In 1531, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego, an Aztec who converted to Christianity. At that time Mexico was shaken by violence and continuous violations of human rights and dignity. Indigenous people, in particular, suffered serious discrimination.
The Marian apparitions consolidated the encounter between the indigenous peoples and Christ. Mary presented herself as the «Mother of the true God» and she chose Juan Diego to be her messenger. In fact, he reported that Our Lady told him to build a sanctuary at the place he had seen her. The bishop refused to believe him. Then, on December 12th, 1531, in midwinter, Our Lady caused fragrant roses to grow on that spot. Juan Diego collected the flowers in his cloak. When he opened the cloak, the image of Mary on the fabric appeared before the bishop. She is portrayed as a young indigenous woman, which is why the faithful still call her the «Virgen morenita» (the “Brown Virgin”).
The tilma, or mantle, is made from coarse fibers of the Manguey cactus, used in Mexico by indigenous people to make clothing. The Virgin has a dark complexion and wears a pink tunic. She is surrounded by rays of the sun and stands on the moon. An angel appears at her feet.
In the image imprinted on the mantle, Mary’s eyes reflect all the characteristics of the human eye. Extraordinary details are reflected in her eyes, images that are so small they have to be magnified up to two thousand times in order to identify them. An indigenous family group appears in the right eye: they are a woman with a child on her shoulder and a man in a hat that looks like a sombrero. In the left eye appears an elderly man with a beard, identified as the bishop. It is as though this is what Mary would have seen through her eyes at the moment Juan Diego opened his cloak in front of the bishop and the Marian image was revealed for the first time.
Mary turns her gaze upon the oppressed and suffering, in particular. Every year, millions of pilgrims visit the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico where the mantle (tilmàtli) is kept. Juan Diego was proclaimed a saint on July 31st, 2002, by Pope Saint John Paul II and the present Basilica was built in 1976.