Our Lady of Guadalupe
In the Basilica of Guadalupe, 1531, almost life size, painting on a coarse poncho of woven cactus fibre.
In 1531 things were looking dismal in Mexico. In the course of ten years millions of native Mexicans had been killed by the brutality of the Spanish Conquerors and their diseases. Though a few Mexicans had converted to Christianity no sign of a lasting peace was in sight.
Then, on the morning of December 9, Juan Diego, a lowly Aztec convert, was passing Tepeyac, a hill outside of Mexico City that was considered the holy site of an Aztec Mother goddess. Suddenly he heard an ethereal birdsong coming from that hill as an Aztec princess of heavenly beauty appeared, calling him by name and saying:
"My dear little son, I love you. I desire you to know who I am. I
am the ever-virgin Mary, Mother of the true God who gives life and maintains
its existence. He created all things. He is in all places. He is Lord
of Heaven and Earth.
Of course, the bishop didn't believe Juan Diego, probably thinking: "I know who appears on that hill!" So the Aztec returned dejected to his Mother and asked her to send somebody of rank to whom the bishop might listen. But she sent him back to the bishop with the words: "My son, there are many I could send, but you are the one I have chosen." The shepherd wasn't too happy to see his sheep back so soon on the next day and insisted that he needed a sign as proof of the identity of that princess. Our Heavenly Mother granted the sign on the morning of December 12. She ordered Juan Diego to collect flowers from the summit of Tepeyac. Where there were usually only brambles, there now bloomed Spanish roses and other extravagant flowers. The man gathered as many as he could into the fold of his poncho and brought them to the Virgin. She arranged them carefully in his garb and sent him off to the bishop. When, after trials and tribulations, the poor Aztec was finally allowed into the presence of the church man, he unfolded his poncho. The flowers fell to the ground, revealing the perfect image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
As they say, the rest is history. The divine Mother got her temple, performed many miracles, and within seven years eight million Aztecs converted to Christianity. Spaniards and native Mexicans became one people of mixed blood and heritage under one Mother. To them she is mixed like her children: a synthesis of Christian and Aztec Heavenly Queen.
In her portrait Guadalupe doesn't look very dark, but she is called Morenita because in the apparition she showed herself dark and beautiful as an Aztec princess. In her conversations with Juan Diego she stressed her close relationship to his people: "Do not be distressed my dear son. Am I not here with you who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not of your kind?"
The type of poncho Juan Diego was wearing usually disintegrates within ten years, but this one has lasted for 500! Even a high quality canvas is usually primed with a layer of gesso to protect the canvas from the paint and provide a smooth surface, but this perfect masterpiece was applied straight onto the coarse fiber.