Historical Account of the Apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe
by Sister Gabriel, O.P., 1900
The story of the Apparition of our Lady can not be too often repeated, and it will be better appreciated in the faithful translation of the original Indian narrative by that zealous and devoted client of our Lady of Guadalupe, Rev. Andrew Garriga, who for some years was rector of the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, San Francisco.
In the year of our Lord 1531, ten years after the Conquest, and four months after the end of the war (Clement VI. being Pope, and Charles V. King of Spain), one Saturday morning, before dawn, it being the 9th of December, an Indian–low and poor, humble and candid (one of the newly converted to the Catholic Faith), named Juan Diego, a native of Quatitlan, a town north of and distant from the capital of Mexico four leagues, who was married to another convert, Maria Lucia, then resident in a town nearer to the city, called Tolpetlac–was going to the Church of S. James, in the Barrio of Tlatelolco, to hear Mass and the catechetical instruction that the religious of S. Francis used to impart every morning to the Indians.
At the dawn of the morning, as he had to pass by the slope of a hill near the city, called by the Indians “Tepeyacac,” he heard from around a point of projecting rock sweet and harmonious singing, as it seemed to him, of a multitude and variety of birds heretofore unknown to him, which, like choruses, responded to each other in enchanting harmony, and the echoes were redoubled and repeated by the larger hill near by. Raising his eyes to a spot where he thought the singing came from, he saw a white and brilliant cloud surrounded by a rainbow, produced by an excessive light and splendor, as if springing directly from the center of the cloud.
There he stood absorbed, and as if beside himself (in a trance) but without confusion or fear. He had a feeling in his heart of such exquisite pleasure and joy that he said to himself: “What is this that I hear and see? Whereto have I been transported? In what place of the world am I? Perhaps I have been transported to that Paradise of Delights of which our good Fathers have spoken as the origin of our flesh, the Garden of Flowers, or the Celestial World, hidden to the eye of men?” Standing in this suspense and ecstasy, the singing ceased, and he heard some one call him by his name “Juan!”–a sweet and delicate voice, as of a woman, coming out from the splendor of that cloud, and telling him to approach. He immediately obeyed, and ran up the hill with great haste.
In the center of that brilliance he saw a most beautiful lady, very much like the one we see in the picture now, according to the verbal description given by the Indian himself before she had appeared in the painting, or to any one else; “whose garments glittered so,” said he, “that their light striking the rough rocks which rise on the summit of the hill, appeared to be transparent and polished precious stones, and the leaves and thorns and ‘nopals’ that grew there, small and poor on account of the dryness of the place, looked like handfuls of emeralds, and their trunks, branches and thorns as they were of brilliant gold. Even the surface of a small plain by the top of the hill seemed to be of jasper mixed with fine and different colors. The lady spoke to him in the Aztec language, and said: “My child, Juan Diego, whom I love as one that is little and delicate (the idiom of the Indian language), “Whither goest thou?” The Indian answered: “I am going, noble lady, to Mexico, to the Barrio of Tlatelolco, to hear the Mass that the ministers of God say for us.” The beautiful Lady heard him, and then continued: “Know thou, O my beloved child, that I am the Ever Virgin Mary, Mother of the true God, the Author of Life, Creator of all, the Lord of Heaven and Earth, Who is present everywhere; and it is my desire that a temple be built for me on this very spot, wherein, as a most tender Mother to thee and all thy people, I will show my loving clemency, and the compassion I feel for the natives, and for all of those who love and seek me, and for all who solicit my protection and invoke me in their trouble and afflictions, and wherein I shall hear their prayers and see their tears, and give them consolation and help. And in order that my will be carried out, thou shalt go to the City of Mexico, and to the palace of the Bishop, whom thou shalt tell that I send thee; and that it is my pleasure that he build a temple in this very place. And thou shalt tell him all that thou hast seen and heard. And be sure that I will be most grateful for whatever thou shalt do for me in this, my business, and I will raise thee up and make thee famous as thy reward. Thou hast heard, my son, my desire. Go in peace, and forget not that I will pay thee well for all the trouble and pains thou shalt take in it; and so thou shalt work for it with all thy might.”
Prostrate on the ground, the Indian replied: “I will go immediately, my noble Lady, and my possessor, to do your bidding, your humble servant that I am. Wait here. Good-bye!” Having taken leave with a profound reverence, he took the road that leads to the city, descending the hill by the west side. As he had promised, Juan Diego went straight to the City of Mexico, about one league from the hill, and entered the palace of the Bishop, the illustrious Lord Don Fray Juan Zumarraga, the first Bishop of Mexico. He requested the servants to call the Bishop, telling them that he wished to see him and speak to him. They did not obey the request, either because it was too early in the morning, or because they saw the visitor so poor, simple and humble. So he had to wait for a long time. Touched and moved by his tolerance and patience, they admitted him. Once in the presence of the Bishop, he knelt down and delivered his message. “The Mother of God,” said he. “whom I saw and spoke to thin morning, sends me,” and he then related all he had seen and heard.
The Prelate listened with some admiration to what the Indian said, but he did not give much credit to his message, considering it an imagination or a dream, or an illusion from the devil to a new convert from paganism. And although he put many questions to him and found him true, sensible and consistent in his answers, he dismissed him, saying that he might come to him again some days after; that he wanted to examine and inquire thoroughly into the matter (and, of course, after the character of the messenger) and take his time for deliberation. The poor Indian left the residence of the Bishop sad and disheartened, as much to feel that he had not been believed as to see–that he could not accomplish the wishes of the Lady of whom, he was the messenger.
Juan Diego, about sunset of the same day, went back to the town where he lived, which in all probability and tradition was the town of Tolpetlac, that is, in the back and northwest, about one league distant from the hill. Tolpetlac in Aztec means “place of mats of reedmace,” because, very probably, it was the only occupation of the old Indians of that town to weave mats of that plant. As soon as the Indian arrived at the summit of the hill where he had seen the lady in the morning, he saw her there again, waiting for the answer to her message. He immediately fell on his knees, and said to her: “My beloved nina, my Queen and exalted Lady, I have done all that thou hast commanded; and although I could not see the Bishop until after long waiting, I saw him and gave him the message in the very same words that thou desired me. He listened to me very calmly and attentively, but, from what I could see in him and from the many questions he put to me, I concluded that he did not believe me. For he told me to come back some other time, so that he could examine the matter more minutely and think of it deliberately. He presumed that the Temple that thou asked to have built for thee was only a fiction or whim of mine, and not thy will. Therefore, I beseech thee to send, instead of me, some other person–one noble, great and worthy of respect and belief; because, as thou seest, my possessor, I am only a low and humble man, a poor Indian, unable and unfit to carry out thy purpose. Forgive, oh my Queen, my boldness, if I have in anything exceeded the honor and respect due to thy Highness, lest, perhaps, I have provoked thy indignation or have been disagreeable with my answer.” This colloquy and the others are literally translated from the history written by the natives.
The Blessed Virgin listened to the Indian’s answer with a benign face, and as soon as he had finished she said: “Hear, my beloved son. Know thou that I am not in want of servants to command or messengers to send, because I have many that would execute my orders with great joy; but thou must be the one that shall perform and solicit this business: and it is through thy means that this, my wish and desire, must be accomplished. So, I beseech and command thee, my son, to go again tomorrow morning, and see and speak to the Bishop, and tell him to build for me that Temple which I ask; and that she who sends you is the Virgin Mary, Mother of the True God.”
Juan Diego replied: “Be not offended at what I have said, my Lady and my Queen, for I will go most willingly and obey thy command with all my heart, and I will carry thy message. I do not excuse myself, nor do I consider the way any trouble; but, perhaps, I will not be well received or listened to. Or, if the Bishop listens to me he may not believe me. However, I shall do what thou orderest me, and tomorrow afternoon, at sunset, I shall wait for thee here, and bring the answer I may receive from him. And so be tranquil, my dear and exalted Lady. God keep you!”
The Indian took leave with profound humility and started for his home. It is not known whether he revealed what happened, to his wife or any other person, for the Indian history says nothing about it. Perhaps, confused and ashamed of his yet unfavorable success, he did not dare to speak of it until he saw the end of the affair.
The next day, Sunday, the 10th of December, Juan came as usual to the Temple of S. James of Tlatelolco to hear Mass and learn his Catechism. After the account that the Padres used to take every day, in every parish, of the natives present at their instructions, he went to the Bishop; and although the servants, treating him as an impertinent person, delayed a long time before announcing him to the prelate, he entered and humbled himself in his presence. With tears and sobs he said: “Be not annoyed or angry with me, my Lord. I have seen that Lady once more, waiting for an answer to her first demand, and she bade me again come to thy presence and tell thee again to build her a temple on that same place, where I first saw and spoke to her; and that I should assure thee that she is the Mother of Jesus Christ, and the ever Virgin Mary, that sends me.”
The Bishop heard him with more attention than before, and, to be more certain, asked him several questions and cross-questions, impressing upon him to remember well what he said about the appearance, dress, words, and other signs of the Lady who sent him. Although he began to think that it could hardly be a fiction or dream of the Indian, still, lest it should be considered levity to believe the simple relation of a candid and low Indian convert, he said to him: “What thou sayest is not sufficient to put it into execution, so tell the lady that sent thee to give thee some token by which I may know that it is the Mother of God who sends thee and wishes me to build her Temple.” The Indian answered promptly: “What token dost thou want?” The Prelate, seeing the prompt, direct and self-confident answer of the Indian, inviting him to choose himself whatever token he wished, began to take action in the matter. He called two members of his own household, and, speaking to them in Castllian, which the Indian did not understand, he told them to mark the man, and hold themselves in readiness to go and follow him, keeping at a distance, but never losing sight of him, nor letting him suspect that he was followed. They were ordered to watch him carefully as far as the place told by himself, where he said that he had seen the Blessed Virgin Mary, and to notice if he spoke to anybody and with whom. And they were to come back and report their observations. He then dismissed the Indian, and the servants, obeying orders, followed him, without his knowledge.
So soon as Juan Diego arrived near a bridge of the creek that runs by the foot of the hill, he disappeared from the sight of his followers. Although they searched for him carefully all around and over the hill they could not find him. Declaring him an impostor, a liar and a sorcerer they came back full of anger, and informed the Bishop of everything, and requested him not to believe the Indian, but to punish him severely if he should come back with his imposture.
As soon as Juan Diego reached the top of Tepeyacac, he again found the Lady waiting for his answer. The Indian humbled himself as before, in her presence and said: “I have fulfilled thy command. I saw the Bishop again and delivered thy message, and after several questions and cross-questions that he put to me, he said that my simple narration was not sufficient to take a determination on so grave a subject, and that I should require of thee a sign (token) by which he might know that it is thou who sendest me, and that it is thy will that he build thee a Temple here.
The Lady, with kind words, expressed her gratitude to him for the interest and pains he was taking, and made him come the next day to the same place and that she would then give him a sign that the Bishop would believe. He promised to come back, and went home.
The next day, Monday, December 11th, passed away, and Juan Diego could not come back, because, when he reached home, he found an uncle of his, named Juan Bernardino, whom he loved very tenderly and held him as his own father, grievously ill of a malignant fever, called by the natives Cocoliztli, so on that account he went for the medicine man to apply some remedy. He came back with the Indian doctor, who gave his uncle some medicine; but the patient became worse and worse. Night came on, and Juan Bernardino, feeling very much fatigued and weak, called his nephew and asked him to start early in the morning, before daybreak, and go to the Convent of S. James of Tlatelolco, and tell one of the Padres to come and administer to him the Holy Sacraments of the Church, for he felt he was going to die.
On the day and hour before mentioned, namely, the early morning of the 12th, Juan Diego went for the priest, and, as the day broke in, he was about to pass the hill by the usual road on the east side, when he remembered that he had not come the day before, according to his promise, and therefore disobeyed the Lady, who must have waited a long time for him to give him the “token.” He thought that if he went to the place where he used to meet her, she would scold him and delay his urgent message. Therefore he imagined, in his simplicity, that, taking another road by the other side, she would not see nor detain him; and when his uncle would be attended to he would come back, beg the Lady’s pardon, receive humbly her reprimand, and take the “token” to the Lord Bishop. So he did; and as he was passing by a flowing spring of water which flows at the foot of the hill and was turning to the right road, behold! there was the Blessed Virgin again before him.
The Indian saw her descending towards him surrounded with a white cloud, and with the halo and brightness of the first time that she appeared. She said to him: “Whither art thou going, my son, and what road didst thou take today?” The Indian fell on his knees, and, all confused, ashamed and trembling, answered: “My love and my Lady, good morning! How art thou today? Art thou well? Be not displeased at what I say. Know thou, then, my Queen, that thy servant, my uncle, is very sick with a grievous and mortal disease; he is very weak and fatigued, and in great danger, and I am going in great haste to the Temple of Tlatelolco for a priest to prepare him for death; for, as thou well knowest, we are all subject to die. As soon as I have done that, I shall come back to execute thy orders. Forgive me, I beseech thee, my Queen, and have some patience, for I do not refuse to execute thy command to thy humble servant, nor do I feign an excuse. Tomorrow I shall be here, without fail.”
The Blessed Virgin listened to his apology with a very amiable countenance and replied to him thus: “Hear, my son, what I tell thee now; be not annoyed nor afflicted at anything; fear not any disease, accident or pain. Am I not here who am thy mother? Art not thou under my shadow and protection? Am I not life and health? Art not thou in my keeping? Am I not responsible for thee? Dost thou want anything else? Be in no trouble or care about the sickness of thy uncle; he shall not die of this disease; but, be assured, he is now already recovered.” And so he was, as was found out afterwards.
When Juan Diego heard these words, satisfied and consoled, he replied: “Then, my beloved Queen, send me to the Lord Bishop at once and give me the token that thou hast promised me, so that he may believe.” The Blessed Virgin replied to him: “Go up, my darling beloved son, to the top of the hill where thou sawest and spoke to me first, and pick up the roses that thou shalt find there. Collect them in thy cloak, bring them down to me, and I will tell thee what thou shalt do and say.” The Indian obeyed without making any remark, although he knew for certain that no flowers or any plant ever grew or would grow on that group of rough rocks. He reached the top and found there a beautiful garden of Castilian Roses, fresh and fragrant and with the morning dew; and gathering them in his tilma or cloak, as the natives used to do, brought them to the Blessed Virgin. She was waiting for him at the foot of a tree that the natives call Quanzabault (which in Indian means “Tree of the Cobwebs”). It is a wild tree, bears no fruit and only produces some white flowers at its proper season. Here the Indian prostrated himself in the presence of the Blessed Virgin, and showed her the roses. She, taking them all in her hand, as if to form a bouquet of them, put them into the cloak which the Indian was keeping open before her, and said to him: “This is the token that thou shalt give to the Bishop and tell him that by this he shall do what I order. And mind, my son, what I tell thee. I place confidence in thee. Show not to anybody in the way what thou bringest, nor do thou open thy cloak till thou art in the presence of the Bishop. Tell him all thou hast seen and heard now, and he will take courage and build my Temple.” Having said this, she took leave of him. Glad and happy for the success he now expected from his message, the Indian started for the city, carrying his roses with great care, looking at them now and then on his way and enjoying their beautiful fragrance.
APPARITION OF THE IMAGE.
Juan Diego came with his last message to the episcopal residence, and, though he begged of several of the servants to let him see the Bishop, he could not obtain his request for a long time. The servants, already angry with his importunities, noticed that he carried something in his cloak. They wondered and wanted to find what it was, and although he resisted all he could, they succeeded in opening it somewhat, and saw. that he carried roses. Seeing them so beautiful they tried to seize them, but they caught nothing. They seemed to be only painted or interwoven in the cloak. They told the Bishop about it and the Indian was admitted to his presence. He gave his message faithfully, and added: “There is the token thou wantedst, and which the lady sends to thee”; and letting the lower edge of his cloak loose, down fell the roses, rolling off on the floor, and, behold! the image of the Blessed Virgin was painted on the cloak.
Much surprised and astonished, the Lord Bishop contemplated the prodigy. Roses, fresh, fragrant and wet with dew, as if just cut from the bush, in the midst of winter, and, as stated, from a barren rock, and that wonderful Image on the crude and rough cloth, woven from the rough palm-tree fiber. He called all his household, paid the Image the greatest respect and veneration, untied the two upper corners from behind the Indian’s neck, and, placing it in his private chapel for the time being, fell on his knees and gave thanks to God and his glorious Mother.
The Lord Bishop kept the Indian in his residence with honor and deference, and the next day went with him to see the place which the Blessed Virgin had selected for her Temple. Being there, the Indian showed the localities where he had seen and spoken to her, and then begged permission to go home and see his uncle, Juan Bernardino.
When Juan Bernardino saw his nephew coming, accompanied by Spaniards, and the honors they paid to him, he asked the cause of that novelty. Juan Diego told him the progress of his message to the Lord Bishop; how the Blessed Virgin had assured him of his recovery; and, having related the hour about when she had said that he was well, Juan Bernardino assured him that just at that same hour a lady of the same description had appeared to him also; that she had cured him, and said that it was her pleasure that a Temple should be built in the place that his nephew had seen, and, also, that her Image should be called S. Mary of Guadalupe. She had given him no reason why it should be so. The servants of the Lord Bishop heard the two Indians and brought them to his presence immediately. He examined Juan Bernardino very closely about his sickness, how he was cured, how the Lady looked, how she was dressed, and, having verified the truth, took them both into his palace.
The fame of the miracle had already spread all over the neighborhood, and the people came in great crowds from all parts of the city to see and venerate the holy Image. Seeing this, the Lord Bishop took the holy picture and placed it over the main altar of his pro-cathedral, where everybody could honor it, whilst they were building a large church on the spot named by Juan Diego, and where it was afterward brought in procession, and a solemn feast established, and where it is venerated up to the present day.
This is the plain tradition without any ornamentation of words; and it is so true, that any circumstance more or less in addition would be either false or apocryphal; for this is the precise, brief and faithful form in which the most intelligent Indians and the historians of that time write and tell it.