Saturday, 24 February 2007

Our Lady of Guadalupe

I brought one of my TAN acquisitions with me to read while at Ampleforth... trying to keep my luggage to a minimum meant that I didn't want to bring the Sermons of St. Alphonsus (too big) and so I picked out the slim volume on the apparitions at Guadalupe.

"The Wonder of Guadalupe" by Francis Johnston is a fascinating book, and it is extremely readable. It starts from the arrival of the Spanish forces in Mexico in 1519, which helps to give some background within which to understand the apparitions. In particular, Johnston describes some of the practices of the Aztecs in their worship of gods and godesses.

It is fairly common knowledge that Aztecs had human sacrifices where a person's heart was ripped out while the victim was still alive. Because it's usually glossed over by those who extol the culture of the Aztec society (and castigate Christian - mostly Catholic - missionaries who dared to interfere with native traditions and "impose" Western values), it is less well known that these victims were not usually willing participants who rejoiced at being "chosen" as the sacrifice - I have heard them described this way, and even compared to the Catholic martyrs! In fact, these victims were usually prisoners of war or slaves... and 20,000 of them might be sacrificed at the dedication of a single temple. Not only that, but having your heart ripped out was considered to be the most merciful of options: the Aztecs also went in for flaying their victims or eating their victims alive.

The mightiest of the Aztec gods was Quetzelcoatl (the feathered or stone serpent); the great Mother god, Tonantzin, whose head was a mass of writhing snakes, had formerly had a temple at Tepeyac, the site of the apparitions. Our Lady called herself "te coatlaxopeuh" using the native language, which translates as "she who will stamp out the stone serpent" but which was mistaken by the Spaniards who listened to the accounts of Juan Diego and his uncle Juan Bernardino for "de Guadalupe" since the Spanish shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe was well known.

Juan Diego, a simple Mexican peasant, had been baptised at the age of 51. Our Lady appeared to him in 1531 when he was 57. He was told to go to the Bishop of Mexico City and tell him that she wished for a shrine to be built at Tepeyac. As noted in the apparitions at Lourdes, Mary spoke to her chosen messenger in his own language, and with the utmost love and courtesy.

Juan Diego was not believed at first, and, during a fourth apparition, Our Lady caused roses and other flowers to bloom in the frozen soil. Juan Diego gathered them up in his tilma (a cloak made of plant fibre) and Mary arranged them, instructing him to show them to no-one until he saw the Bishop again.

When Juan Diego was finally admitted to the Bishop's presence, he opened his arms to release the flowers from the tilma, and as the flowers fell to the floor, the image of Our Lady appeared on the cloak.

The natural life of the plant fibre which makes up the tilma is about 20 years. Despite having been handled by thousands, being exposed to damp air and smoke from innumerable candles, having nitric acid spilled over it, and even having a bomb explode directly beneath it, the image has survived in pristine condition for nearly 5 centuries.

The miraculous aspects of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe are only really becoming clear with the developments in scientific knowledge which have happened since the start of the twentieth century. Infra-red radiation photography has shown that there are no brush-strokes on the image, and no underlying preliminary drawing, indicating that the image has not been painted. In 1936, fibres of the tilma were subjected to chemical analysis by the Nobel prize winner in Chemistry, Richard Kuhn. He concluded that there was no colouring of any kind in the fibres, and the materials used to produce the colours in the image were unknown to science, being neither animal, vegetable or mineral dyes.

In 1951, an image was noted in the eyes of the Virgin. Examination of the image revealed it to be that of Juan Diego (by comparison with an early painting of him) Further examination of the eyes of the Virgin Mary in 1955 revealed that there were actually three faces reflected in the eyes. By enlarging the image, the two other faces can be seen to resemble those of the translator Juan Gonzales and the newly appointed general administrator of Mexico, Bishop Fuenleal. Experimentation with photography and optometry suggest that Our Lady was standing directly behind Bishop Zumárraga while he was facing the other three men (whose images would therefore be reflected in her eyes) and it has been postulated that the tilma acted as some sort of colour film which photographed the Virgin (who was invisible to the human eye) !

There have, I believe, been more recent investigations into the image, but I haven't had a chance to look them up - the one problem with the book is that it only goes up to 1981!

Exploring the web a little, I came across this website of the Mexican Shrine (at least, I think it's the Mexican one... my grasp of Mexican/Spanish is pretty much non-existent!) And for the slightly more adventurous, I think there is a multimedia download about the apparitions available here.

A more sinister issue struck me as I explored the web for suitable images for this post. It appears that there is a resurgence of interest in the Aztec Mother-goddess Tonantzin, presenting her as nothing more than the embodiment of the "feminine"... whatever that might be. I don't think it's pure coincidence that this goddess who required human sacrifice has made her reappearance at a time when thousands of babies are killed by abortion under the guise of "a woman's right to choose."

Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for the unborn, pray for us.
St. Michael the Archangel, pray for us.

2 comments:

Simon-Peter said...

You can get TAN over there? Air mail right? I hope you aren't getting ripped off.

Mac McLernon said...

We had a "Day With Mary" in the parish, and the group always bring a whole load of TAN books... check out my post on it if you want to see the bookstall. They're always very reasonably priced (much, much cheaper than Amazon)

The Catholic Truth Society in central London also stock TAN books. Slightly more expensive, but still cheaper than Amazon.

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