We possess an extraordinary account of this beautiful story, dated in the 16th century: the Nican Mopohua, written by an Indian nobleman, Don Antonio Valeriano, who was baptized and converted to Catholicism. He was a very educated man. The language he used was Náhuatl, the one the Aztecs spoke. The story is called the Nican Mopohua because those are the very first words written in the manuscript. Nican Mopohua means ‘Here it is told’.
Juan Diego was a poor Indian that used to walk around the land that now surrounds Mexico City. He lived in Cuautitlán. One day in December, 1531, he was walking to Tlatelolco, when he heard music, and smelled a sweet perfume coming from a small cerrito — hill — nearby. Somebody, in a very affable voice, was calling his name: ‘Juanito, Juan Dieguito…’. He climbed the Tepeyac hill and he saw a young woman standing there. She asked him to come closer.
When he was in front of Her he saw how magnificent She was: Her clothes had a light like that of the sun, and She was very beautiful. She said: ‘Listen, my little son, Juantzin, where are you going?’ And he answered: ‘My Lady, Queen, my little girl, I’m going to Tlatelolco, to hear the things from God’. She then told him She was the Virgin Mary, mother of the true God. Then She asked him to go to México, to the Bishop’s Palace, to tell him that She wanted a temple built on the Tepeyac for Her.
He promised the Lady to obey Her, and he walked all the way down to México, to talk with the Bishop, Fray Juan de Zumárraga. In the palace, he had to wait for a while, but finally he was in the presence of the Bishop himself. He told him about all the marvelous things he had heard and seen, and then presented to him the request from the Queen of Heaven. The Bishop did not believe him, so he walked back to the Tepeyac hill. And She was waiting there for him. As soon as he saw Her, he said, ‘Lady, Queen, my little daughter, my little girl, I went there to fulfill your orders. The Governor Priest was kind to me, he listened to me, but I think he did not understand me; he did not believe me. So I beg you, my Lady, Queen, my little girl, that you send one of your noblemen; because I am a simple man, I am small, I am like a wood ladder, I need to be guided, so I will fail you, and I don’t want you to be angry at me’. She insisted in that he was the one that had to carry Her orders; nobody else. He promised, again, to do as She said.
Next day, Sunday, he went to the Bishop again, and he repeated his story. The Bishop asked him a lot of questions, and finally said that, in order to build a temple, he needed a token, a tangible sign from the Lady.
He came back to Her, told Her everything, and She asked him to come back the next day, and then She would give him the sign he was asking for.
Next day, Monday, Juan Diego did not meet the Lady, because his uncle, Juan Bernardino, was very ill, and he went to visit him. He spent the night there, and next morning, very early, Juan Diego started walking to Tlatelolco, in order to find a priest for his uncle, because he was sure of Juan Bernardino’s near death. When he approached the cerrito, he took a different turn, because he didn’t want the Lady from Heaven to stop him; he was in a hurry. (He thought that he wouldn’t be seen by Her, She that sees everywhere!) But She suddenly appeared in front of him and asked him, ‘What happen, my little son? Where are you going?’ He was embarrased, and he said, ‘My young one, my little daughter, my girl, I hope you are happy; how are you this morning? Do you feel well?’ And he told Her that he was going to get a priest, because his uncle was dying. She answered: ‘Put this in your heart, my little son: do not be afraid. Am I not here, Me, your mother? Are you not under my shadow, under my care? Am I not the fountain of joy? Are you not in the crease of my cloak, in the fold of my arms? Do you need anything else?’ And She told him that his uncle was sound in that very moment.
Then She told him to climb the hill and cut the flowers that were there. He did so, and was very amazed to find a lot of beautiful flowers up there, because it was not the time for them. He cut the flowers and put them inside his tilma (a cloak of cactus fiber made by the Indians), and then came back to Her. She took the flowers in Her hands and put them inside the tilma again. And then She sent him to the Bishop, asking him to show what he carried.
When Juan Diego arrived at the palace, he had a long wait to see the Bishop. He told him all the story, about the Lady, the hill, the flowers, the orders from Her. All this time he was holding his tilma, with the flowers inside. Finally, the Bishop asked him to show what he was carrying. When he opened his cloak, the flowers fell to the floor, and there, on the white fabric, was the image of the Lady from Heaven, Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe.
That cloth is the same one that today hangs inside the temple constructed over the Tepeyac. I’ve been there many times. The image of the Virgin is there for all to see. On a wall, with big characters, are written the same words the Virgin told Juan Diego: ‘Do not be afraid. Am I not here, Me, your mother? Do you need anything else?’
As I write this, I feel strong emotions. I cannot explain this. I am not really what you call a religious person, yet everytime I read the Nican Mopohua, or remember those words, or go to the Tepeyac to visit Her, something stirs deep inside me. I know She is there, looking after me, trying to tell me not to be afraid, to trust, to look with confidence to the future, because She will always be there, with me.
Our Lady of Guadalupe has accompanied us in war and peace, in joy and grief, in life and death. She was the standard for Hidalgo and Morelos armies. She has been invoked and sought by us in times of despair and destruction, in times of serenity and reconstruction, then and now, as She will be tomorrow. I know that I can be a perfect Catholic and still not believe in Her. But I don’t see how can anyone consider herself or himself truly a Mexican without trusting in the Lady from Heaven, Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe.
For those interested, here are a few sites dedicated, in all or in part, to Our Lady of Guadalupe:
The Our Lady of Guadalupe Web Site. https://www.sancta.org/ – In English, Spanish and French. Chronology of events. Comments about the mysterious eyes of the Virgin. You can download an image of Her from this site.
La Basílica Virtual. https://www.boletinguadalupano.org.mx/boletin/conociendonos/internet.htm – In Spanish. Historical antecedents. Story of the apparitions. The Guadalupan tradition. Juan Diego.