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Our Lady of Guadalupe: More than an oversized truck decal

Disclaimer: The reference to the truck decal is not an admonishment of the use of the truck decal.  It is by my own personal experience that I knew of the image for many, many years because how prevalently displayed she is, like specifically on vehicles in my area.  However, I never knew the story behind the decal, so when I learned about it a couple of years ago I was simply astounded.  The title reflects my own experience in learning the great significance of Our Lady of Guadalupe. 

In Texas, a good portion of our culture is directly influenced by the vibrant culture to our South, that of Mexico*.  We gorge on their food, love a good margarita, and find no child’s birthday party complete without a Sponge Bob pinata.  Among all those things we find iconic of the Mexican culture, we also find that funny image of Mary in the blue blanket with yellow squiggly lines behind her.  Why are there statues of Her in random front yards, and why is the image riding around on pickup trucks?

Our Lady appears to us on our highways! Photo By Debra de la Cruz.

To a large portion of Christians today, the Protestant Reformation of the 1500’s was the most defining time of Christianity since the Crucifixion.  In 1517, Martin Luther nailed his famous Ninety-five Theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg.  In the 1530’s, Luther was drafting the first doctrinal statement of the Lutheran church, Ulrich Zwingli was killed and John Calvin was shepherding Christians in his church in Geneva.  Interestingly, many students of the Reformation may not be aware that the 1500’s were equally monumental in Christian history for the people of Central America.  In 1531, God sent the Blessed Virgin to a little village outside of Mexico City to introduce Himself to the Aztec people and to show them the path to Himself and His Son.  “In only eight years, nine million people converted to the Catholic Church!  That’s an average of three thousand baptisms a day.  It stands as one of history’s most radical, monumental and rapid social transformations ever.” (Ron Tesoriero, Reason to Believe, pg 156).

Please check out Reason to Believe by Ron Tesoriero for more about the Virgin!

Allow me to give a very brief summary of God’s Guadalupe miracle.  Missionaries had been in the area for a while trying to convert the Aztec peoples to the ways of Christianity, yet, saw little success.  The Aztec beliefs were particularly troubling because they practiced human sacrifice (estimates are of thousands to hundreds of thousands per year).  However, God worked with what He’d accomplished through the missionaries, choosing (in His usual fashion) to call upon a very humble man already faithful to the Lord, Juan Diego.

In early December 1531, Juan Diego was on his way to Catechism class when he heard a woman call out to him from a little barren hill named Tepeyac.  Upon investigation, Diego found a beautiful lady who appeared as an Aztec woman and spoke to him in his native tongue.  Despite her ethnicity, Diego recognized the woman as Mary, the Mother of God.  She confirmed Her identity and instructed Diego to make an appeal to the local Bishop to build a church on Tepeyac.  Juan Diego had absolutely no stature to make such a request, but did what he could.  Surprisingly, the Bishop was somewhat receptive, but asked for proof of Diego’s encounter with the Blessed Virgin.

Diego did his best to avoid running into the Lady again as he did not feel fit for the job, but she appeared to him a few days later, on December 12th.  It was then She instructed him to go to the top of Tepeyac, gather the flowers growing there and bring them back.  No flowers would be growing in December, much less on Tepeyac, which was known to be barren.  Nevertheless,  there Diego found countless Castillian roses growing.  He bundled them up in his tilma (a sort of cloak made of cactus fiber) and he hurried to the church.  Once in an audience with the bishop, Diego opened his tilma for the beautiful flowers to cascade down, and was puzzled when the Bishop was more captivated by the tilma than the amazing flowers.  On the tilma, was painted the image of Our Lady cloaked in a blue starry mantle with sun rays bursting behind her.  To a people who communicated pictographically, a clear message of salvation was spelled out in the masterpiece’s details.

In the days to come, plans to build the church were made and many, many miracles happened at the site of Tepeyac.   When a few weeks later, on December 25th, a dead man brought before the tilma regained life, news and conversions spread like wildfire.

 

The tilma hangs in Mexico at La Basilica de la Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe. Photography by Bill Bell.

Now-a-days, this incredible story can be easily dismissed as fanciful folklore.  Stories like these only happen in the Bible, or in fairytale books, not in modern day real life.  However, God didn’t just use the image to convert the people of the 1500’s, He made sure that the tilma would be a source of evangelization for generations to come.

The 500 year old tilma is made of cactus fiber that has a longevity of about 20 years (meaning, it should have perished 480 years ago).  Despite the degradability of the fabric, the tilma hung freely for over 100 years without any protection from the environment, visitors, or candles before it was finally placed behind a thin protective glass casing.  The colors have never faded, and the fabric shows no signs of decay.  For reference, the American Declaration of Independence too was exposed to the elements for over 100 years before preservation measures were thought of.  However, by then it had already suffered damage from water, sun exposure and decay.  This 200 year old man-made document resides in a bulletproof, titanium case filled with inert argon gas.  Man needs titanium to protect his treasures, meanwhile God continues to astonish us with His protection.  In 1921, a large bomb was placed in a vase of flowers below the tilma.  The dynamite destroyed the church, blew out the windows, reduced the marble altar to rubble and mangled the large iron crucifix.  The target of the blast, the tilma, survived.  Its primitive glass casing wasn’t so much as even cracked.

Over the last 100 years, experts in many fields have investigated the miraculous tilma (including NASA researchers and a Nobel prize winner).  Researchers have been unable to identify the pigment used on the canvas, as the colors do not show to be made of any coloring agent, natural or synthetic, known to man.  The image has never faded, and has never been retouched.  Furthermore, upon close inspection, the pigment of the image does not actually reside in the cactus fibers of the tilma, instead the image hovers about 0.3 mm away from it (Reason to Believe pg 162).

Visitors say that the most memorable aspect of the Virgin is Her eyes, that they are genuinely lifelike.  This type of detail should be impossible to capture on crude cactus fiber.  The ability for such precision isn’t capable by the material.  Yet, in the 1950’s, photographic enlargements of the eyes showed the reflection of people, later learned to be Juan Diego, the Bishop and his interpreter, the three men who were gathered at the presentation of the tilma in 1531.  Lastly, in the mid 90’s, examination of the Virgin’s eyes by an ophthalmologist revealed that all of the proper parts of human eyes were present, “The eyes have all the characteristics of a human eye.  It has all the parts.  Around the pupil are contraction furrows which operate to contract the pupil in front of light.  These furrows were only detected by opthalmologic science in the twentieth century.  You can see the vascular supply in the upper eyelid of the right eye” says Dr. Jorge Escalante in Reason to Believe (pg 165).  If the image on the tilma holds secrets that could only be detected by technology 400 years later, imagine what other secrets She may be harboring for the unbelievers armed with even more advanced technology in the future?

Our Lady of Guadalupe is a conversion weapon of God’s that has proven effective over many, many generations.  While the Church struggled with sin and schism in the 1500s, God brought millions of new followers to Him through the Virgin.  Today, while the Church struggles to protect an ancient faith in the midst of man’s prideful technological advancement, we find that God is still showing us who’s Boss through the same evangelization tool.

So, next time you see the image of the Woman in the starry mantle with the sun glowing behind Her, remember why our Latin American friends are so fond of Her.  Just like at the Nativity 2,000 years ago, where God used His Mother to bring forth the Word Made Flesh,  Our Lord also used His mother to bring the Word of God to millions of people (and their children for generations to come) in the appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12th, 1531.

“My belief in miracles cannot be considered a mystical belief: it is founded on human evidence, as is my belief in the discovery of America.  It is, indeed, a simple logical fact that hardly needs to be recognized or interpreted.  The extraordinary idea going around is that those who deny the miracle know how to consider the facts coolly and directly, while those who accept the miracle always relate the facts with the dogma previously accepted.  In fact, the opposite is the case: the believers accept the miracle (with or without reason) because the evidence compels them to do so.  The unbelievers deny it (with or without reason) because the doctrine they profess compels them to do so.” – G.K. Chesterton in Orthodoxy.

In addition to Reason to Believe, see also http://www.maryourmother.net/Guadalupe.html.

* Originally published with “Central America” instead of “Mexico”, which is incorrect as Mexico is in North America.

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About Adrienne

Adrienne is a cradle Catholic married to a devout Evangelical Christian. They have been married eleven years and have three beautiful blessings, one boy and two girls. She spends her days homesechooling the kiddos and enjoys Catholic apologetics and photography. As a former Software Engineer, writing in the English language is not her strong suit, but she’s trying her best at Catholic Sistas, well, because they let her.

  • Kerri - Wonderful piece, Adrienne! I never knew about the eyes being inspected by an opthamologist and that her eyes contained all the proper parts of a human eye. Truly amazing!! And I love the Chesterton quote at the end. Isn’t Chesterton awesome!! 🙂 Thanks for sharing this!December 12, 2011 – 9:52 amReplyCancel

  • Mary - Thanks for this very informative post!! I didn’t know a lot of what you wrote here! Our God is an awesome God, huh?! I love the title of this post, too. 🙂December 12, 2011 – 11:18 amReplyCancel

  • Adrienne - Thanks for the comments ladies!

    Kerri, so cool, huh? I am most blown away by the image hovering away from the canvas, which, I guess makes it possible for such detail to reside in the Virgin’s eyes!

    Mary, I had a few fun title ideas for this one. I chose this one because, sadly, I had noticed the image on things like trucks well before I ever noticed a replica of it in a church! Now, me not noticing it in a church isn’t surprising, it’s probably been in many, if not most, churches I’ve attended, so therefore it was just something I took for granted, and assumed it was painted by an old well known artist or something. So, to learn the REAL origin of this image a couple of years ago was eye opening, astounding and humbling. Yes! For me, God got even more awesome when I learned about Our Lady of Guadalupe!December 12, 2011 – 11:56 amReplyCancel

  • Kerri - Speaking of the image and how it isn’t really on the tilma but kind of hovering above it, I read somewhere a few years ago about when our current Secretary of State was down in Mexico and she was brought to visit this image. She commented that it was beautiful and asked who painted it. I wish I could remember the rest of the article and what it said she was told in response, but I can’t. Funny how I remember her question but not her reaction when she was told it was from God. Must not have been memorable, unfortunately.December 12, 2011 – 12:30 pmReplyCancel

  • Amelia - Wow, I was blown away by this post. I had no idea about the eyes or the image not actually being on the tilma but hovering above. I love this line you wrote: Man needs titanium to protect his treasures, meanwhile God continues to astonish us with His protection.
    Awesome job!!!December 12, 2011 – 1:27 pmReplyCancel

  • Adrienne - Kerri, LOL, yeah, I read about that too in my research, though I never did come across a good description of her reaction. The pieces I came across were just sort of out to depict her ignorance, so they weren’t terribly informative.

    Amelia, thanks! I had to pare down a lot of GREAT details regarding this story and the tilma due to length. Oh, how I could have gone on!

    Oh, lemme share some more. Another interesting fact is that in the late 1700’s someone was cleaning the metal frame in which it resides, with, of all choices, nitric acid. A little bit of the acid spilled onto the tilma. Keep in mind both how terribly corrosive nitric acid is, and also keep in mind how the tilma is made of (by this point) 200 year old cactus fiber (again, it should have perished after only 20 years!). That acid spill alone should have been the end of the tilma. Yet, all that happened was some slight discoloration in the fabric (can been seen in the upper right hand corner), and reportedly, that stain is slowly fading. Again… God astounds us with His protection!December 12, 2011 – 3:04 pmReplyCancel

  • jean - I LOVE Our Lady of Guadalupe! I love everything about it; her conversation with Juan Diego, the miraculous flowers, the tilma but especially the fact we have a scientifially proven miracle to verify it! And somehow Our Lady seems more real to me at Guadalupe than in any other of her apearances.

    Although I will never get to see the real tilma I pray to Our Lady of Guadalupe every day.December 12, 2011 – 5:10 pmReplyCancel

  • Megan - Thank you so much for posting this! I’m going through RCIA this year and I’m learning all kinds of other things regarding the Catholic Faith as I go along. I never knew who Our Lady of Guadalupe really was until just a few days ago and this post has brought even more clarification. Amazing testimony to the power of our Lord and our Mother Mary.December 12, 2011 – 5:36 pmReplyCancel

  • Adrienne - Thank you Jean and Megan for stopping by the combox!

    Jean, I wish I could have had room to include the conversations they had. Such great words exchanged! Something I learned yesterday on the radio that I didn’t realize was perhaps this was her first ever appearance?

    Megan, Our Lady of Guadalupe would be a fantastic intercessor to ask prayers from as you journey through RCIA!December 13, 2011 – 8:13 amReplyCancel

  • robbie - Adrienne, just catching up on reading and wanted to tell you how much I loved this! Thank you!December 18, 2011 – 10:53 pmReplyCancel

  • elavifles - Hello! Just want to say thank you for this interesting article! =) Peace, Joy.January 24, 2012 – 9:57 pmReplyCancel

  • Fr Jason Worthley - Adrienne,

    Nice article. I loved the decal in the rear window of that truck in the picture. Do you know of any companies that I could contact to have them produce a decal like that for my vehicle? Thanks and God bless you,

    Fr. Jason
    Boston, MassachusettsMay 19, 2012 – 8:08 pmReplyCancel

  • Debra De La Cruz - Wow.. I was looking for photos of statues of the virgen de Guadelupe for a painting im going to do. I came across your article. I kept staring at the picture of the truck. Thinking it looked so familiar. Then I scroll down and wow there’s my name ;o)…thank you for giving me credit.

    I to have been facinated by the virgen de Guadalupe, one day I was driving around East LA and I was facinated by how her image seem to be every where. Which is how I got started taking photos of her images when ever I see them.

    http://www.pbase.com/ohquepretty/virgin_mary_and_los_angelesAugust 31, 2012 – 1:50 amReplyCancel

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