A Brief Background
The Blessed Virgin Mary of Guadalupe spoke to the native Mexica Indians through her sacred image. She used symbols, colours and other significant details known to this indigenous culture in order to deliver the message she gave to Juan Diego - that she was the ever Virgin Mother of the true God and all mankind. Each aspect of Our Lady's miraculous image was easily understood by the natives. Thus, a huge number was baptized into the Catholic Faith (8 million within 7 years) marking the end of the Aztecs' barbaric rituals of human sacrifice to please their sun god who they believed gave them life.
The message of Our Lady of Guadalupe's apparition was for two cultures living in that part of ancient Mexico - the native Mexica Indians and the Spaniards. The Aztecs and the Spanish conquistadores were at war with each other. Being a Mother, it's clear that she wanted all her children (these two cultures and the rest of mankind) to live together in peace and harmony. In Nican Mopohua Our Blessed Mother said:
"I am the Always Holy Virgin Mary, Mother of the true God. Deeply and intensely do I desire that a temple be raised here. Here I shall show, manifest, and give all my love, my compassion, my help, and my protection to mankind. I am truly your compassionate mother; yours and all those who live united in this land; and of all the other peoples who are my loving ones, who cry to me, who seek me, and who trust in me. Here I shall listen to their weeping and sadness in order to remedy and alleviate their many sorrows, needs and miseries."
The main information used on this page was obtained from the Codice Guadalupano delivered by the Rector of Our Lady of Guadalupe's Basilica in Mexico City, Monsignor Diego Monroy Ponce. Other background information was taken from materials given to us at the Basilica during our tour of the entire Shrine. References to A Handbook on Guadalupe and dictionaries were also used to clarify the meaning of certain terms.
Let's now take a look at these symbols and their corresponding message.
SYMBOLS ON THE SACRED TILMA & THEIR SIGNIFICANCE
The Aztecs worshipped the sun as the god that gave them life and to appease him, they offered palpitating human hearts which they considered to be a symbol of life.
The Aztecs called their sun god Huitzilopochtli (their god of war, too). They also believed in Ometéotl, a god with two natures. As a parallelism, the Spanish friars came to Ancient Mexico to evangelize the natives and teach them about Jesus Christ who had two natures, human and divine.
The Aztecs closely observed the movement of the sun, moon, and stars, and based their religious beliefs and way of life on this. They were deep into cosmogony - that branch of science dealing with the origin of the universe, particularly the solar system.
Our Blessed Mother's face is bowed down, looking at everyone tenderly and with compassion. She is gazing slightly to one side as a sign of reverence and respect as native Indians considered it improper to look directly at anyone's face.
The features of the face of this young goddess and mother is neither that of an Indian nor Spanish but a 'half-caste' - one who is considered mestizo, meaning a blend of races (Aztec and Spanish). This was the term used by the Spaniards to identify the children of Spanish conquistadores and Aztec women. The portrayal of the Blessed Virgin Mary on her Image as mestiza symbolized the birth of a new race.
Looking closely into Our Lady's eyes, ophthalmologists have tested this Sacred Image and affirmed that there are human forms reflected in her eyes, which measure between 8-9mm. It would be impossible to paint this detail within such a tiny space and on such rough material.
Further examination in 1981 by a certain Dr Jose Aste Tonsman revealed 13 persons reflected in her eyes. Magnified photos show the larger images as reflections of Juan Diego and Bishop Juan de Zumarraga. The rest could be images of those present when Juan Diego opened his tilma to show the Bishop the sign he had asked for.
Amazingly, or should we say, miraculously, Our Lady's lower lip fell on a knot on Juan Diego's tilma - giving the appearance of a soft gracious smile.
On the Sacred Image, our Blessed Mother's hair is loose, indicating she's a virgin maiden - married indigenous women braided their hair.
This band or ribbon tied in a knot signifies that she is a noblewoman with child - noble indigenous women tied a black band just above their waist to show they were pregnant. This symbol, together with the symbolism of Our Lady's hair, confirms her message to St Juan Diego - 'I am the Always Holy VIRGIN Mary, MOTHER of the true God'.
Her hands are joined together in prayer, just as Europeans do, confirming her request that the Bishop build a chapel (a house of prayer) on Tepeyac Hill where she appeared.
The Blessed Virgin's hands show her right hand as being more delicate and lighter in colour than the left which is fuller and darker - depicting her message for unity of the Indian and Spanish cultures and the birth of a new race.
To the Aztecs, her folded hands and her bent left knee, with the tip of one shoe showing as she stepped on the new moon crescent, signify that the Blessed Virgin is dancing and clapping her hands to the rhythm of the maracas, their musical instrument - this was how the Aztecs prayed.
THE BROOCH ON HER NECK:
The indigenous people had idols with a jade oval which they believed gave life. In Nahuatl, the central position and the shape of this brooch with a cross signifies how important Jesus Christ is to The Virgin as she brings a message that's Christocentric.
It also symbolizes the union of two cultures through the Spanish Cross, being the Christian sacred symbol, and the four-petalled flower, being the Aztec sacred symbol.
This is a true depiction of the importance of the Cross - the cause of our Redemption and New Life. Mary is portrayed in this image as the 'Mother of the Giver of Life' through the Cross.
Our Blessed Mother's tunic is pink with shades of crimson, representing the earth. It is covered with nine types of flowers - all in gold - representing the nine tribes from Atzlan that made up Tenochtitlan, the seat of the Aztec empire built on Lake Texcoco.
The bottom of her tunic shows excess fabric edged in gold just like her mantle. The pointed ends of the tunic and the mantle are held by an angel on each hand, symbolizing the union of heaven and earth.
Her beautiful turquoise mantle edged in gold represents the sky and covers her whole body from her head down to her feet. Turqouise signifies royalty since only their Emperor wore this colour.
THE GOLD ON HER MANTLE & ON HER TUNIC:
The flowers, stars and edges of her mantle and her tunic are in gold. In 1751, a famous Zapotec artist, Miguel Cabrera, was commissioned to examine the Sacred Image and was amazed at the inexplicable technique used in imprinting the gold designs on her tunic. At first, he was hesitant to touch the gold, which looked too delicate to touch, like dust on a butterfly's wings. He saw that the gold seemed to be intertwined into the fibres before they were woven but when he touched them, he noticed they were concave - a result of being stamped onto the fabric. He also saw a gold line as thin as human hair next to the gold edges of her mantle. Later infrared tests in 1941 by another expert confirmed this.
OTHER FEATURES OF OUR LADY OF GUADALUPE'S SACRED IMAGE
There are nine Tepetl flowers on the Blessed Virgin Mary's tunic. These are heart-shaped and in the form of scrolls or spirals that seem to speak and sing symbolizing that it is giving a universal message for mankind. This type of flower was considered to be the Mexican magnolia or yolloxochitl meaning 'heart' and 'flower' in Nahuatl. This word was used by the Aztecs to denote a palpitating heart which they removed from their victims during rituals of human sacrifice. They offered these to please their sun god and to keep the universe alive. They believed that the sun was at war with the moon and the stars or Day versus Night. Each flower has tips pointing to 5 directions - East, West, North, South and the apex or the highest point shown as the 'nose' of the flower. The 'nose' on the Tepetl is said to represent Tepeyac - the hill where Juan Diego heard beautiful heavenly music and saw Our Lady for the first time. The term Tepeyac means 'Nose of the Hill'2
Our Lady is stepping on the moon to show the Aztecs that she's greater than their moon god.
The angel is below Our Lady signifying that she is above the Angels being the Mother of God, bringing to light the Angelic Salutation at the Anunciation, 'Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you'. (Lk1:28) The back of his head, his shoulders and arms are illumined by light that emanates from her body.
To the indigenous people, the clouds surrounding the image meant something divine or the elevation of the spirit. Clouds also marked the beginning of a new era.
1Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, A Handbook on Guadalupe, 2001, p 90.
THE AYATE (TILMA)
St Juan Diego (Cuauhtlatoatzin in Nahuatl) owned the Tilma or cloak on which the picture of our Blessed Mother of Guadalupe was imprinted. It measures 1.68m x 1.05m.
It is made of very rough maguey cactus fibres making it difficult to paint on. As textiles of this kind only last about 20 years, it is an absolute miracle that more than 480 years later, the Sacred Original Tilma is still with us enshrined at Our Lady of Guadalupe's Basilica in Mexico City.
The Image miraculously maintains the normal body temperature of 36.5 degrees Celsius regardless of the temperature around it.
Looking at the Image, you'll see discoloration on the top right corner - this was caused by an accidental nitric acid spill when the frame was being cleaned in 1783. Miraculously, the Tilma wasn't damaged by the acid, only light stains were left.
In 1921, a bomb was planted under the Image, but the explosion neither cracked the glass nor damaged the Tilma - everything else was damaged. A large bent bronze cross is a visual testimony to this event.
You will also see two horizontal lines running across the cuffs of The Virgin - these marks were caused by wood placed behind it as part of the frame that was used to hold the Image for hundreds of years.
My Personal Testimony
In November 2011, during Love and Mercy Mission II, I experienced a wonderful miracle. While venerating the Sacred Relic Image (the exact Replica of the Original Tilma) at one of the Parish visits before being enthroned at Our Lady of Mercy, Girrawheen, Western Australia, I noticed a water stain within the two horizontal lines that looked like the word 'Mary'. My husband confirmed this - see the photo I took at the bottom of Our Lady's Gallery page. Now, each time I look at Our Lady of Guadalupe's Relic Image or any of her Images, I still see it - perhaps you've seen the name 'Mary' too.