In 1531 Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to Juan Diego in Mexico City and left her miraculous image on his cloak. It was a spectacular apparition and resulted in the conversion of millions to the Christian faith.
Ten years later—10 th anniversaries are always significant—a second spectacular apparition occurred in Mexico: that of Our Lady of Ocotlán.
In 1541, the city of Tlaxcala (an hour and a half east of Mexico City) was devastated by a smallpox epidemic in which 90% of its citizens died. Tlaxcalan Indian Juan Diego Bernardino worked at the nearby Franciscan convent—the first to be established in the country. On Feb. 27, 1541, he was out fetching water for his sick relatives. He was utterly astonished when a “beautiful lady” appeared directly in his path. She spoke of a miraculous spring that would cure everyone of their illnesses. “I will help all who are suffering,” she promised. Sure enough, all who drank the water were cured. Within days, the epidemic had vanished. But that wasn’t all—
The “beautiful lady” had also given him a message for the Franciscan friars: “Tell the monks that they shall find an image of me—through it I will bring forth my blessings.” The friars were skeptical: Where would they find such an image? And did such a thing even exist?
By a series of mysterious signs, however, their attention was directed to one particular tree. The friars had been shocked by two strange events: Not only was the forest on fire, but one particular tree was not being consumed by the flames. Once the fire dissipated, they proceeded to investigate: When the friars took an axe to this tree—in the presence of a multitude of witnesses—they discovered a wooden statue of the Blessed Virgin inside the tree trunk. All fell to their knees in awe and wonder.
The statue, almost five feet tall, was carried in joyous procession to the church where it resides today above the main altar in the shrine of Our Lady of Ocotlán.
The apparition has received the approval of the Church at the highest levels: Five popes have expressed belief in the authenticity of the 1541 miracle, from Pope Clement Xll in 1735 to Pope Pius Xll in 1941. In 1755 she was declared the Patroness of Tlaxcala. Later, the shrine was elevated to the status of a basilica. In 1906 the Holy See authorized the liturgical crowning of the image of Our Lady of Ocotlán.
It is not surprising that the Tlaxcalans should be so favoured: They played a pivotal role in the Spanish Conquest, allying with the vastly outnumbered Spaniards against the mighty Aztec warriors. Bernal Diaz, in his firsthand account, The Conquest of Mexico,describes the Tlaxcalans as “fervently loyal.” They were not only the first “friends” of the Spaniards in the New World, they were also its first Christians. The first diocese in the country was established here in 1526.
Travel writers call the church “stunning” and describe it as “one of the most beautiful churches in Mexico.” Historians cite it as a “masterpiece” of the late Mexican-Baroque style of architecture known as Churrigueresque, named after the Spanish architect, Benito de Churriguera, who dominated Spanish architecture for the first half of the 18 th century.
In Mexico this architectural style intensified and reached its most striking and elaborate expression. The purpose of such design was not frivolity: rather, it was to give effusive and exuberant praise to God. The single-naved basilica is a profusion of gold! Everything seems to be decorated in an array of gilded, richly carved swirls, scrolls, flowers, grapes, shells, vines and garlands. The twin-towered church façade features hexagonally-shaped red bricks combined with brilliant white stucco ornamentation.
Pilgrims to the shrine can also pay a visit to the Capilla del Pocito which houses the miraculous well. Here, in the charming blue and white octagonal chapel, they can obtain the same healing water that cured the townspeople of the smallpox epidemic so many years ago.
Other miracles abound: During a 1987 celebration Bishop Luis Munive Escobar of Tlaxcala witnessed changes in the colour of the statue’s face, a phenomenon observed by many visitors to the shrine.
“Are there healing miracles going on today?” I asked the sister in charge of the chapel. “Oh, yes!” she said, “but far too many to recount. But why should we be surprised? Our Lady always keeps her promises!”
Written by Mary Hansen
This article is reprinted with permission from the NATIONAL CATHOLIC REGISTER
THE CITY OF MARY
The Shrine of: El Patrocinio, Our Lady of The Patronage,
Zacatecas is one of those places that travel writers rave about. A mountainous city in north central Mexico, it’s a place of superlatives. Considered one of the finest of Mexico’s colonial cities, it was once the largest silver-producing city in the world and for three centuries was one of the country’s most prosperous areas—“disgorging fabulous wealth” from its mines.
And it may be one of the only places in the world whereyou can go to church—by cable-car! It is renowned for having the only cable-car system in the world to traverse an entire city. And that cable-car leads directly to the shrine of El Patrocinio , a small Marian shrine majestically situated atop the Cerro de la Bufa (Hill of the Bufa); the Bufa is a “dramatic outcropping of rock” which overlooks Zacatecas and its environs. With its altitude of 2,667 metres, the Cerro de la Bufa is a strategic landmark for miles around.
This shrine is closely tied to the history of Zacatecas: The statue of Our Lady of Patrocinio, the Patrona of the city, was brought from Spain by the Spanish Conquistador, Diego de Ibarra; it was present in 1546 at the founding of the city by Juan de Tolosa and three other Conquistadores(soldiers).
In 1588 Spanish King Felipe ll commissioned a coat of arms for the city; prominent on the shield was an image of the Virgin Mary: She was depicted atop the hill of the Bufa, between the moon and the sun. The four founding Conquistadores are standing sentry at the foot of the hill. A painting of this crest is featured on the main page of the MADONNAS OF MEXICO website.
The symbolism on the shield can be traced back to a tradition that is almost 500 years old: Initially, the Chichema Indians were terrified of the Spaniards. They took refuge in the Cerro de la Bufa , where they hid in the woods, fortifying themselves with supplies and weapons. Then came the events of 1530: All the town was astounded that year by a dazzling vision in the sky—“a Lady of great beauty appeared on the Bufa with a child in her arms.” She urged them in a voice full of kindness, to make peace with each other. Everyone present was startled, indigenous and Spaniards alike, and shouted, Milagro! Milagro! (Miracle! Miracle!). As a result of this apparition peace ensued between the two groups and the conversion of the Zacatecans to Christianity proceeded tranquilly.
Their initial evangelizers were the Franciscans; Friar Jeronimo de Mendoza built the first church on the site in 1603. Before that time the church had been a small hermitage.
In 1707 the Franciscan Apostolic College for the Propogation of the Faith was founded at Guadalupe, Zacatecas (Guadalupe is practically a suburb of Zacatecas), by the saintly Franciscan missionary, Fray Margil de Jesús. The College was founded for the express purpose of evangelizing, not only the indigenous peoples of Mexico, but also the future citizens of California, Texas, and Arizona. Franciscans from this college sent priests to the church of El Patrocinio for the next 150 years, until 1848. That marked the year of the infamous Reform Laws in Mexico, laws which expropriated many Catholic churches and church property in the country, Included in this expropriation was the Apostolic College of Guadalupe; it is now an Art museum.
The Zacatecans have received numerous favours throughout the centuries from their Patrona, Nuestra Señora del Patrocinio : On many occasions, in times of epidemics, drought, calamity, natural disasters, war, and revolution, she was led in procession from her hilltop mount to the Cathedral of Zacatecas.
The statue is made of cedar wood and measures 1m. 25 cm. in height. It is enshrined above the main altar, flanked by elegant columns. Neo-Classical architecture dominates the interior of the sanctuary. The church has undergone several renovations in its lifetime with the present church being completed in 1795. And the views from the shrine of El Patrocinio overlooking the city? They are superb, panoramic, and— as befits Zacatecas, that city of superlatives—heavenly!
The statue has received church approval at the highest levels: It was crowned canonically with the authority of Pope Paul Vl. In 1967 Cardinal Jose Garibi Rivera solemnly crowned the statue of El Patrocinio in the presence of 15,000 of the faithful.
“Zacatecas has always been the city of Mary,” he said. “Right from the beginning.”
Written by Mary Hansen
This article is reprinted with permission from THE CATHOLIC REGISTER