“Christendom at large adores and venerates the miraculous likeness of Our Lady of Guadalupe of Mexico, painted by the hand of God. By the powerful magnetism of its glory and beauty may her exemplary pilgrims, far scattered, engage the love and reverence of all peoples! I offer you, as the explanation of this power of attraction, prized above all else, its marvelous origin, which even now is unknown to many foreigners: you shall read about unheard-of but true and at the same time glorious things established by the unbroken tradition of two centuries and verified by the testimony of all North America; in the words of Psalm 147, verse 20: ‘Non fecit taliter omni nationi.’” [He hath not done so with any nation.]
This expressive introduction to the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe was written by Señor Don Pedro Alonso O’Crouley in his Description of the Kingdom of New Spain published in 1774. With details unchanged to this day, he continued to relate the history of the miracle:
In the year 1531, when the Mexican empire had been subject to Christian teaching for ten years, on Saturday, December 9, a devout Indian of the common people, a convert by the name of Juan Diego, wishing to hear the Christian doctrine explained, was coming from the town near which he lived to Mexico City to attend devotional exercises at the convent of the Franciscans. Suddenly, from the hill of Tepeyacac, a league from Mexico City and where the road runs at its base, a heavenly music drew all his attention to the top of the hill. There he saw encircled by a rainbow the Queen of Heaven, by whom he was summoned and most graciously received. She bade him go to the Bishop, the venerable Juan Zumárraga, a Franciscan, and tell him in her name that she would have him build on this very place a church that would be the sanctuary of the entire New World.
The Bishop, mistrustful of some deceit, listened to the messenger, put a number of questions to him, and, as one does who wishes to think over a matter with some deliberation, quickly dismissed him. Juan returned to the Virgin, who was waiting for him at the same high place on the hill. He told her of the Bishop’s response, attributing it to his own lowly condition, and he asked the Virgin to choose a person more worthy of credence. The Virgin comforted him and told him to go back the next day and repeat to the Bishop the urgent request.
He was in low spirits at having to repeat the petition; but this time the Bishop spoke to him with more kindness than on the day before and promised that he would obey with the utmost pleasure if the messenger would bring him more precise indications of Our Lady’s wishes. So Juan departed, charged to ask for them, and the Bishop sent two of his attendants who from a distance were to keep a sharp eye on Juan’s movements and find out who it was that he spoke with on the hill; but he had hardly come to the slope of the hill when he disappeared from their sight. After a diligent but fruitless search they returned to the Bishop accusing the Indian convert of sorcery.
The Most Holy Virgin heard from Juan’s own mouth of the response and request of the Bishop and promised him a sign for the following day, Monday. On that day Juan was unable to go back to the Virgin, for he had found in his house Juan Bernardino, his uncle, at the point of death. He would not have returned on Tuesday either if he had not been compelled to go call a priest to give his uncle the Holy Sacraments. In order to escape being detained by Our Lady, instead of going to the city the usual way he took another road; but in vain, for he met the Virgin, most clement, on the journey. She consoled him and assured him that his uncle was well again, for at the very moment of her appearance health had been granted him. She then bade Juan go up to the hill and cut the flowers he should find there to take to the Bishop as a sign. Once they were gathered, she herself put them with her virgin hands in his cloak of maguey fibre, of the kind worn by the poor Indians, and bade him carry them to the Bishop without showing them to anyone on the road. The Bishop’s pages tried by force to examine the cloak, but were not able to lay hold of any of the flowers which they then decided were woven into the material.
Later, in the presence of the Bishop, Juan Diego threw open the cloak and real, very beautiful, fresh flowers were seen to fall out, leaving bare the surface of the woven fabric. There appeared in it, not just upon it, and against all the rules of painting, the likeness, which we venerate, of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Virgin Most Holy, upheld by a small winged cherub. She was crowned with a queenly diadem, and her robe, which fell to below the instep, was patterned at intervals with white and bright red. Besides this, she was depicted with a little cross at her throat and her hands joined above her breast. There was portrayed in her beautiful face that of an Indian girl with the eyes pleasingly lowered and so far resembling the Apocalyptic vision that the sun, with a hundred and twelve rays, was all round the edge of the portrait, and the moon appeared beneath her feet but in place of the twelve stars with which that vision was crowned, forty-six were scattered on the blue mantle in this one.
The Bishop had a shrine built per the instructions of the Virgin, who revealed herself legendarily as Our Lady of Guadalupe, and the subsequent enlarged edifices built at the same place still house the otherworldly image. History has continued since this passage was published over 200 years ago and not only has there been now an unbroken tradition for nearly five centuries of the veneration, but the humble Juan Diego has been elevated to a Saint in recognition of miracles attributed to prayers for his intervention.
El Santuario de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe is the most visited Christian pilgrimage site in the world today. From what I understand, many pilgrims travel there by foot from various dioceses in southern Mexico, especially on the December 12th anniversary, though there don’t seem to be any well-worn trails, caminos, per se as there are across Spain to Santiago de Compostela. Maybe I’ll be surprised. I’ve been asking around and so far it doesn’t seem like anyone’s heard of a foot-pilgrim from as far as Chihuahua City, much less the interior of US… I’d like to think that early on, most of the pilgrims would have been Native Americans, who wouldn’t likely have kept diaries or sent letters home or in other ways provided written documentation, so I hold out that I am not the first pilgrim to venture out on a 2,000-plus-mile journey to this famous pilgrim destination.