In Catholicism, Our Lady of Guadalupe is the patron saint of Mexico, pictured as a woman in a blue mantle. Her hands are folded, her eyes are cast downward, and she is surrounded by a radiant glow. She is standing on a crescent moon supported by an angel underneath. This image is based on a series of five supposed appearances of the Virgin Mary in Mexico in the sixteenth century.
There are many different accounts of the Lady of Guadalupe, but what follows are the aspects of the story that appear most consistently. On December 9, 1531, a man named Juan Diego, an Aztec convert to Catholicism, was walking on Tepeyac Hill near Mexico City when he saw an apparition. Before him was a young Aztec girl. In the native Nahuatl language, the girl requested that a church be built on that hill in her honor. According to Diego, the girl was the Virgin Mary. When Diego told his story to the archbishop of Mexico City, Diego was instructed to return to the hill and ask for a sign to prove that she was indeed the Blessed Virgin.
When Diego returned to the place, the same girl appeared again and instructed him to gather flowers from the hill. The hill was normally barren, but at this time Diego found Castilian roses, which are not native to Mexico. The girl took the roses and placed them in Juan Diego’s cloak. When Diego returned to the archbishop and opened his cloak, the flowers fell to the ground. To their amazement, the inside of the cloak bore an image of the girl. Diego claimed he was visited by the girl three more times. She is now known as the Virgin of Guadalupe. The image imprinted in Diego’s cloak is on display now in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.
The veneration of Our Lady of Guadalupe is widespread. Various popes since 1531 have declared her the patroness of not only Mexico but of all Latin America and then of all the Americas. Every year millions of faithful Catholics visit the basilica in Guadalupe to view her image enshrined there. Her feast is on December 12.
The apparitions seen by Diego have been questioned many times throughout history because of the lack of any documentation of the event prior to 1648. Critics also point out that the archbishop who spoke with Juan Diego failed to mention the accounts in his writings.
Catholic tradition relays many accounts of Mary, angels, or saints appearing to people. It is possible that some of these people did in fact witness supernatural events. It is the true source of these visions that is in question.
It is important to note that just because an apparition is authentic does not mean it brings a message from God. Having a genuine spiritual encounter does not mean the entity encountered was actually Mary, an angel, or a saint. Demons are called “lying spirits” (1 Kings 22:23), and one thing they do well is lie. Second Corinthians 11:14–15 says, “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness.” A possible explanation for apparitions of Mary, such as the young woman Juan Diego saw, is satanic deception.
We also know that a genuine message from God would not contradict the Word of God. Did the Lady of Guadalupe say anything that was inconsistent with the Bible? We have no exact quotes. However, one thing is sure—the Lady of Guadalupe asked for a church to be built in her honor.
Here is our evaluation of the apparition:
• Juan Diego said that the young girl looked as if she was of Aztec descent. Mary was Jewish, from the line of David.
• Many accounts claim that the girl said, “I am the ever-virgin Mary, Mother of the true God.” Catholics believe Mary to have an exalted place in heaven, with the most direct access to Jesus and God the Father. They also believe Mary was a perpetual virgin. Such a concept is nowhere taught in Scripture. Also, the Bible never calls Mary the “mother of God.”
• The young girl that Diego saw asked for a shrine to be built in her honor. The biblical Mary would never ask for anything to be done in her honor. Rather, she would instruct people to honor and worship God (see Luke 1:46).
• In some accounts of the story, the lady says she would answer prayer. This is also unbiblical. God alone answers prayer.
Did something supernatural occur on Tepeyac Hill and witnessed by Juan Diego? Yes, probably. Did Mary actually appear to him? No. Was the message from God? Based on its disagreements with the Word of God, no.