On December 9, 1531, an Aztec man named Juan Diego was walking to the Church of Santiago when he heard a birdsong and saw a large, white cloud. Juan Diego approached the cloud.
As he got closer, the birdsong stopped, and the clouds began speaking his name in Nahuatl, the native language of the Aztecs.
The cloud parted and within it, Juan Diego saw a beautiful woman with long black hair, tan skin, draped in a sky-blue robe and standing next to the moon with rays of sunlight surrounding her. This was the Virgin Mary of the Catholic faith. She asked Juan Diego to build her chapel on the hill where they were standing, Tepeyac Hill.
Juan Diego went to the bishop and told him about the apparition of Mary. The bishop, however, wanted proof before approving to build the chapel. Juan Diego went back to Tepeyac Hill, where Mary once again appeared. She told Juan Diego to collect roses in his cloak.
When Juan Diego had a second audience with the bishop, he opened his cloak and let the roses fall to the floor. On his cloak was the image of the Virgin Mary, whose appearance on the cloak was so accurate it looked as if it was a photo.
The bishop approved the chapel to be built. Today, Juan Diego’s cloak is on display at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, erected near the spot where Our Lady of Guadalupe first appeared to Juan Diego, just outside of Mexico City.
Both the Virgin Mary and Juan Diego have become a symbol of Mexican identity. Across Mexico, her image can be found in churches and chapels, homes and businesses. Small shrines appear within individual houses or even outside, where anyone can place a flower or candle at her feet.
In 1859, the day of la Virgen de Guadalupe, December 12 was declared a national holiday in Mexico. On this day, thousands gather at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe to celebrate the Virgin Mary and Juan Diego.
In 2002, Pope John Paul II consecrated Juan Diego and also declared Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe the patroness of the Americas.
Of course, some have doubted the virgin’s existence, especially since her purported appearance came at a time when the Catholic Church and Spain were trying to spiritually conquer the indigenous people of Latin America. Despite all her doubters, Nuestra Virgen de Guadalupe is considered very much real in the minds and faiths of Mexicans.