Catholic Encyclopedia – Shrine of Guadalupe

[Our Lady of Guadalupe]Article

Guadalupe is strictly the name of a picture, but was extended to the church containing the picture and to the town that grew up around. The word is Spanish Arabic, but in Mexico it may represent certain Aztec sounds.

The place, styled Guadalupe Hidalgo since 1822 — as in our 1848 treaty — is three miles northeast of Mexico City. Pilgrimages have been made to this shrine almost uninterruptedly since 1531-32. In the latter year there was a shrine at the foot of Tepeyac Hill which served for ninety years, and still, in part, forms the parochial sacristy. In 1622 a rich shrine was erected; a newer one, much richer, in 1709. Other structures of the eighteenth century connected with it are a parish church, a convent and church for Capuchin nuns, a well chapel, and a hill chapel. About 1750 the shrine got the title of collegiate, a canonry and choir service being established. It was aggregated to St. John Lateran in 1754; and finally, in 1904 it was created a basilica. The presiding ecclesiastic is called abbot. The greatest recent change in the shrine itself has been its complete interior renovation in gorgeous Byzantine, presenting a striking illustration of Guadalupan history.

The picture really constitutes Guadalupe. It makes the shrine: it occasions the devotion. It is taken as representing the Immaculate Conception, being the lone figure of the woman with the sun, moon, and star accompaniments of the great apocalyptic sign, and in addition a supporting angel under the crescent. Its tradition is, as the new Breviary lessons declare, “long-standing and constant”. Oral and written, Indian and Spanish, the account is unwavering. To a neophyte, fifty five years old, named Juan Diego, who was hurrying down Tepeyac hill to hear Mass in Mexico City, on Saturday, 9 December, 1531, the Blessed Virgin appeared and sent him to Bishop Zumárraga to have a temple built where she stood. She was at the same place that evening and Sunday evening to get the bishop’s answer. He had not immediately believed the messenger; having cross-questioned him and had him watched, he finally bade him ask a sign of the lady who said she was the mother of the true God. The neophyte agreed so readily to ask any sign desired, that the bishop was impressed and left the sign to the apparition. Juan was occupied all Monday with Bernardino, an uncle, who seemed dying of fever. Indian specifics failed; so at daybreak on Tuesday, 12 December, the grieved nephew was running to the St. James’s convent for a priest. To avoid the apparition and untimely message to the bishop, he slipped round where the well chapel now stands. But the Blessed Virgin crossed down to meet him and said: “What road is this thou takest son?” A tender dialogue ensued. Reassuring Juan about his uncle whom at that instant she cured, appearing to him also and calling herself Holy Mary of Guadalupe she bade him go again to the bishop. Without hesitating he joyously asked the sign. She told him to go up to the rocks and gather roses. He knew it was neither the time nor the place for roses, but he went and found them. Gathering many into the lap of his tilma a long cloak or wrapper used by Mexican Indians he came back. The Holy Mother, rearranging the roses, bade him keep them untouched and unseen till he reached the bishop. Having got to the presence of Zumárraga, Juan offered the sign. As he unfolded his cloak the roses fell out, and he was startled to see the bishop and his attendants kneeling before him: the life size figure of the Virgin Mother, just as he had described her, was glowing on the poor tilma. A great mural decoration in the renovated basilica commemorates the scene. The picture was venerated, guarded in the bishop’s chapel, and soon after carried processionally to the preliminary shrine.

The coarsely woven stuff which bears the picture is as thin and open as poor sacking. It is made of vegetable fibre, probably maguey. It consists of two strips, about seventy inches long by eighteen wide, held together by weak stitching. The seam is visible up the middle of the figure, turning aside from the face. Painters have not understood the laying on of the colours. They have deposed that the “canvas” was not only unfit but unprepared; and they have marvelled at apparent oil, water, distemper, etc. colouring in the same figure. They are left in equal admiration by the flower-like tints and the abundant gold. They and other artists find the proportions perfect for a maiden of fifteen. The figure and the attitude are of one advancing. There is flight and rest in the eager supporting angel. The chief colours are deep gold in the rays and stars, blue green in the mantle, and rose in the flowered tunic. Sworn evidence was given at various commissions of inquiry corroborating the traditional account of the miraculous origin and influence of the picture. Some wills connected with Juan Diego and his contemporaries were accepted as documentary evidence. Vouchers were given for the existence of Bishop Zumárraga’s letter to his Franciscan brethren in Spain concerning the apparitions. His successor, Montufar, instituted a canonical inquiry, in 1556, on a sermon in which the pastors and people were abused for crowing to the new shrine. In 1568 the renowned historian Bernal Díaz, a companion of Cortez, refers incidentally to Guadalupe and its daily miracles. The lay viceroy, Enríquez, while not opposing the devotion, wrote in 1575 to Philip II asking him to prevent the third archbishop from erecting a parish and monastery at the shrine; inaugural pilgrimages were usually made to it by viceroys and other chief magistrates. Processes, national and ecclesiastical, were laboriously formulated and attested for presentation at Rome, in 1663, 1666, 1723, 1750.

The clergy, secular and regular, has been remarkably faithful to the devotion towards Our Lady of Guadalupe, the bishops especially fostering it, even to the extent of making a protestation of faith in the miracle a matter of occasional obligation. The present pontiff [1910] is the nineteenth pope to favour the shrine and its tradition. Benedict XIV and Leo XIII were its two strongest supporters. The former pope decreed that Our Lady of Guadalupe should be the national patron, and made 12 December a holiday of obligation with an octave, and ordered a special Mass and Office; the latter approved a complete historical second Nocturne, ordered the picture to be crowned in his name, and composed a poetical inscription for it. Pius X has recently permitted Mexican priests to say the Mass of Holy Mary of Guadalupe on the twelfth day of every month and granted indulgences which may be gained in any part of the world for prayer before a copy of the picture. A miraculous Roman copy for which Pius IX ordered a chapel is annually celebrated among the “Prodigia” of 9 July.

MLA Citation

  • George Lee. “Shrine of Guadalupe”. Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913. Saints.SQPN.com. 14 August 2013. Web. 25 July 2014. <>