Mother of the Americas

Storming of the Teocalli by Cortez and His Troops
by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze (1816-1868)

The year is 1521 AD. The capital city of the Aztec empire falls to Spanish imperial forces, who have just conquered the Mesoamerican culture of the New World. This marks the end of the most advanced civilisation ever produced by the Amerindian (Native American) peoples. From this time forward, all Amerindian would fall under submission to European power. Conquered and humiliated, the Aztec people become second-class citizens in Spanish America. European settlers have no problem perpetuating this status quo. Millions of Aztec people are now living as strangers on their own continental soil. They've lost their sovereignty, power, homeland and in some cases even their freedom. Pride is all they have left, and daily this is subjected to the status quo of second-class citizenship. Orders from the king of Spain, and the pope himself, would eventually bring an end to these abuses. However, the Aztec people have every reason to hate the Spaniards, and everything they brought with them to the Americas -- including their religion. But less than 20 years later, virtually all of them simultaneously accept Jesus Christ and convert to Catholic Christianity by their own free will. The Spanish are left speechless, astonished by what just happened.


Why would an entire civilisation of people, who had been Pagans for thousands of years, and had every right to hate everything the Spanish settlers represented, suddenly and inexplicably embrace the Spaniards' religion as their own?

Saint Juan Diego
by Miguel Cabrera (1695–1768)
The answer is in a supernatural and miraculous visitation from heaven. In 1531 a "Lady from Heaven" appeared to a poor Christian Aztec named Juan Diego at Tepeyac, a hill northwest of Mexico City; she identified herself as the "Mother of the True God," instructed him to have the local bishop build a temple on the site, and as a sign she left an image of herself imprinted miraculously on his cloak (or 'tilma'). The tilma is a poor quality cactus-cloth, which should have deteriorated in 20 years but shows no sign of decay after 470 years, to the present day, and still defies all scientific explanations of its origin.

The image appeared instantly and miraculously in front of many witnesses, some of them local dignitaries. The Lady instructed Juan to gather some roses from the site where she made her appearance to him. Since roses were out of season (it was December), this was to be a sign to the local bishop that the 'Lady from Heaven' had truly appeared to Juan Diego, and his story was true. He gathered the roses into his tilma and carried them to the local bishop who was meeting with some Spanish dignitaries at the time. As he dropped his garment to release the roses, the image of the Lady from Heaven miraculously and spontaneously appeared on the tilma. The bishop and his guests immediately fell to their knees in astonishment.

The Lady's only request was that a temple be erected on the hill where the apparition took place. The reason she gave for this was as follows: "I am the ever virgin Holy Mary, Mother of the True God for whom we live, of the Creator of all things, Lord of heaven and the earth. I wish that a temple be erected here quickly, so I may therein exhibit and give all my love, compassion, help, and protection, because I am your merciful mother, to you, and to all the inhabitants on this land and all the rest who love me, invoke and confide in me; listen there to their lamentations, and remedy all their miseries, afflictions and sorrows." As the bishop agreed to grant the request, he sent Juan home to his uncle who had been sick with a terminal disease. During the course of the Marian apparitions to Juan, she had promised him that his uncle would be healed, but he had not seen him for a long time. So when he returned to his village, the bishop sent escorts to go with him and record everything they saw. When they got there, they found Juan's uncle well and joyously celebrating his healing. It was then Juan learnt that on the very day the Lady promised Juan that his uncle would be healed, his uncle saw a vision of the Lady exactly as Juan had described to the bishop some time earlier. The two (Juan and his uncle) had not communicated during this whole time. Yet, their description of the Lady was exactly identical. The Lady told Juan's uncle that when he would go to see the bishop, to reveal to him what he had seen and to explain the miraculous manner in which he was healed, that she would properly be named the blessed Image, the ever-virgin Holy Mary of Guadalupe.

Now why should the Virgin Mary, appearing to an Indian in 16th century Mexico, and speaking to him in his native language of Nahuatl, call herself “Guadalupe”, a Spanish name?

It is believed that the Lady used the Aztec Nahuatl word of coatlaxopeuh which is pronounced "Gwad-a-lup-eh." Coa meaning serpent, tla being the noun ending which can be interpreted as "the", while xopeuh means to crush or stamp out. So the Lady may have called herself "the one who crushes the serpent." We must remember that the Aztecs worshipped the serpent-god Quetzalcoatl, and annually offered at least 20,000 men, women and children in human sacrifice to their Pagan gods. In 1487, in a 4-day long ceremony for the dedication of a new temple in Tenochtitlan, some 80,000 captives were killed in human sacrifice. Certainly in this case, the Lady 'crushed' the serpent, because within a few years after her apparition to Juan Diego, nine million of these natives were converted to Christianity.

Modern infra-red studies of the image reveal unexplainable phenomena: The image was not painted, and the colour did not penetrate the fibres as would paint. Weaving with such irregular fibres also produced a rough surface which would have distorted any simple surface painting, yet the image one sees is clear and undistorted.

Original image of Our Lady of Guadalupe
photo by Joaquín Martínez Rosado
Most remarkable about this image is the recent scientific research done on the Lady’s eyes. Magnified studies reveal the startling image of reflections, as if they were frozen onto the image the moment it appeared to the bishop and his guests nearly five-hundred years ago. One of the first doctors to study the eyes was Dr. Javier Torroella Bueno, MDS, a prestigious ophthalmologist. In what is the first report on the eyes of the image issued by a physician, he certifies the presence of the triple reflection (Samson-Purkinje effect) characteristic of all live human eyes and states that the resulting images are located exactly where they are supposed to be according to such effect, and also that the distortion of the images agree with the curvature of the cornea. In both eyes, the largest and most obvious reflection is of a "bearded man," probably the bishop's translator who interpreted the exchange between the Spanish speaking bishop and the native speaking Juan Diego.

A new and fascinating kind of analysis of the eyes started in 1979, when Dr. Jose Aste Tonsmann, Ph D, graduated from Cornell University, while working in IBM scanned at very high resolutions a very good photograph, taken from the original, of the face on the tilma. After filtering and processing the digitised images of the eyes to eliminate "noise" and enhance them, he made some astonishing discoveries: According to Dr. Tonsmann, from left to right we can see the Indian, Bishop Zumarraga, the translator, and Juan Diego showing the tilma.

The image of the Lady of Guadalupe has great symbolism. The Lady's image is surrounded by luminous light, standing on the moon, and the stars on her mantle reflect the description found in the Book of Revelation: "A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars" (Revelation 12:1).

These are also symbols of divine victory over the pagan religion of the time. Sun rays were symbolic of the Aztec god Huitzilopochtle. Therefore, the Lady, standing before the rays, shows that she proclaims the true God who is greater than Huitzilopochtle and who eclipses his power.

She stands also on the moon. The moon represented night and darkness, and was associated with the god Tezcatlipoca. Here again, the Lady’s standing on the moon indicates divine triumph over evil.
Moreover, in Christian iconography, the crescent moon under the Lady’s feet also symbolises perpetual virginity and is connected with the Catholic dogma of the Immaculate Conception and the Blessed Assumption.

The stars on her mantle indicate that she comes from Heaven, her dress is also modelled after that of an Aztec queen. Interestingly, some research attests that the stars on the mantle appear exactly as they would have in the sky before dawn on the Morning of December 12, 1531, when the vision appeared.

The face of the Lady, with its complexion, dark hair, and dark eyes, reflects the physiognomy of a Amerindian. Her eyes are also cast downward, showing humility and compassion. In Aztec iconography, a god looked straight ahead with wide open eyes; the picture here then shows that the Lady does not claim to be God, but only His messenger and loving mother. The Lady is supported by an angel, another symbol of royalty among Amerindian cultures.

Her clothing also has special significance. The rose colour of the Lady's dress has two interpretations, either as a symbol of the dawn of a new era, or as sign of martyrdom for the faith. A red dress is also interpreted as a symbol of virginity in eastern Christian iconography. The gold brooch under her neck represents sanctity. Finally the bow around her waist is another sign of virginity. However this bow has several other meanings in Amerindian culture: this bow was the nahui ollin, the flower of the sun, which was a symbol of plenitude, fecundity and new life. The high placement of the bow and the apparent swelling of the abdomen of the Lady have led many to conclude that she is pregnant in this image.

This image became a symbol of unity between European and Amerindian cultures in Central America. Both peoples could easily identify with it. As a result, virtually the entire Aztec empire (some nine million people in total), all of them Pagan, accepted Christ and converted to Catholic Christianity within a space of just a few years.

Today she remains the patron not only of Mexico, but of all the Americas, including Canada and the United States. She is the symbol of racial unity between the children of European settlers and American natives. She speaks to us only of the Lordship of her divine Son -- Jesus Christ -- and of his victory over the powers of hell. Through this image, the message is clear. The old ways of Pagan devotion to the false gods, must give way to true worship of the one true God. In this truth, all the American peoples (regardless of race and culture) will find unity and peace.

In today's modern world, she is also honoured by Catholics on both American continents as the patron of our hemisphere and the protector of all children -- especially the unborn. In particular, this image of our Blessed Mother has been closely associated with the Pro-Life movement, because of the modern similarity of surgical and chemical abortion to the human sacrifice of ancient Aztec society. The Aztecs sacrificed human beings to their gods, particularly the serpent god Quetzalcoatl, in the hope of gaining favour and prosperity. While modern Americans no longer worship Aztec idols, many do still sacrifice their unborn children to the "gods" of prosperity and convenience. Instead of counting children as a blessing from the Lord, regardless of the circumstances in which they were conceived, modern American culture views them as a burden and an obstacle to material happiness. This attitude can only be spawned by Satan -- the Biblical serpent depicted in Genesis 3 and Revelation 12. The pregnant image of Our Lady reminds us of the blessings of the unborn and identifies the sin of abortion for what it really is -- human sacrifice. The image of Our Lady is the Mother of all the Americas, and she is calling us to remember her unborn Son -- Jesus Christ -- as we work to defend the unborn here in the New World.


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Pair O' Dimes said…
Thank you very much for posting this!

I didn't know that about the Aztec pantheon, but that is making me desire to learn more about pagan mythologies in the context of the Catholic faith, especially having read "The Divine Comedy" recently and looking at how Dante combined the hierarchy of virtues, the planets (according to the Ptolemaic system), and the Roman gods.

God bless!