In early December of the year 1531, a Mexican native, recently converted to Catholicism, and baptized with the name of Juan Diego, was witness to three Marian apparitions. On December 12 of the same year, he witnessed the fourth and last apparition to him; as proof, as instructed by the Lady, he collected some Castilian roses flourishing out of place and season in Tepeyac Hill, in Mexico City’s metropolitan area, in the site of the encounters, and when he appeared before the clergy to certify the unusual harvest, he unfolded the robe where he had wrapped the crimson and cream coloured flowers. The roses fell to the ground to reveal that an image of the virgin had been miraculously stamped on his humble cloth, called tilma (native men’s robe, from the Nahuatl name tilmàtli). The lady had requested a chapel dedicated to her to be built on the site of the apparitions, in the Tepeyac; although the site was not recognized by the Sacred Congregation of Rites in Rome until 1754, establishing the Feast of Guadalupe on the Catholic calendar as December 12, the request had been already addressed with several structures erected in her honour, some of which still exist, and pilgrimages to Tepeyac Hill begun in the 16th century, and have grown in number since then. Currently, the site still comprises several buildings, known as a whole as La Villa Basílica, or Villa Guadalupana, and popularly called “La Villa”, and it is the most visited Catholic site in the world, only behind The Vatican, in Rome.
The oldest building is a small chapel called La Antigua Parroquia de Indios – The Old Indian [native peoples] Parrish; Juan Diego’s tilma was kept there until 1709, when the first church (later recognized as a basilica) was finished, and the image of the Lady of Guadalupe was then moved there, where it remained until the new basilica was built from 1974 to 1976. The New Basilica was consecrated in 1976, and still holds the image of the Virgin on the original tilma. In the photo below, the new and old basilicas, in La Villa:
Year after year, uninterrupted since 1532, many devout people have visited the site, coming from all corners of Mexico, Latin America, and the world, just to see the Lady of Guadalupe on Juan Diego’s tilma; the most important pilgrimage occurs around her feast day, when millions of people arrive and gather outside the basilica on the usually frosty night of December 11, to be able to sing to the Virgin and attend morning mass on December 12. Last year, due to the COVID19 pandemic, the site had very limited access to the public, and people were encouraged to watch the celebrations on tv or online. For this year, even as the Delta variant is still causing spikes in COVID19 case numbers, and the Omicron variant is spreading around the world, it has been announced that the Sanctuary will be open, and people will be able to line up to see the tilma. Although still a spartan version of the traditional celebration, with mandatory masks, distancing, and only a short walk inside the Sanctuary, it will be nevertheless, a way to continue the centuries-old tradition, giving hope to many Catholics for a merrier Christmas season and a better and healthier year of 2022.
Photo at the top of this post: Reproduction of the Virgin of Guadalupe image, and a statue of Juan Diego (Parish of the Immaculate Conception, Mocorito, Sinaloa, Mexico, 2019).