[If you have not already read the simple story of St. Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe, you might want to read this first.]
Nine Million Souls for Christ
Nine million Aztec people converted to Catholicism within seven years of the apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe. As if this story were not incredible and improbable enough, it turns out that virtually every aspect of the tilma image has some kind of deep and profound meaning. For the Aztec people of the 16th century, Juan Diego’s tilma was like an long and detailed message captured in a photo. To understand this the way they did, you have to go back in time and look at everything through their eyes and experience. Fortunately today we also have the benefit of scientific knowledge to help us understand things. This science, combined with the story and the symbolism, provides us an even richer, fuller understanding of these events in all of their glory.
The Tilma Itself
- The Material. Tilmas (tunics) in the 1500s were made of coarse cactus plant fibers which rapidly disintegrated. The best ones might surivive only 30 years. They are considered an impossible medium on which to paint a detailed painting. In 1946, the National University of Mexico Institute of Biology studied the tilma closely. They determined that the material is from native Agave plant fibers. Having survived for 475 years is absolutely inexplicable.
- It’s NOT paint. The color does not come from animal, vegetable or mineral paint. A 1977 infrared test concluded that there are no paint brush marks and no sketching underneath the image. The colors have remained vibrant for nearly 500 years without any treatment. They look different up close than they do far away, a phenomenon found in nature: bird feathers, butterfly wings and beetles. Different angles make the colors look slightly different.
- Nobody has been able to recreate it. Over the course of 500 years, many have tried and failed.
- Miraculous Resilience. Over the years, the tilma has taken a beating from being constantly on public display. Exposure to incense, touching, a 1785 Nitric Acid spill (the stain inexplicably disappeared and the tilma self-healed) and in 1921 when a bomb exploded underneath it, the marble altar rail, a brass crucifix and the surrounding windows were destroyed, but guess what – not the tilma!
- Body Temperature. It was once observed that the tilma retained a constant temperature of 98.6 degrees when being examined by Dr. Phillip Callahan, a scientist from the University of Florida.
What She Looks Like
- The Image on the tilma is 4 foot 8 inches tall. The woman is young and has olive skin. Her dress is Middle Eastern but the color is turquoise. In Aztec culture this was reserved exclusively for royalty.
- Her Hair is parted in the middle, the traditional hairstyle for female virgins.
- Her Face has features of people who were both Spanish and Aztec.
- Her left hand is slightly darker than her right. This, along with her mixed race features, was taken by the people to mean that she represents the union of Spanish and Aztec people.
She Is Pregnant
- The Black Ribbon. The ribbon tied around her waist means that she is an Aztec noblewoman carrying a child. A subtle four petal flower over her womb is an Aztec symbol of the sun, a sign of abundance and plenitude.
- Her Waist Measurement. Dr. Carlos Fernandos del Castillo, a Mexican gynecologist who examined and measured the image, observed that her physical dimensions are those of a woman ready to give birth.
- A Baby’s Heartbeat. One doctor put his stethoscope on the image below the black ribbon and found a pulse of 115 beats per minute, the same kind of pulse found in a developing baby. (Note: I’m having trouble finding the documentation on this)
- Christian Cross. At the base of her throat is a small golden brooch with a black cross at the center. The cross identifies her with the Catholic religion.
- Rays of Sun. Her body is surrounded by golden rays of sun that pierce the clouds.
- The Moon. She is standing on a black crescent moon.
- Folded Hands. Her hands are folded in a simple gesture of prayer, calling everyone to faith.
- Bent Knee. Aztecs saw a bent left knee with the tip of one shoe showing. This looked to them like she is dancing and clapping her hands to the rhythm of maracas, a musical instrument they used for worship.
- The Flower Pattern. They looked like the mountains depicted on the local area map.
- Actual Constellations on Her Mantle. The 46 eight-pointed stars are in the same position as the stars in the heavens during those days in 1531.
450 Years After the Fact: Her Eyes!
Four and a half centuries after the apparitions, some scientists decided to study her eyes.
- Strange Characteristics. Ophthalmologists have testified that both eyes filled with light when using an opthalmoloscope. One of them found small veins on the eyelids, while yet another stated that the eyes looked like they were alive and looking at him.
- 13 People. It was only discovered in 1981 by Dr. Jose Aste Tonsman that there are 13 persons roughly 8-9 mm reflected in her eyes. Magnified photos show the larger images seem to be reflections of Juan Diego and Bishop Juan de Zumarraga. The rest seem to be images of those present when Juan Diego opened his tilma to show the flowers to the bishop.
A Union of Heaven and Earth
- At her feet, an angel holds her mantle, the turquoise/blue outer garment with all the stars. A symbol of heaven.
- The angel also holds her inner gown or tunic which has nine patterns of flowers. There were nine tribes from Atzlan that made up Tenochtitlan, the seat of the Aztec empire built on Lake Texcoco.
- By holding both garments, the angel is emphasizing a union of heaven and earth.
The Woman of Revelation 12?
- It appeared then and now to many church leaders and theologians that the woman on the tilma is the apocalyptic pregnant Virgin Mother of God. (For more on this, click on the image below. Because I have not investigated this site thoroughly enough, I cannot endorse it. I simply provide it as a reference for further study.)
If the story of St. Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe is true, then it’s certainly important isn’t it? She wanted a church built where people could go to worship her Son, Jesus. If you believe in Our Lady of Guadalupe, then perhaps it’s time to draw closer to Christ. Amen.
For Further Study and Reflection
I recommend Jim Caviezel’s documentary.
I also recommend this documentary (54 mins)
For a better, more poetic written explanation of Our Lady of Guadalupe, I recommend this excellent blog: http://www.sweetwaterhaven.com/olot_apparitions.html
A Nice List of Claimed Facts: http://www.guadalupeshrine.org/resources/guadalupe/facts
A Detailed Index to the Symbolism on the Tilma: http://anthonybrach.tripod.com/guadalupe.html
For some fact checking: http://ecommons.udayton.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1573&context=marian_studies