On December 9th, we celebrate the feast day of Saint Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin and the legacy of the Marian apparition he witnessed in 1531. This miraculous encounter between the Virgin Mary and an indigenous Mexican convert to Catholicism gave rise to one of the most important religious and cultural icons in Mexico – Our Lady of Guadalupe.
According to tradition, Mary appeared several times to 57-year-old Juan Diego on the hill of Tepeyac near present-day Mexico City. Speaking in Juan Diego’s native Nahuatl language, Mary introduced herself as the Virgin Mary, “mother of the very true deity” and asked for a church to be built at that site in her honor. Juan Diego reported the apparition to the Spanish bishop, Juan de Zumárraga, but was met with skepticism.
When Juan Diego next saw the Virgin Mary, she instructed him to gather flowers from the hill as proof. Although it was winter, Juan Diego found blooms of Castilian roses and other flowers and brought them back in his tilma (cloak). When he presented them to the bishop, an astonishing imprinted image of Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared on the tilma – an event that is considered one of the most impactful early miracles in the Americas.
Juan Diego devoted the rest of his life to serving at the chapel built on Tepeyac hill. After his death in 1548, the miraculous tilma bearing the image was permanently enshrined at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which still stands today. Juan Diego’s tilma has been perfectly preserved for almost 500 years, enduring floods and smoke without damage. Both the image and the unexplained phenomena surrounding the tilma are considered scientifically inexplicable miracles by believers.
The news of Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe’s image spurred millions of conversions to Catholicism in Mexico over the following decades. To this day, Our Lady of Guadalupe continues to be one of the most influential religious and cultural symbols in Mexico. She has been called the “Empress of the Americas” and Juan Diego, who was canonized in 2002, is celebrated for his pivotal role in sharing her message and miraculous image with the world. Their feast day on December 9th and 12th each year highlight the profound devotion they still inspire around the globe.