The story of Our Lady of Guadalupe is amazing to me for two reasons. First is the person of Juan Diego. Second, is the image imprinted on the tilma.
Juan Diego was an Indian who recently had converted to Catholicism. Let’s be honest, these weren’t willing conversions.
Juan Diego received a message of divine revelation in his own context. In Aztec culture you could be assured that the divine was speaking to you if flowers and songs were present. You’ll notice that at the beginning of the story Juan Diego notices the bird singing before Mary appears. The story ends with the flowers he wrapped in his tilma. The songs of the birds and flowers are confirmation that the divine was present.
The appearance of Mary was given to someone outside the power structure of the Catholic Church. God speaks to an Indian, not the Bishop, and tells him to bring a message to the people in power. The Bishop, the one who is perceived to have the authority of God, is now placed in the position of having to listen to God through the ones that he had subjugated. Just when we begin to believe that God only works through the church and the people God has given to those who are in charge, Mary appears to a poor Indian. It’s like the hot lava of divine revelation had to break through the magma that had solidified at the top of the volcano of institutional powers. So, Juan Diego delivers the message to the powers that be that a church must be built at Tepeyac. (Interesting side note: The hill were the appearance took place was previously a temple to the Aztec Mother Goddess Tonantzin)
The image that was imprinted on the tilma is amazing because of the symbolic meanings that it would have given the indigenous of Mexico. The first is that the girl does not look like a Spaniard, but indigenous. She has dark skin signifying she is like them. As for the image itself, Virgilio Elizondo writes:
“The lady hides the sun but does not extinguish it. This is most important, for the missionaries were trying to destroy everything of the native religions as diabolical. She is greater than the natives’ greatest manifestation of the deity, the sun, but she does not destroy it. She will transcend, but not do away with. This is the assurance that their ancient way of life will continue, but now reinterpreted through something new and greater. she is standing upon the moon and therefore superior to their second greatest manifestation of the deity.
She wears the turquoise mantle. Turquoise was the color reserved for the supreme deity, who alone could bring harmonious unity out of the opposing forces that governed the universe. Her dress was the pale red of the blood sacrifices. She had assumed the blood sacrifices of her people and was now offering herself to her people. She appears with hands folded over her heart and pointed in the direction of the people.-the native sign of the offering of self to others.
She who was greater than all their divinities was herself not a goddess, for she wore no mask and her eyes were beautiful. In her eyes, the image of a person is easily discerned. In her eyes, every generation of Mexicans has seen themselves personally accepted, respected, loved, and valued. There is nothing more life giving than to see ourselves reflected, accepted, and valued in the eyes of an important other. In the very gaze of the eyes there is rebirth.
This beautiful lady who is truly from above and yet very much on of their own is pregnant, for she wears the waist band of maternity. Furthermore, over her womb, one finds the ancient Aztec glyph for the center of the universe. Thus, she, according to ancient Nahuatl cosmology, has assumed the five previous ages-called suns-and is now the sign of the sixth age. What she offers to the world she carries within her womb; the new center of the universe about to be born in the Americas. Through the lady millions would approach the church for Christian instruction and baptism.”
The Future is Mestizo, pg. 63-64
After taking this class at the Jesuit Seminary, I understood what she means. She is a sign of liberation for a people who had been oppressed. She is a sign that God doesn’t always work through the power structures. Previous forms religion and culture do not need to be demonized or done away with because of oppressive colonial conversions and rule. Our Lady of Guadalupe carries in her new life for the world, Jesus, who would save us all from even from the ways we abuse Christianity.