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🇬🇧 The story of Our Lady of Guadalupe by Cristina Flores.

December 12th is the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe. We take a look at the story behind the indigenous peasant who came across the Patron of the Americas, and how he fought for her message to be heard.

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Our Lady of Guadalupe first introduced herself as the Mother of God and the mother of all humanity when she appeared on the hill of Tepeyac in Mexico in 1531. An indigenous peasant, Juan Diego, saw a glowing figure on the hill. After she had identified herself to him, Our Lady asked that Juan build her a shrine in that same spot, in order for her to show and share her love and compassion with all those who believe.

Afterward, Juan Diego visited Juan de Zumárraga, who was Archbishop of what is now Mexico City. Zumárraga dismissed him in disbelief and asked that the future Saint provide proof of his story and proof of the Lady’s identity.

Juan Diego returned to the hill and encountered Our Lady again. The Virgin told him to climb to the top of the hill and pick some flowers to present to the Archbishop.

Although it was winter and nothing should have been in bloom, Juan Diego found an abundance of flowers of a type he had never seen before. The Virgin bundled the flowers into Juan's cloak, known as a tilma. When Juan Diego presented the tilma of exotic flowers to Zumárraga, the flowers fell out and he recognized them as Castilian roses, which are not found in Mexico.

What was even more significant, however, was that the tilma had been miraculously imprinted with a colorful image of the Virgin herself.

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This actual tilma, preserved since that date and showing the familiar image of the Virgin Mary with her head bowed and hands together in prayer, represents the Virgin of Guadalupe. It remains perhaps the most sacred object in all of Mexico.

The story is best known from a manuscript written in the Aztec’s native language Nahuatl by the scholar Antonio Valeriano. It was written sometime after 1556.

Veneration of Our Lady of Guadalupe has been particularly strong among women, especially in Mexico, and since at least the early 18th century the devotion was spread throughout the world by the Jesuits and other religions.

Our Lady of Guadalupe’s role in Mexican history is not limited to religious matters; she has played an important role in Mexican nationalism and identity. In 1810 Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla promoted her as the patroness of the revolt he led against the Spanish. The image of the Virgin of Guadalupe appeared on the rebels’ banners, and the rebels’ battle cry was “Long Live Our Lady of Guadalupe.”

Image credit to the owner.


Emiliano Zapata’s peasant rebels carried the banner of Our Lady when they entered Mexico City in 1914, and, during the civil war in Mexico in 1926–29, the banners of the rebels bore her image. Her continuing significance as a religious and national symbol is attested by the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who visit her shrine every year.

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Though her apparition is credited as sparking a wave of conversions and helping the Spanish colonizers in their religious conquest of Mexico, some Aztec traditions may have survived under the guise of the virgin.

“Indigenous peoples seemed to fervently practice Catholic religiosity, but they practiced a double religion, keeping their gods and festivities hidden behind new holidays and images,” says anthropologist Renée de la Torre, a professor at Mexico’s Center for Research and Higher Studies in Social Anthropology.

For instance, the hill where the apparition is said to have appeared had previously been a place for worship of the Aztec goddess known as Tonantzin, and the virgin is still commonly called by that name, meaning Mother Earth in the indigenous language of Nahuatl. Below that site, in the basilica’s courtyard, groups of dancers from across the country perform before and during the feast. Their music, costumes, and moves imitate Aztec styles—all in the worship of a Catholic patroness.

Tonatzin. Image via


In the days before the December trek, pilgrims from across the country—and the world—arrive in Mexico City. They come in buses draped with religious iconography, pickup trucks hoisting three-dimensional models of the apparition story, and motorcycle taxis covered in lights and balloons. Bicyclists ride in packs followed by support vehicles. A small group of cowboys clomps through the streets on horseback. For 24 hours, traffic is gridlocked and the medians are filled with tents. Inside the basilica, pilgrims hustle onto a moving walkway to catch a glimpse of the virgin’s image.

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Over 20 million people visit the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe each year.

This year because of covid 19 the Basilica is been close to the pilgrims, but still, a lot of them have arrived.

For centuries, the virgin has been considered a protector of the disenfranchised.

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Text by Cristina Flores.


National Geographic

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