On December 9th, 1531, 57 year old Juan Diego was on his way to church in Tenochtitlan, Mexico when he suddenly heard music near Tepeyac Hill. At first he thought that it was bird song, but before long Diego wondered if he was actually hearing a heavenly chorus. Soon, the music faded away and instead, Diego began to her the voice of a woman, calling his name from the top of Tepeyac Hill. Diego made his way to the top where he encountered a girl who in appearance seemed to be around 15 years old. She seemed to give off a glowing light that lit up the area, and she was dressed in an attractive red and gold gown and a star studded turquoise cloak. While Diego stood gaping at the apparition, the girl told him that she was “the Virgin Mary, mother of the true God who gives life.” Mary went on to tell Juan Diego to build a church on the hill, so that others could come and receive comfort and guidance. She then told Diego to pay a visit to Don Fray Juan de Zumaraga, the bishop of Mexico and tell him that the Virgin Mary wanted a church built.
Juan Diego made his way to the bishop and in time was granted an audience. He relayed Mary’s desire to have a church built to the bishop, but the bishop promptly shot him down, stating that he wasn’t willing to consider such a project based on a whimsical vision.
Diego headed home, feeling that he had failed. Along the way he once again encountered Mary and he told her of his encounter with the bishop. Once again, Mary instructed him to approach the bishop. Diego did as he was bid and this time the bishop was more willing to hear Diego out. He told Diego to ask Mary for a miraculous sign to prove her identity. The bishop then sent two servants to follow Diego home and deliver a full report to him of what took place. The servants attempted to follow Diego, but they lost sight of him and had to report back to the bishop that they had failed at their task.
While the servants were reporting their failure, Diego was once again approached by the vision of Mary. He explained that the bishop required a miraculous sign. Mary instructed Diego to return at dawn the next day to receive the sign. Unfortunately, Diego’s uncle fell ill and he was unable to return to Mary at the appointed time. When he made his way back to Tepeyac Hill, not only did Mary forgive him, but she also healed his uncle. She then instructed Diego to go to the top of the hill and gather the flowers that grew there.
Diego climbed the hill, even though it was winter and there was frost on the ground. He didn’t expect to find any flowers, but surprisingly, he found that roses were growing on the hill. He gathered the flowers into his tilma (poncho) and took them back to the Virgin.
Mary arranged the flowers into a pattern onto Diego’s poncho and then helped him to put it back on, tying the corners around his neck to hold the roses. She then sent Diego back to the bishop, telling him not to show the roses to anyone along the way.
The bishop was shocked when Diego presented the roses. He had secretly prayed for a sign of roses, and here they were, but even more stunning was the tilma itself. Where the roses had rested, there now was a beautiful image of the Virgin Mary imprinted on the poncho. The symbolism in the image was very specific, easily conveying a message of love to the natives of Mexico.
The image was displayed in the local cathedral until Mary’s church could be built. Over a period of seven years from the time the image was first displayed, it was estimated that approximately 8 million pagan Mexicans converted to Christianity. The image is still on display today at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico.
So is the image a true miracle? Millions of people seem to think so. The cloak, which is made of cactus fibers, has shown no sign of disintegration, and it’s been noted that the image of a bearded man can be seen in the right eye of the image of Mary, leading the devout to believe that it’s a reflection of what she saw in 1531 – Juan Diego on Tepeyac Hill.