What the Tilma “Said”

12 Dec

Today is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. We are all familiar with the events that occurred on this date in 1531 just outside of Mexico City. Our Lady not only appeared to St. Juan Diego and gave him roses that ordinarily don’t bloom that time of year, but also there appeared on St. Juan’s cloak, or “tilma,” the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  

The news of the miracle spread like wildfire. Within two weeks, the tilma was moved to the first of a succession of chapels, churches, and eventually basilicas constructed at the apparition site.

There were three points of great significance to the Indian people:

(1) The lady was Indian, spoke Nahuatl, and appeared to an Indian (Juan Diego), not a Spaniard. The oppressed Indian peoples could relate to her.

(2) The lady appeared, of all places, at Tepeyac, the reputed home of Tonantzin, the mother God. The Indians understood this as meaning that this lady—the Virgin Mary—was the mother of the one, true God. The Native Americans clearly saw that Christianity was to replace the Aztec religion. Even the golden filigree over Our Lady’s rose-colored gown matches the topography of the Mexican lands once ruled by the Aztecs.

(3) The Indians were especially drawn to the image on the tilma itself, which represented God’s sacrificial love for mankind. This image was a welcome change for those who worshipped deities that required human sacrifice.

At the time, there were 22 Indian languages and dozens of dialects spoken in the area. Yet all were able to “read” and understand the message on the tilma. Not surprisingly, then, Mexico saw a tidal wave of conversions, as eight million natives entered the Church over the next seven years. One missionary recorded that he and another priest baptized 14,200 people in just five days!

The tilma with its miraculous image has been on public display since 1531. The extraordinary detail and coloring of the image have not faded despite the passing of nearly 500 years. The tilma itself was hand-woven from the fibers of the Maguey cactus, a fabric whose normal lifespan is usually about 30 years.

Many scientists have conducted tests on the image that appears on this rough, burlap-like material. These tests have only served to confirm its supernatural character, as no one can explain in human terms how the image got there.

The image itself tells the story of the “woman clothed with the sun” in Revelation 12. The rays surrounding the Blessed Virgin Mary would have brought to mind the Aztec god Huitzilopochtli, whose symbol was the sun’s rays. The image “says” that the Christian God was greater than other gods, and that Our Lady was greater than the powers of darkness.

In recent decades, scientists discovered another amazing quality of the tilma: The stars on the Virgin Mary’s mantle are in exactly the same configuration as they were over Mexico City before sunrise on December 12, 1531. The Winter Solstice occurred that very morning at 10:40 a.m., about the time that Juan Diego was opening his tilma for Bishop Zumarraga.

The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe has been a source of spiritual inspiration and renewal for countless men and women today. May she continue to hear the cries and supplications of her children until the end of time.

O God, Father of mercies, who placed your people under the singular protection of your Son’s most holy Mother, grant that all who invoke the Blessed Virgin of Guadalupe, may seek with ever more lively faith the progress of peoples in the ways of justice and of peace. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The foregoing is derived from a pamphlet on Our Lady of Guadalupe that I wrote for Lighthouse Catholic Media. For more on Our Lady of Guadalupe, including the Aztec culture of that period, I recommend Warren Carroll, Our Lady of Guadalupe: And the Conquest of Darkness.

One Response to “What the Tilma “Said””

  1. Nicole December 19, 2011 at 2:11 am #

    This is actually the most meaningful miracle to me of all. What really caught my heart was the evidence that was “hidden” in the eyes of the Blessed Virgin, hidden to observers in previous centuries, but now laid bare for us with the advent of new technology. This miracle was the “hinge” of my attempt at re-admission to Catholicism. I am so glad that we have this Mater Misericordiae who embodies the name “guadalupe” (Coatlaxopeuh – roughly alluding the fact that Satan lies in wait for her heel to crush his head; Gen. 3:15, Ineffabilis Deus)! I am so glad that His Divine Majesty gave us his Blessed Mother for our Mother and Queen! 🙂

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