In 1531, on December 9, so the legend goes, an Indian farmer named Juan Diego was passing by the hill called Tepeyac outside of Mexico City on his way to an early morning Mass when he heard birds singing overhead, whistles, flutes, and beating wings. Then he saw a maiden dressed in the robes of an Aztec princess.
She spoke Nahuatl, the Aztec language, Juan’s language, and had skin as brown as cinnamon. She told Juan that she was Maria, the Mother of God, and that he should tell the bishop of Mexico City to build her a chapel on the site. The bishop, however, was not impressed by this message and demanded some proof.
A few days later (on December 12, the day that this apparition is honored to this day), the Virgin reappeared and instructed Juan to gather an armful of Castilian roses, which should not have been blooming in December. When Juan opened his cloak to show the bishop the miraculous roses, he was surprised to see the bishop fall to his knees. On the cloak was an image of the Virgin as she appeared to him.
Of course, the chapel was then built on the site. The basilica that replaced it during the next century is now the third most popular pilgrimage site in the world.
Our Lady of Guadalupe is affectionately known as La Morenita, the little dark one. She is the patron saint of Mexico. The place on which she first appeared used to be a shrine to the ancient Aztec goddess, Tonantzin. According to Patricia Monaghan, author of The Book of Goddesses and Heroines, Tonantzin was a mother-goddess honored on the winter solstice.
Waverly Fitzgerald is a writer, teacher, and calendar priestess who has studied the lore of holidays and the secrets of time for decades. She shares her research and her thoughts on her Living in Season website and in her book, Slow Time. She is currently working on a series of essays about looking for nature in the city and blogs for the Seattle PI as the “Urban Naturalist.”
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