erected to you.’
“With tender words Most Holy Mary thanked him for his
care and diligence, and bade him come there next day that she might give him a sure sign by which the bishop would believe him. Promising obedience the Indian reverently took his leave.
“However, the next day, Monday, the 11th of December, passed without Juan’s being able to return as he had been told. For when he reached his village he found his uncle Juan Bernardino, who was as a father to him
and whom he loved most deeply, sick unto death of a malignant fever which the natives call Cocoliztli. Having much compassion for him he spent most of the day seeking the help of a relative of his, a medical man; who, indeed, came and administered
some medicines, but with no better result than an increase of the malady. Hence the sufferer, feeling himself failing that night, besought his nephew to set out before daybreak for the Convent of St. James at Tlatelolco and call a priest to give him the Sacraments
of Penance and Extreme Unction, as he judged his sickness mortal.
“Juan Diego was away before dawn, hurrying with all speed to call one of the priests
and return with him as guide. Therefore, towards daybreak, on Tuesday the 12th of December, he came to the place where he should cross, from the east, the summit of the hill. It then occurred to him that he had not come back the preceding day in obedience
to the order of the Virgin Mary, as he had promised. Thinking, therefore, that if he passed the place in which he had seen her, she would reproach him for not coming as she told him, he imagined in his simplicity that by taking another path round the lower
slope of the hill he should escape being seen or detained by her. This he did, saying to himself that his present business required haste, and that once free of it he could come to ask the sign and take it to the bishop. But when he had passed the spot where
the spring of aluminous water rises, and was about to turn the shoulder of the hill, Most Holy Mary came forth to meet him.
“The Indian saw her descend to cross his way, from the summit of the hill, surrounded by a white cloud, with the same
brightness as on the first occasion.
“She said to him: ‘Whither goest thou, my son, and what road is this thou hast taken?’
“The Indian was confused, afraid, and ashamed. So he threw himself on his knees and answered perturbedly:
“ ‘My little one most beloved, and Lady mine, may God keep you! . . . How early you are around! . . . I trust you are well. ... Be not displeased with what I shall say. Know,
my sovereign, that a servant of yours, my uncle, is dangerously sick of & grievous and mortal malady. And as he appears very low I am hurrying to the city, to the church of Tlatelolco, to call a priest who will come to confess and anoint him – for
in fine we are all born subject to death. But having despatched this affair I shall return here to obey your orders. Pardon me, I beseech you, my Lady, and have patience a little; for I am not seeking an excuse not to do what you commanded this servant of
yours, nor is it a false pretext I give you: to-morrow I’ll come without fail.’
“With gentle look Most Holy Mary heard
the apology of the Indian, and thus replied:–
“ ‘Hear, my son, what I now say to thee: let nothing trouble or afflict thee.
Fear neither pain nor sickness nor other grievous accident. Am not I here, I who am thy Mother? Thou art beneath my shadow and protection. And am not I life and health? In my lap art thou, and counted as mine. What more dost thou need? Have neither sorrow
nor anxiety on account of thy uncle’s sickness, for he will not die of this attack. Be even assured that he is already well.’
Juan Diego heard these words he was so much consoled and so fully satisfied that he cried out: ‘Send me, then, O my Lady, to see the bishop; and give me the sign, as you said you would, that I may be belived.’
“Most Holy Mary replied: ‘Go up, my son, much loved and cherished, to the summit of the hill where you saw me and spoke to me, and pluck the
roses which you will find there. Gather them in the lap of your cloak, and bring them to my presence, and I shall tell you what to do and say.’
Indian obeyed without a word, though he knew for certain that there were no flowers in the place; for it was barren rock and produced nothing. Having reached the top he saw there a beautiful rose-tree with fresh, odorous, dewy flowers. Arranging his cloak
or tilma in the native fashion, he plucked as many roses as he could put into the lap of it and bore them to the presence of the Virgin Mary. She was waiting for him at the foot of a tree which the Indians call Cuauzahuatl, that is the tree of the spider’s
web or the fasting tree. It is a wild tree that produces no fruit, but in its season gives some white blossoms. From the position I think it is the ancient trunk which still stands on the slope of the hill, and at whose foot is the path leading
up the eastern bank. In front of it is the aluminous spring.
“Here, doubtless, was effected the miraculous painting of the blessed Picture. For
when the Indian humbled himself in the presence of the Virgin Mary and showed her the roses he had gathered, holding them up in his cloak, Our Lady herself took them out all together and put them back in the lap of the garment, saying:–
“ ‘Here thou hast the sign to take to the bishop. Tell him that by token of these roses he is to do what I ordered. Attend, son, to what I say,
and remark that I place confidence in thee. Neither show what thou carriest to any one by the way, nor open thy cloak till thou art in the presence of the bishop. Then tell him what I have just said, and thou wilt dispose him to raise my temple.’
“Having so spoken the Virgin Mary sent him away. The Indian was delighted with the sign, for he understood that he should now succeed and that his embassy
should have its effect. So he brought the roses with great care, never losing one, but snatching a glimpse of them from time to time and enjoying their fragrance and beauty.
Apparition of the Picture.
“Juan Diego reached the episcopal palace with his latest message
and asked several of the servants to tell the bishop. They did not do so till they were tired of his importunities; but noticing that he carried something in his cloak they wanted to see what it was. Though he resisted all he could, they discovered by a slight
opening what he carried. Seeing the roses so beautiful they then tried to take some of them; but when they put in their hands, as they did three times, it seemed to them that the flowers were not real but skilfully painted or woven into the cloak. They reported
this to the bishop, and the Indian was led in.
“He delivered his message, saying that he brought the sign which he had been ordered to ask from
the Lady who sent him. As he then unfolded his cloak the roses fell out of it to the ground, and on it there was seen painted the Picture of Most Holy Mary as it is seen to-day.
“The bishop was struck with wonder at the prodigy of the fresh, odorous, dewy roses, just recently gathered, as it was the most rigorous winter time of this climate; but much more was he in admiration at the sight of the holy Picture
which he and those present of his household venerated as something heavenly.
“He undid the knot from behind the Indian’s head and carried
the cloak to his oratory. There, fittingly placing the Picture, he gave thanks to Our Lord and His glorious Mother.
“That day the bishop was kind
to Juan Diego and kept him in his palace. On the following morning he bade him come and show him where the Most Holy Virgin Mary had ordered her temple to be built. When they reached the place Juan pointed out the location and the spots in which he had the
four times seen the Mother of God and spoken with her. He then asked leave to go see his uncle, Juan Bernardino, whom he had left so sick. The bishop allowed him and sent with him some of his household, telling them that if they found the uncle cured they
should conduct the man to his presence.
“When Juan Bernardino saw his nephew arrive at his house, accompanied by Spaniards and honored by them, he asked the cause of the unusual proceeding. The nephew then gave an account of his having been sent to the
bishop, and of the Most Holy Virgin’s assuring him that his uncle was cured. Whereupon, Juan Bernardino, having asked at what hour and minute he was said to be cured, affirmed that at that very point of time he saw the same Lady, exactly as described,
and was by her restored to perfect health. She likewise told him ‘that she wished a temple raised to her at the place in which she had appeared to his nephew; and moreover that her Picture was to be called HOLY MARY OF GUADALUPE.’
For this no reason was given.
“The servants heard all and then led the two Indians back to the presence of the bishop who examined the elder man
on his sickness, on the manner of his cure, and on the appearance of the Lady who restored his health. The truth being made manifest, he took the uncle and nephew to his palace in the city of Mexico.
“Already the fame of the Miracle had spread abroad, so that the inhabitants of the city were crowding to the episcopal residence to venerate the Picture. It was therefore taken to the principal church and placed
on the altar by the bishop, that the people who were coming in great numbers might all enjoy it. There it remained till, on the spot indicated by the Indian, there was built a hermitage to which it was transferred in procession with most solemn festivity.”
“This,” says the historian, “is the whole simple tradition, without ornament of words.” That the narrative little needed ornament of words
most readers will feel. There is about it a delicious fitness and verisimilitude. As it has convinced and charmed multitudes in the past, so may it for all time.
Taken from: Our Lady of America, Liturgically known as Holy Mary of Guadalupe, by Rev. G. Lee, C.S.Sp., 1897. Imprimatur.
Holy Mary of Guadalupe, pray for us.