OUR LADY OF THE RING, Guadalupe, Zacatecas
The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is everywhere in Mexico. On billboards, bus stations, store-fronts, front lawns. Taxicabs. Cars. And of course, in churches. Particularly churches. There is scarcely a town in the country that does not have a church dedicated to her. And the Franciscan church in this story goes one better—it is not only named after her it is in a town which is named after her as well.
The miraculous painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe is in the Franciscan Church and Convento of Guadalupe, Zacatecas, a town 4 miles away from the beautiful city of Zacatecas.
This Convento played a key role in the evangelization of Mexico and beyond. It was founded by the saintly Fray Antonio Margil de Jesus in 1707. This superb Spanish missionary arrived in New Spain in 1683 and eventually became the Guardian of this Apostolic College of Zacatecas. Prior to this appointment he had been the Guardian of the College of Santa Cruz in Queretaro. Personnel statistics from 1796 indicate the immensity of this establishment in Zacatecas: there were 105 priests, 126 religious 56 novices and 45 religious students, a total of 383 persons.
For over a century it was a centre of “tremendous” missionary activity and founded 12 missions in Texas, 15 in Baja, California, and one in Zapopan, Mexico. Two other Apostolic Colleges existed at this time as well: the College of Santa Cruz in Queretaro, founded in 1683, which was the first training centre for missionaries in the New World and the third Apostolic College, San Fernando founded in Mexico City in 1734. This College is best-known for its association with St. Junipero Serra, the Apostle of California; prior to his arrival in California he spent many years at San Fernando. It had a total membership of 114 friars in 1772.
These colleges were schools to “form apostles.” The friars chosen to come here were an elite group, men of exalted spiritual goals and virtues.
In 1843 Venerable Fray Bernardino de Jesus was elected Guardian of the Apostolic College of Guadalupe; he was a man of extraordinary piety and virtue. Shortly after his election he received letters from two Franciscan nuns: They had been receiving messages from the Blessed Virgin Mary to pass on to him. The first was that the College would have to endure a great trial. Being a man of prudence and wisdom he was skeptical! To prove the authenticity of these messages the nuns prophesied three signs all of which were realized.
The first sign: they revealed to him his innermost thoughts about a certain subject of which he had told no one. The second: they would be protected from an impending catastrophe in the convent: sure enough, shortly thereafter, the roof collapsed, and, despite the presence of many people, no one was hurt. The third: a statue would fall from a height in the chapel but would not sustain any damage. This too came to pass!
But back to the subject of the story, the Virgin of the Ring: a strange name indeed for a statue of Our Lady! And its origins are even more unusual: The Virgin requested that Fray Bernardino convoke all the friars on the feast of the Assumption to renew their vows and their “spiritual betrothal” to her by means of a ring. After the confirmation of the messages he wasted no time in calling his friars together. On August 15, 1844, he, together with his congregation, presented Our Lady with the gold ring he had had expressly made for the occasion.
One wonders how a ring could be placed on a painting! Solution: the ring was open on the back so that it could be inserted through holes in the painting. A legend states that the fingers of the Virgin separated when the Father guardian inserted the ring. Franciscan historians point out the peculiar angle of the little finger on the hand, which they believe adds some credence to the story.
Visitors to the church today can see the ring plainly visible on the painting above the main altar.
Our Lady’s initial prophecy was effected in a most dramatic manner: In 1859 the fiercely anti-Catholic government passed the Laws of Exclaustration and the friars were forced to flee the convent. Only a fraction of the College remains; the rest was appropriated by the government and is now art museum. This museum houses an exemplary collection of colonial art and is considered the second finest art museum in the country.
Also to be noted: this church was the childhood parish of the renowned Mexican martyr Blessed Miguel Pro, the church where he was baptized. His home (which can be visited) is only a few steps away.