The Lady from Heaven
On December 9, 1531, a "Lady from Heaven" appeared to a Native American man named Juan Diego. This encounter took place on a hill northwest of what is now Mexico City.
This Lady identified herself to Juan Diego as being Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Mary asked that a shrine be built on the site. Juan Diego dutifully went to see the local bishop and told him of Mary's request.
The bishop responded by saying that he could not go ahead and build a shrine based only on Juan Diego's request. He told Juan Diego that he needed some kind of a sign before he could authorize the construction of such a building.
Juan Diego returned to the hill, where Mary appeared to him again. Juan Diego told Mary about the bishop's request for a sign. Mary responded by telling Juan Diego to go to the top of the hill and to gather roses to take to the bishop.
Roses in December
Roses are not in season in December but Juan Diego found a number of beautiful roses in full bloom at the top of the hill. He gathered them up and placed them in his tilma (an outer garment worn by men). He returned to the bishop with the roses. As he opened up his tilma and the roses fell to the floor, both men saw that an image of Mary had appeared on the tilma.
The chapel that Mary had told Juan Diego to build was constructed in 1535.
It is estimated that 10 million people visit Mary's shrine near Mexico City each year. Next to the Vatican, it is the most-visited Catholic Church in the world.
The Image of Mary
The image of Mary on the tilma shows her being held up by St. Michael the Archangel. A number of people feel that the image of Mary as depicted on the cloth shows her as she was in life.
A number of cures, interventions, and miracles have been attributed to Mary. The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is celebrated on December 12.
The tilma depicting the image of Mary is very special. Made from a poor-quality of cactus-cloth, it should have deteriorated in approximately 20 years. Instead, it has retained its structural integrity for nearly 500 years. The tilma is also quite interesting due to the fact that photographers and ophthalmologists have claimed to have found images reflected in Mary's eyes. This is a characteristic of human eyes.
When the image's eyes were magnified by 2500x by ophthalmologist Dr. Jose Aston Tonsmann, he saw not only the single figure seen by photographers and others, but images of all who were present when the roses and the tilma were presented to the bishop back in 1531. In addition, he noticed a small family composed of a father, mother, and children in the center of Mary's eyes.
Skeptics have pointed out that these images seen in Mary's eyes could be explained by the human mind's tendency to take random patterns and form familiar shapes from them. This tendency is demonstrated when a person is given an ink blot test by a psychologist.
The man who was awarded the 1938 Nobel Chemistry Prize, Richard Kuhn, is alleged to have examined a sample of the fabric in 1936. His conclusion: the tint on the fabric was not from a known animal, mineral, or vegetable source.
An examination of the icon under infrared light in 1979 found that the image had been made without a sketch or corrections; it had no paintbrush strokes, either.
Whether you are a believer or a skeptic, the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe is a fascinating one.