For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. - 1 Timothy 6:7-10
Every December 12th, Catholic faithful in Mexico and the Americas celebrate one of the most important events in their religious calendar: The Feast of Coatlaxopeuh
Rome may tell the world the RCC venerates Mary with hyperdulia, reserving latria for God alone, but I doubt that would hold true in Mexico. The Virgin of Guadalupe, Mexico's patron saint, truly is adored by Mexican Catholics. Her image is everywhere -- homes, churches, offices, stores, men's wallets and women's purses. She appears on truck bumpers and automobile windshields. Businesses and streets bear her name, as do hundreds of thousands of Mexicans. She is everywhere to be seen and always near to the hearts of Mexican faithful. Surely, the Virgin of Guadalupe is Rome's most successful adaptation to local religion and culture. But who is she? To discover the underlying significance of the Virgin of Guadalupe, it is necessary to first examine the milieu from which she sprang.
In the Tlaxcala district of Mexico City, there is an old basilica and a new shrine, both dedicated to the Virgin de Guadalupe who, according to tradition, appeared four times in that area to an Indian named Juan Diego. For Mexican Catholics and the Catholic faithful in many of the Spanish-speaking nations of the Americas, this is the holiest ground in the hemisphere. But it was not always so.
The true holy ground is a small hill behind the basilicas. The Aztecs called the hill Tepeyec, and so it is known today. Tepeyec was holy ground, consecrated to Tonantzin, the earth and fertility goddess, whom they called Our Lady Mother.. Atop Tepeyec, the Aztecs had built a temple to Tonantzin who, like Guadalupe, was associated with the moon. Aztec royalty visited this temple to receive divine revelation and worshippers made great pilgrimages here, just as Mexican Catholics now make annual pilgrimages to the Basilica which replaced the pagan temple.
When Cortez and his army reached Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital, Emperor Moctezuma II received them at Tonantzin's temple on the crest of Tepeyec. Charged up with greed and religious fervor, the Spaniards cast down the statue of the pagan goddess and replaced it with a small statue of Mary, Our Lady of the Remedy. This did not endear the invaders to the native population.
By the year 1531, the Spaniards had spent 12 years conquering and consolidating their hold on the lands and peoples of Mexico. History records that the Spaniards were far from benevolent masters and severely abused the native peoples, who now knew they were not gods. The Aztecs, chafing under the Spanish yoke of oppression, were not sympathetic to the Catholic religion the Spanish were forcing upon them. The natives grew restless and ready to revolt. The Spaniards searched for a way to convert great numbers to the Catholic religion and way of life.
The means to convert the Indians came in the form of four [wonderfully convenient] miraculous apparitions of Jesus' mother to an Indian catechumen named Juan Diego. In each apparition, she identified herself with such terms as the Virgin Mary, or the Mother of God, etc. Mary informed the stunned catechumen that she wanted a temple built on the site, so that she might exhibit and give her love, compassion, etc, to the peoples of the land. She confirmed her "divinity" by curing Juan Diego's uncle of an illness, by causing Castillian roses to bloom in the dead of winter and by causing her image to appear on the cloak worn by Juan Diego. This image is of a lone dark-skinned woman treading on a snake. She is wearing a maternity sash around her waist, indicating a state of pregnancy.
She told Juan Diego's uncle, as she was healing him, that she was to be known as the Virgin of Guadalupe. At least, that is what the Spaniards believed. It seems more likely she used the term *coatlaxopeuh*; coa meaning "serpent," tla standing for "the" and xopeuh meaning "to crush or stamp out." If that is the case, the apparition called herself "Mary, who crushes the serpent." Her name would be pronounced "quatlashupe," which is close to the name of the Spanish town of Guadalupe, where another miraculous event involving the Virgin reportedly occurred.
She surely did "crush the serpent." The Indians, whose religion had many gods and goddesses of all shapes and attributes, revered Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent. Following Juan Diego's encounter, they accepted the God of the Spaniards and flocked to the shrine built to house the holy image. The message of the apparitions and the symbolism of the miraculous portrait of Guadalupe had great significance to the Indian population. In the next seven years, eight million Indians were converted, at least nominally, to Catholicism. The Spaniards continued to colonize Mexico and to extend the teachings of the Church in America. Without the fortuitous appearance of Mary, they might have vanished from Mexico.
The Virgin of Guadalupe is important to Mexicans because she is their supernatural mother and because she represents their major political and religious aspirations. The Spanish Conquest represented not only their military defeat and the destruction of their culture, but also the defeat of the old gods and the decline of the old ritual. The apparition of Coatlaxopeuh to a common Indian may also be viewed as the return of Tonantzin. The old religion is still alive!
In 1531, things were not going well for the Spanish conquerors. The native peoples were rebellious, resentful and not at all receptive to the religious the Spaniards were attempting to force upon them at swordspoint. And why not? Not only had the Spaniards taken their land and riches, killing or enslaving tens of thousands in the process, but they also had suppressed the native religion.
It was fortuitous that the Earth Mother elected to make an appearance, either as Tonantzin or the Virgin Mary, to that Aztec convert. Had she not shown up, it seems likely the history of the Spanish presence in the Americas would be greatly different. It would be fair to say, I believe, that had she not put in an appearance, someone likely would have circulated a story that she had. Perhaps someone did.
We don't know a lot about Juan Diego. That's no problem. Rome's god-creating ecumenical pope, John Paul II, acted quickly to declare Juan Diego a member of the Catholic pantheon. Romish hagiographers must have had to work hard to create a biography that would support the man's sainthood.
The guy known to Catholics as Saint Juan Diego probably was born around 1474 in Cuautitlan, in the Valley of Mexico. Before the first 12 Franciscan missionaries arrived in Mexico in 1524, he was known as Cuauhtlatohuc. According to the myth, Cuauhtlatohuc became a simple but passionate convert to the Catholic faith. At his baptism, he was given the new name, Juan Diego.
Legend has it that Juan Diego and his wife Lucia were devoted Catholics. When Lucia died in 1529, he went to live with his uncle in Tulpetlac, near Cuautitlan. One hagiography informs us that Juan Diego "lived a simple life as a weaver, farmer, and laborer."  One must wonder where the man found time to do these things, since he appears to have spent most of his days travelling back and forth between his uncle's home and the place he either attended catechism classes or Mass.
One hagiographer claims Juan left his bed every morning before dawn and walked some 15 miles in order to attend "daily Mass in what is now Mexico City."  There is no way, of course, to know how fast Cuauhtlatohuc walked, or if he stopped along the way to eat, chat or do a little shopping. For the sake of argument, let us assume his walking pace averaged three miles an hour. Using that figure, the fellow would have spent about ten hours a day, every day, just travelling back and forth between his home and the church where he attended Mass.
Another account claims that Juan Diego was on his way to attend "early morning Mass."  I wonder what time a guy goes to bed when he is planning to get up in time to walk 15 miles to attend early Mass.
Using a search engine provided by an Internet travel service, I learned that, in mid-December, sunrise occurs at about 6:00 A.M. in Mexico City. Sunset comes at about 5:00 P.M. In other words, there are only some 11 hours of daylight at that time of year.  Since there was no commercial electricity to light either his home or his fields, one has to wonder when Juan Diego found time to devote to farming, weaving and laboring.
Perhaps this account is somewhat fanciful and the hagiographer may have gone a bit over the top in his attempts to depict humble Cuauhtlatohuc in an idealized manner. Naah. He wouldn't have done that/ Or would he?
Another version of the story has the future Catholic saint walking near Tepeyac in the morning of December 9th, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, when he "heard the beautiful singing of birds, seemingly from heaven."  As he looked for the source of the music, he heard the voice of a young woman calling to him. Wonder of wonders! It was the Virgin Mary who was trying to get his attention.
Father Pat, in a short blurb on the events of December 8-12, 1531, tells us that Juan was on his way to attend catechism class on December 8th when he heard the birds singing. I suppose the guy was a music lover for, according to Father Pat's rendering, as he was listening to the birdsong, "the Mother of God appeared."  My favorite rendering of the story, if for nothing else than the masterful use of language, disagrees with the other accounts in some details. I suppose each hagiographer listens to his own muse. Anyway, in this version, we are told that:
So. Was Cuauhtlatohuc on his way to Mass or to catechism classes? Did he attend early morning Mass every day, or just every Saturday and Sunday? Did he walk 15 miles each way? Or only six? And what's this about it being "quite cold in the mountains of Mexico at that time of year?"  Of course, it can get quite cold on the snow-covered peaks of Mexico's highest mountains. However, temperatures in the Valley of Mexico in early December tend to run to highs in the mid-60's and lows in the mid-to-upper 40's.
So, what transpired between Cuauhtlatohuc and the ghostly figure up there on top of Tepeyec? Apparently, either he or the apparition had thought to bring along either a tape recorder or a stenographer, for various hagiographers have been able to provide wonderfully detailed records of their conversations. One very detailed hagiography provides this transcription:
Picayune stuff, the reader might argue. And he would be correct. All this is peripheral to the alleged miraculous apparition of the Virgin Mary. Whether truth or fantasy, the details are not of any great concern. Or perhaps they are. Perhaps they demonstrate that at least some of the saintly history built up around the legend of the Virgin of Guadelupe originated more in the minds of inventive men than in any heavenly action. Perhaps they demonstrate that when facts are lacking, fantasies will suffice. Perhaps they simply are lies; well-intentioned perhaps, but lies nevertheless.
As is common even today in conversations between Marian apparitions and those select few she chats with, there were no witnesses present when Cuauhtlatohuc and the goddess talked. In the absence of credible witnesses, there must be physical evidence to validate encounters with fairies. The Catholic Church points to Cuauhtlatohuc's wonderful tilma as being indisputable evidence that everything went down just as the legend says.
What makes the tilma, or cape, so special, you might ask. In the most lyrical of the hagiographies that I have encountered, Brother Michael writes:
Apparently this hagiographer has never made the trip to Mexico City to view the wondrous tilma of Cuauhtlatohuc. If he had, he surely would have known that the cloak is permanently on display, high above the floor and behind glass, in the Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe – not in the Mexico City cathedral. Editorial license? Or yet another manifestation of the wonderful willingness of Catholic theologians, historians and hagiographers to rely on their own fantasies rather than research?
Folks wishing to visit the Basilica to pay homage to the Earth Mother, or simply to see what all the fuss is about, should know they will not have much time to gaze upon the tilma, on display above the altar in that church. In order to accommodate the great numbers of visitors to the shrine, a moving sidewalk has been installed below the altar. One steps onto the conveyor belt and is moved past the display. That this technological innovation reduces congestion around the image and facilitates viewing cannot be denied. I might add that it also makes it difficult for anyone to spend very much time in detailed examination of the image.
What did she look like? One hagiographer tells us that Juan saw a "glowing cloud encircled by a rainbow."  When he reached the top of the hill, Juan saw "a beautiful young woman dressed like an Aztec princess"  who explained that she was the Virgin Mary.
"Dressed like an Aztec princess?" Well, if that is the case, then Aztec princesses dressed in the styles of Renaissance Italy. In fact, Aztec princesses apparently looked a lot like Renaissance Italian ladies. Can this be so? Well, see for yourself. Do a little searching around the WWW or in your local library. You might check out Raphael's "The Madonna of Foligno," which was painted in 1511-12. The robes Raphael's madonna is wearing are almost duplicates of those the figure in the image on Cuauhtlatohuc's cloak, or "tilma," which is on display in the Shrine of the Guadalupana.  Granted, Coatlaxopeuh's robes have decorative embroidery and gold trim along the edges, but what the heck, she was the Earth Mother Goddess.
Either the image on the tilma was put there by some unknown European-born artist, or all the angels in Raphael's "The Crowning of the Virgin," painted in 1502-03, are dressed like Aztec princesses, as is the lady they are in the process of crowning.
Then, there's the "Sistine Madonna," which Raphael painted in 1513-14. She looks great dressed as an Aztec princess.
Michaelangelo's "Madonna of the Stairs," carved from marble in the early 1500's, also seems to be dressed as an Aztec princess.
So how did Aztec "princesses" really dress? Researchers at North Dakota State University write that:
There is a contemporary drawing of feminine couture available online.. Those who take the time to view the drawing, taken from the "Florentine Codex," will note few similarities between the way Nahua women dressed and the painting on Juan Diego's tilma.
The 16th century "lienzo de Tlaxcala," another contemmporary account of the events during the Spanish Conquest, provides an this image of how Cortez's concubine Marina dressed..
For another contemporary view of the way Marina (La Malinche) likely was dressed see her standing behind Cortez in this image While comparing the clothing of the image on that cloak with the Renaissance paintings mentioned above, look also at the rendering of the faces. The face on the cloak would be more at home on a canvas painted by Botticelli or Raphael than on an Aztec "princess."
So much for clothing styles as proof. Is there anything more substantial? The official Mexican Government website offers the following information in support of the claims surrounding the apparitions and that miraculous cloak:
Any inquiries conducted by the Catholic Church into the validity of this phenomenon would be about as reliable as a fox's report to the farmer concerning chicken coop security. So let's eliminate that "proof" immediately and turn to the image itself.
Catholic romanticists like to say the image is of a young, dark-skinned Indian woman. Young seems an appropriate descriptor, but the image hardly seems to be that of a dark-skinned Indian woman. In fact, if the honest reader looks closely at the images I mentioned when discussing her style of dress, or other Renaissance paintings of the Venetian school, he will surely see the remarkable resemblance of Coatlaxopeuh to those young Italian matrons. Coincidence? Perhaps.
The lovely olive color of Coatlaxopeuh's flesh tones hardly match the shades most often seen on the faces of descendents of the Aztec's whom Cortez and his gang brutalized. In fact, if one really looks carefully at the image of Earth Mother goddess, he might notice that the color of her skin compares closely to the coloring of the material upon which it is imprinted. Actually, if we are to accept skin tones as an indication of the valildity of the claims that the image on the tilma is the Virgin Mary, then we must surely acknowledge that the image in Leonardo's wonderful painting, The Mona Lisa, must have been a either an Aztec princess or perhaps Coatlaxopeuh, for her flesh tones are much darker. That is silliness, I admit, but no more silly than the claims put forth concerning the painting on that hemp-fiber cloak hanging in the shrine at Tepeyec.
I did say "painting," didn't I? Folks who travel to the shrine and ride the moving sidewalk past the encased cloak have to look up at the thing, which is hung high up on the wall. They can't get close enough, nor linger long enough to get a really good look. The priests who minister in the basilica have plenty of opportunities to view the tilma, or ayate. One of the Mexican priests who works at the shrine, Carlos Warnholz, was able to get a really close look at the cloak in 1980. In a syndicated article, we learn what he saw: "People say it's supernatural. But I've seen it and it is a painting," he said. "We agree, though, that it is mystical because it remains so well-preserved." 
A painting? No wonder they call it a miracle. Imagine trying to paint an image inside a rolled-up cactus-fiber cloak filled with roses. That also helps explain why the image appears to be cracked, flaked, and peeling. One would think that an spirit being able to magically transfer her image to a cape would be clever and powerful enough to protect that image from the ravages of time. Perhaps she overlooked that little detail.
If we are to believe the mythology, that early-day clothing art has been around for some 468 years. That's a long time, and it is noteworthy that it is still with us, but hardly remarkable. Cactus fiber is tough stuff. Given that the thing was likely afforded care and protection from the time in was painted, it should dazzle no one that it still exists. We have a plenty of artifacts made of more fragile materials that are much older than 468 years. Museums and libraries all around the world hold codices, letters, accounts and other documents written by priests, soldiers and others going back to the earliest days of the Christian era. Think of all those lovely illuminated manuscripts created and stored in monasteries and scriptora in the Dark Ages. Think of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Moctezuma was murdered a few years before the events atop Tepeyec, but his wonderful feathered crown is on view in all its glory (minus most of the gold the Spanish stole) in a museum in Austria. This crown, called the Copilli Quetzalli, is made up of some 400 feathers of the quetzal. Certainly feathers are at least as fragile as cactus fibers. 
For years I have been hearing that tale about Juan Diego being reflected in the right eye of Coatlaxopeuh. It gets better. There is a page on the WWW that provides close-up views of the image's right eye. Visitors to that page are informed that:
Wow! There's a whole crowd in her eye and folks know who they are. Visitors to the webpage might have a bit of trouble figuring out who is what, but that's the beauty of cult worship: fantasy is truth and things can be made to be anything you want it to be.
It gets better. Not only are some able to identify who the blobs in the iris are, the interpreter is even able to locate each of the figures relative to Coatlaxopeuh:
To my uncatholicized eye, the "figures" look to be nothing more than the artist's attempts to put highlights in the eye or, perhaps, places where the paint flaked. Of course, they could be mildew or something.
Well, the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe may be the second most visited shrine in all the Catholic world – second only to St. Peter's – but that speaks more to the credulity of the visitors and the agenda of the RCC than it does to the validity of the alleged apparition.
Seems not all Catholics are as convinced about Blessed Juan Diego and his mystical cloak as are the millions who ride the conveyor belt past the wonder hung high above their heads. Growing currents of doubt are troubling the waters around Mexico's patroness. It has been argued that there is no real proof that Juan Diego even existed. Some claim that he, like England's Saint George, Ireland's Saint Bridget and the ever popular Saint Christopher, is nothing more than a fictional being invented to facilitate proselytizing the heathen or some other arcane Roman Catholic purpose.
Whoa! Can it be true? Catholic priests daring to challenge such an enduring and useful bit of Catholic doctrine? Maybe the priests' comments were wrongly interpreted. Hardly.
The three priests sent their letter to the Vatican, in the expectation its contents would be kept confidential. I suppose the Vatican is as riddled with unofficial leak-makers as Washington, because it did not take long for a reporter to learn about it.
The priest closed with some piquant questions:
Those are valid questions that every Catholic should ask.
If this important Catholic legend cannot be properly validated, how many other RCC myths are built on equally weak, or weaker, foundations?
1. Anonymous, The Virgin of Guadalupe, website of the Presidency of Republic of Mexico,
2. Anonymous, The Virgin of Guadalupe, E-Puerto Vallarta Travel Magazine, ©2001 - 2006 PVMirror.com ®
3. Saints and Angels, St. Juan Diego © 2006 Catholic Online
5. Anonymous, The Story of Our Lady of Guadalupe
6. Sunrise/Sunset, Israeli Travel Discounters,
7. Anonymous, The Story of Our Lady of Guadalupe,
8. Father Pat, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Father Pat's Place,
9. Brother Michael, M.I.C.M, Our Lady of Guadalupe, © 2004 Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary
13. Saints and Angels, Op. cit.
15. Barbara Lyons, The Virgen of Guadalupe Celebration in Oaxaca, Mexico Connects, Photo of Tilma
16. Chris Althoff, Randy Habeck, Brad Hegseth, The Aztec Culture, © 1996 Angelfire Communications,
17. Anonymous, The Virgin of Guadalupe," website of the Presidency of Republic of Mexico
18. Susan Ferriss, "Doubts by priests over Virgin stagger pilgrims," Cox , San Antonio Express-News, Dec 11, 1999, p. 33A
20. Anonymous, The Mystery in Our Lady's Eyes,
21. Anonymous, The Virgin of Guadalupe," website of the Presidency of Republic of Mexico
22. Susan Ferriss, Op. cit.
25. Ibid. http://home.inreach.com/bstanley/eye.htm
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