The feast in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe goes back to the sixteenth century. Chronicles of that period tell us the story. A poor Indian named Cuauhtlatohuac was baptized and given the name Juan Diego. He was a 57-year-old widower and lived in a small village near Mexico City. On Saturday morning, December 9, 1531, he was on his way to a nearby barrio to attend Mass in honor of Our Lady.
He was walking by a hill called Tepeyac when he heard beautiful music like the warbling of birds. A radiant cloud appeared and within it a young Native American maiden dressed like an Aztec princess. The lady spoke to him in his own language and sent him to the Bishop of Mexico, a Franciscan named Juan de Zumarraga. The Bishop was to build a chapel in the place where the lady appeared.
Eventually the bishop told Juan Diego to have the lady give him a sign. About this same time Juan Diego’s uncle became seriously ill. This led poor Diego to try to avoid the lady. The lady found Diego, nevertheless, assured him that his uncle would recover and provided roses for Juan to carry to the bishop in his cape or tilma.
When Juan Diego opened his tilma in the bishop’s presence, the roses fell to the ground and the bishop sank to his knees. On Juan Diego’s tilma appeared an image of Mary exactly as she had appeared at the hill of Tepeyac. It was December 12, 1531.
The coarsely woven material of the tilma which bears the picture is as thin and open as poor sacking. It is made of vegetable fiber, probably maguey. It consists of two strips, about seventy inches long by eighteen wide, held together by weak stitching. The seam is visible up the middle of the figure, turning aside from the face. Painters have not understood the laying on of the colors. They have deposed that the “canvas” was not only unfit but unprepared, and they have marveled at apparent oil, water, tempera, etc. colouring in the same figure. They are left in equal admiration by the flower-like tints and the abundant gold. They and other artists find the proportions perfect for a maiden of fifteen. The figure and the attitude are of one advancing. There is flight and rest in the eager supporting angel. The chief colours are deep gold in the rays and stars, blue-green in the mantle, and rose in the flowered tunic.
Our Lady of Guadalupe is the patron of Mexico and the Americas in whole.