Today, Sept. 29, is the feast of the Guardian Angels, Michael, Raphael and Gabriel. And in a few days time, on October 2, we celebrate the feast of the Guardian Angels. Thus, it is the perfect time to talk about two miraculous paintings in Mexico which feature angels and—Our Lady!
The most recognized in the country is that of Our Lady of the Most Holy Light in Leon, Guanajuato, which dates back to 1722 in Palermo, Sicily. And associated with this history is the famous date: June 18, 1876. It is a date no one can forget in this bustling city in central Mexico.
On that day, the Cathedral in Leon was packed for the 11 AM Mass. Without warning a tremendous C-R-A-C-K reverberated through the entire church. An enormous block of concrete, “the keystone of the main arch,” fell into the centre aisle of the cathedral. All in the pews gasped in horror feeling that death was staring them in the face. All held their breath—
At this moment in time, the bishop, Bishop Diez de Sollano, strode over to the centre aisle with unfathomable courage and aplomb. He prayed to Our Lady of the Most Holy Light (whose image reposes over the main altar of the cathedral): “O Most Holy Mother of the Light, please spare your people!” And spare her people she did. Not a single person in the church was hurt or injured in any way. They are still talking about it in Leon to this day!
You might well ask: “Who, precisely, is this Most Holy Mother of Light?” She is pictured in the photo below. It is a renowned image of Our Lady and is known throughout the country of Mexico. And she has the most remarkable history—
It all began in Sicily, Italy with Jesuit missionary priest, Father Giovanni Antonio Genovesi, who was born in 1684. He longed to bring people to the faith but he was getting discouraged. So few people were converting! “I need a special image of Our Lady to carry with me!” he thought. “She will bring all to her Son!” “But where to find such an image?”
He then remembered that a holy nun nearby, in the city of Palermo, was having visitations from Our Lady. “I will ask her to ask Our Lady, herself!” he said. The nun agreed that this was an excellent idea and proceeded to ask Our Lady at the time of her next appearance.
Shortly after this request, Our Lady appeared to the nun in a “splendour of light” surrounded by a courtege of angels. In one hand Our Lady was snatching a sinner from the depths of hell and in the other she was holding the Divine Infant. The Infant was blessing human hearts which were in a basket held by an angel.
Our Lady then said: “This is the image that I want painted.” Father Genovesi immediately commissioned the finest artist in the area to carry out Our Lady’s requests. Try as he might, however, the artist was not able to convey the image desired by Our Lady. “No, it is not what I want!” she declared. Our Lady then said to the nun, “I, myself (although unseen) will come to his studio and I will guide his paintbrush. When it is completed all will know by its more than human beauty that a greater and higher art have arranged the composition and laid the colour.” The resultant painting astonished all onlookers by its beauty.
From then on Father Genovesi carried the small painting with him on his missionary journeys and was astonished at the conversions.
In 1732 it was sent to Mexico to the cathedral in Leon, Guanajuato, amid “great rejoicing.” The painting was crowned with the authorization of Pope Leo XIII in 1902. She became the Patrona of the city and of the diocese of Leon when it was established in 1872.
A SECOND famous painting (the main photo of this article) of Our Lady and the angels can be found in the historical centre of Mexico City in the church of Our Lady of the Angels. She too has a remarkable history—
In the year 1580 unprecedented rains flooded the valley of Mexico. Streets became rivers and homes were swept away.” Flotsam, treasures, tree branches and all manner of belongings were swept away in the flood.
One of these treasures was a magnificent painting of Our Lady in which she is surrounded by baby angels. This painting was left exposed to the elements for over 200 years in an adobe chapel whose walls had been washed away by the floods. In 1747 Don Pedro Navaro made an astonishing discovery: He removed the grass mats and boards which had been covering the painting and noticed that the painting was undamaged! “It was radiant with beauty!” In 1776 the miraculous painting was moved to its own Jesuit-run church, Our Lady of the Angels, where she resides above the main altar of the church to this day.
The large canvas painting is over 500 years old and is in pristine condition. “The face and hands have not been re-touched in the slightest.” As one author says, “The visitor to the shrine of Our Lady of the Angels must be convinced that a special Providence watches over the image.”
She is known for her miraculous favours. It has been said of her by a church historian: “To recount the miracles worked through her intercession would require a volume in itself.”
On Oct. 28, 1923, Our Lady of the Angels was pontifically crowned with the authorization of Pope Pius XI.
“Thus crowned, she triumphs forever,” he said.
Guanajuato is one of those places that travel writers rave about. They use words like “gorgeous” and “enchanting” and “colonial gem” to describe it. And—they are right! It is no wonder that it is one of the most visited sites in the country and that it has been declared a historical heritage site by UNESCO. As one writer says, “It is one of Mexico’s most handsome cities.” It is also home to the prestigious University of Guanajuato whose 20,000 students give the city a vibrant and cheery atmosphere. Pope Benedict visited the city in 2012.
In the 1500’s “massive veins of silver” were discovered in the area, and, for 200 years, the city became one of the wealthiest in the country, supplying up to 40% of the world’s silver from its mines. Its greatest treasure, however is not its wealth or its scenic beauty or its colonial architecture. It is something far different: It is the statue of Our Lady of Guanajuato, the city’s patroness, which resides above the main altar in the magnificent Basilica named in her honour. This image is reputed to be the most ancient religious image in the Western hemisphere! It is over 800 years old and has the most fascinating history—.
This statue of Our Lady of Guanajuato has a special significance for the times we are living in now. It all happened like this—
Since 1557 it has been the centre of devotion for the citizens of Guanajuato. Tradition relates that it was known in the city of Santa Fe, in Granada, Spain as early as 650. During the catastrophic invasion of Spain by the Moors in 714, devout Christians hid the image in a cave, fearing that it would be desecrated by the invaders. It would remain hidden for eight and a half centuries.
But one must ask: how did it end up in Guanajuato, Mexico, a continent away? After the providential re-discovery of the lost image, it came under the sponsorship of King Philip ll of Spain. He, in turn, gave it to the city of Guanajuato as a gift, most likely in gratitude for the flow of wealth that poured into his royal coffers from the silver mines.
The statue remains miraculously preserved to the present day; it is in pristine condition. According to historians, “It is amazing that the image was not completely destroyed by the dampness and lack of ventilation.” The stately image is 46” in height (1.15 m.) and is carved out of a single piece of wood. Our Lady is depicted holding the Child Jesus in her left arm.
Upon its arrival in the city it was first placed in the chapel connected with the hospital of the Aztec Indians where it remained for eight years. In 1565 the statue was then moved to the chapel in the Tarascan Indians’ hospital where it remained for the next 131 years. In 1696 the Basilica of Our Lady of Guanajuato was completed and the statue was placed over the main altar where it can be seen to the present day.
In 1908 a sublime honour was granted to Our Lady of Guanajuato: In May of that year the solemn Pontifical Coronation of Our Lady of Guanajuato took place with the official authorization of Pope Pius X. Such an honour was granted by the pope because of three elements: 1. The great antiquity of the image. 2. The numerous miracles attributed to her intercession and 3. The deep and widespread devotion of the citizens to Our Lady of Guanajuato.
In this year of 2022, at a time of unprecedented and widespread drought in the world, one notes with awe and wonder—Our Lady of Guanajuato’s special predeliction: she is particularly invoked in times of DROUGHT!
Extraordinary are the cases on record in Guanajuato of “plentiful rain” following processions with “the sacred image.” Historians have recorded the phenomenon on three noteworthy occasions: “Each time, while the procession was going through the streets, rain began to fall in such abundance that the image had to be taken hastily into the nearest church.” It seems that Our Lady of Guanajuato is meant to play a special role in our time!
In these perilous times let us remember the words of Pope Benedict as he was leaving the Basilica of Our Lady of Guanajuato and heading for the airport:
“Adios, mis amigos! Remain with God and may Mary Most Holy protect you all!”
The year was 1632. Padre Nicolas de Zamora was heartsick. Disconsolate. He was the pastor of the parish of El Pueblito, a small hamlet 6 miles north of the city of Querataro in central Mexico.
The city of Queretaro was founded by the Otomi Indians in 1446 but became absorbed by the Aztec Empire a few years later, in the 15th century. It was conquered by the Spanish in 1531 and became the headquarters for the Franciscan friars who would eventually establish missions, not only in central Mexico but in northern Mexico and in the southwestern United States as well. The Franciscans were the first evangelizers in the New World following the conquest by Hernan Cortez in 1521.
But one must ask: why was Padre Nicolas so unhappy? Why was he so downhearted? The reason is this: Padre Zamora was on fire for God! He was full of zeal for the faith and longed to bring all to know the love of the Lord but he met only with resistance from the inhabitants of El Pueblito. So few asked for Baptism! And of those who did, a sizeable majority reverted to their pagan practices as soon as he left the premises, even though he had taught them the truths of the faith.
They had built shrines to their pagan idols on a hilltop near the pueblo known as San Francisco Galileo. At night they would proceed up the hill to adorn their idols and practice their rituals. The fervent priest prayed fervently for their conversion but found it seemingly impossible to uproot their pagan worship.
The pastor’s friend, gifted sculptor and Franciscan friar, Fray Sebastian Gallegos, was aware of the situation. The friar lived at the great Franciscan convent in Queretaro and had his workshop in the cloister. Sculpting religious images was his passion! Particularly, images of Our Lady, for whom he had a deep and child-like devotion. He knew what he must do: He would make a statue of Our Lady for Padre de Zamora. She would bring everyone to her Son! He set to work in his studio—
Fray de Zamora was enchanted with the image. “It robs the heart!” he said. The two Franciscans decided to place the image in the open air, facing the hill of the prehispanic pyramid, the site of all the idol worship.
And what was the result of this endeavour? As historians related: According to tradition, “The effect was remarkable! The Indians came in groups to see the small altar erected by Padre de Zamora. They gazed upon the delicate features of the sacred image, and, burst spontaneously into songs of praise.” They came in ever-increasing numbers and conversions were numerous. “She won their hearts!” said Padre de Zamora. The image from this time forward became known as Our Lady of Pueblito.
What was it that so attracted the new converts to this image of Our Lady? Perhaps like the love of the Aztecs for the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, it may have been the maternal expression on Our Lady of Pueblito’s face, “so tender, and yet so regal” reported one historian. She “has the softness of the Maiden and the majesty of the Queen,” described another.
She is accompanied by her Divine Infant Son; contrary to expectation, however, He is not cradled in her arms. No! Instead, He stands at her side, on a column, “like the Lord of creation that He is.” He is holding a small globe in His left hand and is blessing the people with his right. A statue of St. Francis of Assisi serves as the pedestal for the Mother and Child. He is shown holding three globes which represent the three Franciscan Orders. These two statues were added at a later date.
According to Father Joseph Cassidy, author of Mexico: The Land of Mary’s Wonders, “the devotion of the people of Queretaro to Our Lady of Pueblito almost surpasses belief.” Three times a year she is carried in procession to the capital and in times of calamity as well, especially in times of drought, plagues and famines. At these times, thousands of people line the roads along the route to honour Our Lady.
She is very generous in bestowing her favours. “Many are the well-authenticated cures and favors attributed to her sovereign intercession” says Padre Francisco de Florencia in his “monumental” work, Zodiaco Mariano.
In 1875 Our Lady of Pueblito was declared Patroness of the diocese of Queretaro and in 1946 she had the distinctive honour of being pontifically crowned with the solemn authorization of Pope Pius Xll. 50,000 people witnessed the event with “great joy.” In the same year she was proclaimed Reina y Madre of the state of Queretaro.
How Queretaro loves its Virgin! She has had countless books, novenas and booklets written in her honour and 20 musical works composed, including an opera in four acts. It was written to commemorate the coronation and is named “The Offering.”
The statue remained in its original primitive abode for 82 years. In 1714 the Franciscans constructed a small adobe chapel where it resided for the next 22 years. The present Franciscan church was built in 1766 in the same location as the original chapel. The Franciscan convent, next door to the church, was built in 1775. A hydraulic lift was installed in 1997 so that the statue could be raised and lowered electronically.
In 2007 I visited the shrine of El Pueblito, unaware that it was the year of the 375th anniversary, giving the word “serendipity” a whole new depth of meaning!
The whole town was decked out for the occasion: marigolds, morning glories, giant dahlias and bougainvillea flowers, all in spectacular hues, abounded. Everywhere. Marching bands, white-veiled schoolgirls and Mexican ladies dressed in traditional huipil dresses accompanied Our Lady of Pueblito in her procession through the hamlet.
While at the shrine I had occasion to glimpse the small statue (it’s only 16” in height) first hand. It is really something this statue. I can understand why those early Otomi Indians were so moved. J. Guadalupe Ramirez in his Echoes of the Coronation of Santa Maria del Pueblito speaks of the image: “It is a true transcript of the Mother in Heaven,” he says, showing “a heart full of mercy and goodness.”
I can attest to this. It is not a beautiful image of Our Lady, nor is it pretty in any conventional sense. Whereas Our Lady of Guadalupe SAYS the actual words, the most consoling words of all time: “I am your Mother. What do you need?” Our Lady of Pueblito says not a word. But she doesn’t have to. Thanks to the genius of sculptor Fray Gallegos her facial expression conveys this same message. I know. I experienced it. Just as did those Otomi Indians over 300 years ago. The message is unmistakeable: “I am your Mother. What do you need?”
As Fray de Zamora says of the statue: “It robs the heart!”
This article was reprinted with permission from ONE PETER FIVE
The Franciscan presence in Mexico is enormous. Visit any city or town in the country and you are sure to see a Franciscan monastery; in many cases these are massive edifices which are pretty hard to miss. The one in Izamal, Yucatan, for example, is so imposing that it dominates the entire town. Its atrium is reported to be the second largest in the world, second only to St. Peter’s in Rome.
These monasteries represent the first wave of the evangelization of Mexico which took place after the conquest of the Aztecs by Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortez in 1521. The first missionaries to arrive in the country were the Franciscans. In 1524 the legendary twelve friars arrived; they were popularly known as “The Twelve Apostles.” Their arrival marked the beginning of the Christianization of the once-pagan country.
The second wave began in the 18th century. The central figure in this wave is the Spanish friar, Junipero Serra. This will come as a surprise to many. You might well ask, “Isn’t Fr. Serra the Apostle of California?” That he is. But one little-known fact about Fr. Serra’s life is that he spent twenty years in Mexico before he arrived in Mexico.
In any biography of Fr. Serra, the reader will come across references to the College of San Fernando in Mexico City. San Fernando was one of three Apostolic Colleges founded by the Franciscans in Mexico for the propogation of the faith in mission lands. They were essentially training centres for the formation of an elite corps of missionaries and were meant to restore the spiritual fervour of former times. They were built on the grand scale—the College of San Fernando, for example, housed 114 friars in 1772. It was the last of the three to be founded and was built in 1734. This college would become Fr. Serra’s main base while he was in Mexico.
Junipero was born in Majorca, Spain on Nov. 24, 1713. He entered the Franciscan Order at Palma, the island’s capital, in 1730, and took the name of Junipero (after one of St. Francis’ first companions). Seven years later he was ordained. During his novitiate he devoured books on the lives of the saints; this reading “inflamed his heart with love and zeal for souls.” “Like another Ignatius of Loyola,” said his biographer, Fr. Francisco Palou.
Serra was a brilliant student and became a professor of philosophy after completing his doctorate in Theology. According to his biographer he also excelled as “a sacred orator.” Numerous were the conversions of those who attended his Lenten sermons! Despite his exemplary success both as a professor and an orator he had only one ambition: to preach the gospel to the pagan nations and to bring them to the knowledge of Christ. Thus, when the missionary call came, he leaped at the opportunity. He was more than ready! His Father Guardian in Majorca, however, was not. When it came time for Fray Junipero’s departure, the Guardian “was weeping so that he could not speak a word.” Such was Junipero’s effect on those around him!
In 1749, Fr. Junipero, Fr. Juan Crespi and Fr. Francisco Palou (his former student and future biographer) set sail for Mexico. What a voyage it was! During the early stage of this 99-day Atlantic crossing, the captain of the ship, “a fanatical and narrow-minded heretic” was so filled with rage toward Junipero that he tried to kill him, holding a knife to his throat! He managed to escape but the trio kept careful watch for the duration of the trip. Privations of every kind abounded: Starvation, hunger and horrible discomforts. His friend Palou said that “Fr. Junipero seemed unmoved and bore all these trials with great calmness.” On top of everything else a fierce storm engulfed the ship two days before their arrival in Mexico. Shipwreck was imminent. The storm raged so fiercely that all prepared for death. “To increase the danger, during that same stormy night, the sailors became mutinous,” said Palou. “Junipero, though surrounded by perils stood intrepid.”
Within two days, however, the storm abated and the ship landed on North American shores at the harbour of Vera Cruz, Mexico. It was December 7, the vigil of the Immaculate Conception. Junipero decided to walk to Mexico City in imitation of his founder, St. Francis. A distance of 275 miles over four mountain ranges. Walking would become his preferred mode of transportation in the new country. During this trek he sustained a wound in his leg from which he would never entirely recover.
On the last day of 1749, Fr. Junipero—who had a great devotion to Our Lady—arrived, exhausted, at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. There he would spend the night in prayer “giving thanks to God and His Blessed Mother for having brought them to safety to their journey’s end.” On this night he would dedicate all of his future missionary endeavours to Our Lady of Guadalupe.
On New Year’s Day, 1750, the 36-year-old Junipero and his companion arrived at the College of San Fernando, the place which would be his home in Mexico for the next few months and for nine years (from 1758 to 1767). There he was greeted with open arms by one of the College’s founders: “Would to God they would send us a forest of such Junipers!” he exclaimed.
Fray Junipero would spend only five months training at the College instead of the requisite 12 months. He was needed immediately in the missions of the Sierra Gorda, a rugged, mountainous region north of Mexico City. He would spend the next eight years with the Pame Indians of the Sierra Gorda, a nomadic people who had resisted the evangelizing efforts of the Spanish missionaries for 200 years. All this would change with the arrival of Fray Junipero.
Soon after his arrival he learned the Otomi language and began translating the catechism into the native language. With his flair for the dramatic the creative friar arranged colourful pageants and plays. Pame children acted as angels in the Christmas liturgies. The tiniest Pame became the Christ child. And processions abounded! Every Saturday night there were candelight processions through the villages to honour the Blessed Virgin Mary. “He won the hearts of them all!” reported Palou.
He subsequently founded five “magnificent” mission churches which have been recently declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2003. The facades of these churches, known as “sermons in stucco and stone” are celebrated for their extraordinary carved facades which combine Christian symbolism with superb indigenous motifs and craftsmanship. Considered unique in the world, they are considered by many to be artistic masterpieces.
The friars worked alongside the Pames in the construction of these churches. One day Junipero’s spiritual Father from the College came to pay a visit. He was astonished to see the slight Junipero lifting heavy beams with the construction crew. “Your former professor—doing construction work?” he asked Fray Palou. “Oh, yes! It happens all the time!” quipped Palou.
The five churches, all “baroque gems,” display standard Franciscan images such as the crossed arms of the crucified Christ and St. Francis bearing the stigmata. Each church has its own theme which is displayed on its façade: The sumptuous church at Tilaco, for example, is dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi. A statue of the hooded saint, surrounded by angels, is situated above the main entrance.
At Conca, the church built in honour of the Archangel St. Michael, we see the saint chastising a chained demon. The church of Our Lady of Light, built at Tancoyol, displays a charming statue of St. Anne and her small daughter, Mary, on its façade.
The mission church at Landa, dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, is the most ornate of the five churches. Here we see carvings of John Duns Scotus and the mystic nun, Blessed Mary Agreda, both at their writing desks. Both were staunch advocates of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. The church at Jalpan, dedicated to St. James, is the largest of the five. It would be Junipero’s headquarters while he was in the Sierra Gorda.
A plaque in the museum at Jalpan reveals his final words to the Pames at Sierra Gorda: “I leave you with nothing, but I leave you with a great treasure, the faith.” As biographer Abigail Fitch said, “His religion was the one great passion of his life! His religion was alive! It was a glowing spark burning in the depths of his soul.”
According to Fitch “he was indefatigable in temporal affairs as well as spiritual matters. Under his administration the mission became not only self-supporting but extremely prosperous.” Fr. Palou concurs: By the end of Fr. Serra’s tenure, “the granaries were filled and the missions were in a most flourishing condition.”
In 1758 he was recalled to the College of San Fernando where he spent the next nine years in administrative works and giving missions throughout the country.
In 1769, the 56-year-old Junipero received his next assignment: He would be heading north. And the history of California would be changed forever.
Fr. Serra was canonized in 2015.
This article is re-printed with permission from One Peter Five.
Do you love history?
If so, the city of Cuernavaca, about 100 km (64 miles) south of Mexico City, is a must-see. It is filled with history!
For centuries the affluent have built luxurious villas here, attracted by the benign climate and the ever-present flowers which seem to be always in bloom! It continues to the present day to be a popular weekend get-away for residents of Mexico City. Adding to its appeal: On a clear day the magnificent volcano Popocatepetl dominates the landscape!
The conquistador, Hernan Cortez, arrived in Cuernavaca in 1521 and made it his home until 1540 when he returned to Spain.
It was in this city that Cortez built the first sugar mill in the Americas, in 1535. Not only did he build a church, and a sugar mill, he also built a palace! Tourists in the city can still visit the Palacio Cortez which he constructed in 1531. It is absolutely monumental in size and is situated close to the zocalo (the central plaza of the town).
Cortez built a church dedicated to St. Joseph in 1523 in the outskirts of the city, in an area called Tlaltenango. It is reputed to be the oldest church in the country. Within a few years the church had become too small to accommodate the growing population of sugar workers and their families. Cortes then built a second larger church, beside the original one. It is this second church which houses the miraculous image of Our Lady of the Miracles. She has a fascinating history. Here is her story—
In 1720 two young men were travelling to Cuernavaca from Acapulco. They stayed for the night at the posada (small inn) of Dona Agustina in Tlatltenango. Being most handsome and genteel they “created something of a sensation in the pueblo”! The next day before departing they asked Dona Agustina if they could leave a large wooden box in the room, promising to pick it up on their return. She happily obliged.
Two months later the pair had still not returned to claim their property! A while later Dona Agustina noticed something peculiar. Very peculiar indeed. One night she heard music, “heavenly” music, streaming from the room. Becoming alarmed, she roused her family. She didn’t want to investigate the odd happenings by herself! The entire family accompanied her to the room. More surprises were in store! Not only did they hear the music, they also saw lights radiating from the box. And they were mystified by an “exotic perfume” which surrounded the box.
On August 30, Dona Augustina travelled to Cuernavaca to inform the civic and the ecclesiastical authorities of the mysterious occurrences. She first went to see Fray Pedro Arana, who was the pastor of the Church of the Assumption (now the Cathedral of the city) and the Guardian of the Franciscan Convent. Next she went to see the mayor of the city at the Palacio.
Both agreed to come to the posada that very evening to investigate the extraordinary incidents. Upon entering the room they ordered that all lights be extinguished. Soft rays of light began pouring forth from the box! When the perplexed friar pried open the box all were astonished to discover in its depths an elegant statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She was sumptuously attired in a red and blue tunic. The amazed onlookers promptly bore the statue in procession to the ancient church of St. Joseph, where she resides to the present day.
Over the years the statue has acquired a new title: She is now known as OUR LADY OF THE MIRACLES (Nuestra Senora de Los Milagros) because of the many prodigies and healings she has worked for her devotees. One of her particular graces is the granting of a safe delivery to expectant mothers. Multitudes of ex-votos (testimonials of gratitude) in the sanctuary give witness to the providential care of Our Lady of the Miracles.
On Dec. 8, 1954, the most Reverend Sergio Mendez Arceo, the seventh Bishop of Cuernavaca, adorned the metre-high statue of Our Lady of the Miracles with a magnificent gold crown. And declared her as the Queen and official Patroness of the city and diocese of Cuernavaca.
Every September 8, her feastday, crowds come from all parts of Morelos to pay her homage.
“Many are the graces which the Virgin works!” they say—to the present day. Beautiful murals which adorn the facade of the church display its history of devotion to the Christian faith and its love for Our Lady of the Miracles.
Any aficionado of Mexican travel books, guides or magazines would recognize this church. It is iconic! And is probably the most photographed church in the country with its glorious and dramatic backdrop of the snow-capped volcano, Popocatepetl, in the distance.
The church of Los Remedios (Our Lady of the Remedies), home to the diminutive (27 cm) statue of Our Lady of the Remedies, was built by the Spanish in 1594 and was finished in 1666.
The 1521 Conquest of Mexico by Spanish conquistador, Hernan Cortez, opened the way for the introduction of Christianity into the Aztec nation. Within a few years of the Guadalupe apparition to Juan Diego in 1531, “an explosion” of Catholic churches, monasteries, convents and schools “sprang up all over” the once-pagan country. Los Remedios was part of this “explosion.”
It is believed that the statue of Los Remedios in this church was one of an original group of statues of Our Lady which had been brought over from Spain by Hernan Cortez and accompanied him and his soldiers in the battle at Tenochtitlan (present-day Mexico City). They attributed their victory to the intercession and protection of Our Lady.
At the dawn of the 16th century Cholula “was one of ancient Mexico’s major religious centers” and was a powerful and commercial centre under the domination of the Aztecs. Hundreds of pagan temples once dominated the landscape of the city. Today the tourist can visit the Great Pyramid, Tepanapa, atop of which is found the Church of Los Remedios! This mammoth pyramid is considered the second largest pyramid in the world and was built over a 1,000 year period (roughly between 300 BC to AD 700). After the Spanish Conquest all of these temples were replaced by Christian churches.
Although the pyramid now resembles an overgrown leafy hill, one can imagine its origins as one ascends the steep staircase to the church. Those very steps which once led to the sacrificial summit of the pyramid.
The church of Los Remedios has been severely damaged by earthquakes: one on Oct. 3, 1864, almost totally destroyed the church’s structure. Over a ten year period, it was totally renovated. Yet another earthquake struck Cholula on June 15, 1999 and destroyed about 80% of its infra-structure.
Today the vividly-painted church has been beautifully renovated in the neo-classical style and is in pristine condition. Tourists marvel at the church’s dome which is adorned with Talavera tile, the signature Puebla tile which is famous throughout the world.
September 8th is the feastday of Our Lady of the Remedies. Crowds flock to the church to venerate Cholula’s most beloved image.
Pilgrims to the church are thrilled not only by the 500-year-old statue of Our Lady, but by the panoramic view of Puebla from the church’s platform. And on a clear day you can see—the glorious volcano, Popocatepetl.
“Popo” as it is known affectionately by the locals is an active volcano unlike its “slumbering companion” Iztaccihuatl, which has long been dormant and is lacking a crater. At its height of 17,802 ft. (5,426 m.) Popo is one of the highest mountains in Mexico. It has erupted at least 36 times. In 1993 it began to “rumble and quake” and spewed out “explosions of gas, ash and rocks.” It was so dangerous that 25,000 people in the vicinity had to be evacuated.
One of the great thrills of my life was to see Popo, spewing ash from it clearly visible crater! What a beautiful sight! And one I will not soon forget. My photo of this once-in-a-lifetime experience is shown below. A fitting background for the wondrous image of Our Lady of the Remedies, one of the most photographed churches in the country.
On September 19, 1985, a catastrophic earthquake struck Mexico City. It caused severe loss of life and injury and extensive damage to buildings and infrastructure. The historical centre of the city was hardest hit. At least 10,000 people died and 412 buildings collapsed; another 3,124 were seriously damaged.
One of these buildings was the Basilica of St. Jose and Nuestra Senora del Sagrado Corazon, one of the first parishes in New Spain. It was founded by the legendary and beloved Fray Pedro de Gante in the 16th century, immediately after the Conquest of Mexico by the Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortez in 1521. It was named in honour of St. Joseph. It has been claimed that the first Confirmations in the country were celebrated in this church.
The Basilica is home to the exquisite painting of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart which originated from Issoudun, France. Her title is Abogada de las Causas Dificiles y Desesperadas, Protector of Difficult and Desperate Cases. You might have heard that the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is revered everywhere in Mexico. That is true! But the image of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart seems to be running a close second. You can find this painting in countless churches throughout the country. It actually is the third most revered devotion in Mexico, after Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
The “sweet and miraculous” image of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart was first placed in the church in 1854. Four years later an earthquake struck, in 1858, which did extensive damage to the church. Within three years, however, it was restored.
The image of Our Lady was placed in a discrete place in the church entrance. Soon, however, in a “surprising way” a great fervour awoke among the faithful toward the image. “It grew day by day.” This devotion increased in such a notable manner that, with the passing of time, it became the principal devotion of the parishioners, even eclipsing that of St. Joseph. Soon, this devotion extended to the whole country. Because of all the miracles attributed to her intercession she became known as “The Helper of the Most Desperate Cases.” Thousands of testimonials in the sanctuary attest to her powerful powers of protection.
The miraculous nature of the painting has been affirmed at the highest levels of the church: The painting was solemnly blessed by the Archbishop of Mexico, Ruiz de Flores in 1940. A few years later, in September 1948, the image received a most singular and rare distinction: it was crowned by Pope Pius XII in a “most emotional” and stirring ceremony in the Metropolitan Cathedral by the notable Archbishop of Mexico, Luis Martinez.
After the devastating earthquake of 1985, the church was left in such deplorable shape that all thought that the church would have to be closed. But, no! Thanks to the generosity of the parishioners—and their devotion to Our Lady of The Sacred Heart—the reconstruction was finished in record time. The work on the new, classically-styled church was concluded in May of 1992.
Months later, on Jan. 15, 1993, Pope St. John Paul II raised the parish of St. Joseph and Our Lady of the Sacred Heart to the status of a Minor Basilica. At this time he said these words about Our Lady of the Sacred Heart:
“In the city of Mexico, in the parish of St. Joseph and the Sacred Heart of Mary, is venerated piously, a gracious image of the Mother of God.” An image which now can be found in more than half of the churches in the country.
August 13, 1807, was a night to remember in the Dominican convent of Jesus Maria in Guadalajara, the second largest city in Mexico. The church of Jesus Maria is a five minute walk from the mammoth Guadalajara Cathedral and the zocalo (the central plaza of the city). Guadalajara is in the western part of the country in the state of Jalisco. The elegant city boasts of an ideal climate and is popular with many Americans and Canadian tourists.
At 2:30 in the morning a violent thunderstorm erupted. This was a common occurrence in the “rainy season” in this area of Mexico, during the months from July to October. Since 1792 the nuns had lived in the convent peacefully and uneventfully. This was all to change.
While the nuns were asleep in their quarters on this fateful night, the storm raged in full force. Thunder rolled and crackled all around the sky; rain pounded at the windows. A tremendous crash shook the convent to its foundations, waking everyone.
In the dormitory lightning had hit the statue of Our Lady! Smoke filled the room and the smell of burning wood was everywhere—the convent was on fire! The terrified nuns fled for their lives.
Once the fire was safely extinguished the nuns returned to the convent to assess the damage. A sad sight met their eyes: the statue of Mary was damaged beyond repair. Its crystal eyes had been shattered and its face had been blackened. The pearl rosary which encircled the image was now black and twisted.
The Infant Jesus in His mother’s arms, however, was completely unscathed as were the two paintings hanging on the wall on either side of the statue, that of St. Dominic and the other of the Most Holy Trinity. One of the nuns who was sleeping inches away from the statue, escaped unharmed, as did all the rest of the nuns in the dormitory.
A Mass of Thanksgiving was offered the next day in immense gratitude to Our Lady for her protection. This was, after all, an order of nuns, devoted to Our Lady! The statue of Our Lady was relegated to a place of honour in the convent chapel.
This is not the end of the story, however.
Five days later, on August 18, 1807, two workmen and some of the nuns were in the chapel in the middle of the afternoon. Without warning, the chapel turned as black as night. Another storm was on its way.
Before the startled eyes of the onlookers, the statue of Mary began to shine with an intense, “unearthly” glow. The occupants of the chapel were stupefied. Petrified. They wanted to bolt from the room but found themselves unable to move. Mesmerized, they all stood as if “turned to stone,” their eyes riveted on the image. It was at this time that the prioress and the rest of the nuns entered the chapel for Vespers. One can only imagine their surprise!
In the next moments a loud clap of thunder roared through the chapel, followed by an “extraordinary” flash of lightning. The entire chapel became illuminated by an unusual, brilliant light. The drama was just beginning. The lighting struck the statue once again!
Several times the statue changed colour, from rosy pink to white, then back again. Eventually, after a few minutes it resumed its normal colour. As if this were not enough, the eyes which had been shattered, opened up and became as bright as diamonds.
The blackened features of Our Lady’s face transformed into a rosy-peach colour; in fact, the entire statue looked more beautiful than it had originally! The Rosary which had become blackened and distorted by the first lightning strike, became perfectly restored by the second.
These events were verified by an official investigation conducted by the chaplain of the Church of Jesus Maria, Don Manuel Cervino, and the future bishop of the state of Michoacan, Don Jose Maria Gomez y Villasenor. Devotion to Our Lady of the Thunderbolt grew exponentially as the events of August 18th became public.
She became known for her healing powers of intercession. One of the many miracles of healing attributed to her was the healing of a young nun from the convent. At the age of 22, Cecilia de San Cayetano had become ill with a fever which left her spine paralyzed. For eight years she received treatment from the finest doctors in the city.
In August of 1850 her personal physician said to her: “I am so sorry but I can do absolutely nothing more to help you.” She could no longer walk and was in constant pain. On December 17, 1850, she experienced an irresistible urge to visit Our Lady of the Thunderbolt in the chapel. With the aid of the subprioress, she navigated her agonizing way to the feet of Our Lady’s statue where she slumped down almost unconscious.
A sense of despondency overwhelmed her. Only later did she confess that she had suffered the most sorrowful depression during the years of her illness. She said her only consolation was “to place her afflicted heart in the hands of the most Holy Virgin at the foot of the cross.”
On this December day she prayed: “Oh, restore my health, Good Mother, for if I continue like this I fear for my salvation.”
Within minutes, she was walking! She walked unaided back to her room for the first time in eight years. Two astonished nuns followed behind her. Not only was she walking, she was soon taking two steps at a time to the convent refectory. “Watch me, sisters! Who would ever believe it is I?” She lived another 20 years in perfect health.
Another notable cure was that of Dona Micaela Contreras who was healed instantly on September 17, 1856, after suffering from paralysis for 32 years.
Our Lady of the Thunderbolt has received approval from the Church at the highest levels. She was pontifically crowned (a singular distinction granted to few statues) with the authorization of Pope Pius XII in 1940, in the Cathedral of Guadalajara. The sixth Archbishop of the city, Don Jose Garibi Rivera, acted as the Papal delegate.
The majestic statue is 41” high and the eyes have a slight downward cast. She is carrying the Infant Jesus in her left arm. Both Mother and Child are dressed in elaborately adorned vestments and gold crowns studded with precious gems and pearls. The exquisite miraculous statue can be viewed in the Church of Jesus Maria today. She is greatly loved in Guadalajara and countless testimonials in the sanctuary give witness to her powerful intercession. She has two additional titles: Advocate for those without work, and those with urgent needs. It seems that her intercession is needed for these times more than ever!
The shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City is one of the great Marian shrines in the world and is visited by as many as 20 million pilgrims a year. The enormous basilica has the capacity to hold 10,000 pilgrims at one time. What attracts all these worshippers to the shrine? The come to view the tilma (cloak) of St. Juan Diego which bears the miraculous image of the Blessed Virgin, the only truly authentic portrait of Our Lady in existence.
The story began on Dec. 9, 1531, as Juan Diego, a newly baptized Aztec Indian was on his way to morning Mass. When he arrived at Tepeyac Hill, Our Lady appeared to him—much to his astonishment—with a message of joy and hope, offering all her love, compassion and mercy! She also asked that a church be built on the site, formerly the location of a temple honouring the Aztec goddess of earth and corn.
Not surprisingly, the Bishop of the area, Bishop Zumarraga, was skeptical when told of this revelation. Secretly, and unbeknown to Juan Diego, the bishop had been praying fervently to the Blessed Virgin Mary for an urgent intention. He had asked for an impossible sign— that Castilian roses be sent to him as a sign of her intercession. The fact of the matter, however, is that Castilian roses were unknown in Mexico at that time. To make the matter even more difficult, roses of any kind could not grow in Mexico City at this time of year!
Juan Diego was also begging Our Lady for a sign: to prove the authenticity of the apparitions! In his next apparition, Our Lady told him to pick some Castilian roses from the hillside and present them to the bishop. Imagine, then, the stupendous surprise of the bishop when Juan Diego uncovered his cloak which was holding the miraculous Castilian roses! And there was another incredible miracle: there on the cloak was emblazoned an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary exactly as she appeared to Juan Diego. She appeared as an Aztec maiden.
It was this image which not only attracted millions of devoted pilgrims over the centuries, but was also the catalyst for the conversion of nine million Aztec Indians within a decade. This was at the same time that the Catholic Church in Europe was losing five million Catholics to the Protestant Reformation.
The fact that the image is still intact and visible to us after four centuries is an outstanding marvel in itself. The tilma, an outer garment worn by the Aztecs of Juan Diego’s time, is made of the delicate Ayate fibres which originate from the Maguay cactus plant, whose normal lifespan is 20 years. Furthermore, it shows not the slightest indication of decay or colour fading.
Scientific investigations have continued to amaze many, believers and unbelievers alike. Richard Kuhn, German Nobel prize winner in chemistry in 1936 discovered that there was no colouring of any kind in the image’s fibres. The materials used to produce the existing “colours” were unknown to science, being of neither animal, vegetable or mineral origin.
Advanced computerized technology in ophthalmology has revealed more marvellous findings: photographic studies of Our Lady’s eyes, under intense magnification, demonstrated the reflection of the 12 people who were present in the bishop’s room at the time of the miracle.
In 1979 modern scientific research conducted at the University of Florida, utilizing infra-red photography, revealed some startling results, findings which defied science: the scientists were simply mystified by the brightness of the colours (seemingly impervious to fading) and the complete absence of any surface cracking after 400 years. Professor Callahan from the University of Florida summarized his results: “It may seem strange for a scientist to admit this but as far as I’m concerned, the original picture is a miracle.”
It seems that not only is Mary’s image being miraculously preserved, but through modern science and computer technology, our appreciation of the miraculous event that happened over 4 centuries ago is being ever more enhanced!
This article is the first article I wrote on Our Lady of Guadalulpe and is re-printed with permission from THE CATHOLIC REGISTER.