Meet the oldest statue of Our Lady on the American continent!
“In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue”—a chant familiar to every school-aged child in America. That famous date, marked, of course, the year that the Italian-born navigator, Christopher Columbus, departed from Spain and discovered the continent of America.
Over the next two and a half decades more Spaniards would follow in his wake. One of these would be the conquistador, Hernan Cortes, whose miniscule army would defeat the massive military might of the Aztec empire.
He left Spain prepared for battle, both military and spiritual. As well as soldiers, cannon and horses, he brought with him priests, crucifixes, and several wooden statues of the Virgin Mary. One would become the most revered of them all: the statue of Our Lady of the Remedies.
Sculpted in the city of Tolosa, Spain, in the 14th century, she has the distinction of being the oldest statue of Mary on the American continent.
Our Lady of the Remedies was to play a role in the Spanish conquest of Mexico. She accompanied Cortes and his soldiers in 1519 on their grueling march from Veracruz on the Mexican coast to the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan, (site of present-day Mexico City), a journey of 400 miles over two mountain ranges. She also witnessed the triumphant entry of the Spaniards into the capital and the dramatic encounter between Cortes and the Aztec leader Moctezuma. For a period of time she even replaced the “hideous” blood-thirsty idol of Huitzilopochtli, the god of war, that graced Moctezuma’s private apartment.
During the Noche Triste (the Night of Sorrows) on July 8, 1520, she was “implored with tears” as the Spaniards fled from the Aztecs in terror, suffering terrible losses. The diminutive 11”(28cm) statue was hastily hidden under the leaves of a cactus plant and she remained lost for twenty years!
She was found in 1540 by a newly converted Indian chief, Juan Cuautli, and was venerated for several years in his private chapel. In 1575 a shrine was built in her honour in Naucalpan, eight miles northwest of Mexico City.
Even in the 1500’s this shrine was well-known. Bernal Diaz refers to this shrine in his famous 16th century first-hand account of the struggle for Mexico, The True History of the Conquest of New Spain: “After the great city of Mexico was finally captured we built a church which is called Our Lady of the Remedies and it is now much visited.” Diaz was a young 26-year-old soldier when he fought alongside Cortes in the battle for Mexico. He wrote this book while he was in his 70s.
Like most churches of the earliest Colonial period, it was built at the site of a destroyed Aztec sacrificial temple, thus sanctifying a place which had been a scene of previous abominations. It reflects the influence of the Spanish architect, Juan Herrera, who had been commissioned by King Philip ll of Spain in 1563 to build the monumental monastery and royal tomb, El Escorial, near Madrid. The Herrerian style is characterized by a stark and somber austerity-“a sad somemnity”- and is evident in the facade of the single-tower church of Our Lady of the Remedies.
But the altarpiece and cupola which showcases the statue of Our Lady of the Remedies—Herrerian it is not! It was built at a later period and is a riot of sumptuous splendor, reflecting the Churrigueresque style of Baroque architecture, unique to Spain and Latin America, particularly Mexico. It is named after Spanish architect Jose Churriguera who dominated Spanish architecture for the first half of the 17th century.
She became known for her powers of intercession in great public calamities: From 1567 to the early years of the 20th century, she was carried in procession on 75 separate occasions, in times of urgent needs: epidemics, droughts, wars, and political crises of all kinds—none of these proved obstacles for Our Lady of the Remedies.
Cortes’ “utterly unbelievable victory” in 1521 inititated the demise of paganism in Mexico. Christianity would become the religion of the land. It has been said that the secret weapon of the Spanish missionaries in Mexico was their devotion to the Blessed Virgin. Ten years before the arrival of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Tepeyac Hill, Our Lady of the Remedies arrived on Mexican soil. She was the first. It was she who paved the way.
Reprinted with permission from the NATIONAL CATHOLIC REGISTER.
October 12 is the feastday of Our Lady of Zapopan in Guadalajara, Mexico. According to one travel guidebook “she is one of the most revered religious relics in Mexico.”
What is unusual about this celebration is the homage that the secular media pays to it! One travel guide stated: “the legendary image of Our Lady of Zapopan has enjoyed generations of popularity so enormous that it must be seen to be believed.” Another comments on her “continuous stream of penitents.”
The media are stunned by the multitudes who participate in Our Lady of Zapopan’s pilgrimage every October 12th: she processes from the Cathedral of Guadalajara to her home sanctuary at the Franciscan Basilica of Zapopan; a journey of six miles, in “numbers that are beyond belief.” The Oct. 13, 2005, issue of the Miami Herald reported that one million people participated in the event in 2005. Security personnel estimated the numbers to be two million in 2008, the year I attended the event. EWTN reported that four million people walked in the procession to Zapopan from the Eucharistic Congress in Guadalajara in 2004.
Amid great pomp and pageantry she is escorted back to Zapopan, after traveling through the diocese of Guadalajara for the previous four months. She is accompanied by throngs of rejoicing pilgrims, honour guards, priests and nuns, charros (cowboys or horsemen dressed in traditional clothes), marching bands, Mariachi musicians, jugglers, children’s choirs, and Indian dancers in traditional costumes. Airplanes may strew flowers along the route. Fireworks punctuate the night sky. And Rosaries and stirring hymns are heard all along the route. All to celebrate the diminutive 13” figure of La Zapopanita, who is not only the oldest statue of Mary but the first one to be venerated in the state.
Most striking are the numbers of indigenous dancers. The Mural, Guadalajara’s Spanish language newspaper, reported that “16,000 Indian dancers” participated in the annual procession in 2008. Dicken’s words from Hard Times came to mind as I was watching the procession: “a blaze of splendor.” He could have been describing the befeathered Indian dancers at Zapopan! Splashes of colour going marching by—firecracker reds, brilliant blues, emerald greens, all in exquisitely embroidered and beaded and bejeweled costumes. A dazzling sight! And dazzling too was the sound of their “ankle “rattlers.” A sound I will never forget. These are made from shells of nuts which have been partially filled with small stones and sewn on to leather ankle bands. It is a spellbinding, melodious sound, k-poosh, k-poosh, k-poosh, multiplied a few million times over, like an army on its way to heaven. The dancers spend a year in intense training for the event, training weekly, sometimes daily, until all is just right, each step perfect, to offer to Our Lady of Zapopan.
It all began with the Franciscans: In 1524 the first group of twelve Franciscan missionaries arrived on Mexican soil. In 1525 the second group arrived, among them Fray Antonio de Segovia and his traveling companion, Fray Miguel de Bolonia, who became the first evangelizers in Jalisco. The ascetic and kindly Fray Antonio had a deep devotion to Our Lady and always carried her image with him on his missionary travels. He would wear it around his neck, claiming that it was she who was the evangelizer, not himself! The statue was one he brought from Spain and is the same statue that resides in the Basilica of Zapopan today.
She became known as “La Pacificadora,” the one who makes peace: One day while Fray Antonio was preaching “luminous rays issued from the statue.” So impressed (and startled!) were the Indians with this divine manifestation that they laid down their arms (the Spaniards and the Indians had been at war with each other) and begged to be baptized. Since the earliest days the indigenous peoples of Guadalajara have been devoted to Our Lord and His Mother.
Many are the honours accorded to Our Lady of Zapopan. After reports of numerous miracles an ecclesiastsical investigation in 1641 declared the image to be taumaturga which means “wonder-working.” Among the verified miracles were the curing of a blind man and the restoration of a dead child to life. In 1919 the Vatican authorized the Pontifical coronation of the image and she was crowned in 1921. In 1940 Pope Pius Xll elevated the shrine to the status of a basilica. Another great honour accorded to Our Lady of Zapopan was the visit by Pope St. John Paul ll on January 30, 1979. While there, he said to vast crowds: “This sanctuary of Zapopan is proof, most consoling, of the intense devotion, that the Mexican people profess to the Virgin Immaculate.”
Our Lady of Zapopan wears different costumes: for the October 12th procession she is dressed in “a medieval pilgrim’s cloak and a broad-brimmed hat” complete with a large satchel. Because what lady can travel without her travel bag? At other times she is seen wearing a gold-tasseled blue sash, indicating military rank and carrying a “gold baston of command.”Military rank? A baston of command? For Our Lady? Well, in 1821, the “Year of Independence” for Mexico, the government of Jalisco commissioned Our Lady as “General of the Army and of the State.” At which time she was vested with the sash and the baton! Our Lady of Zapopan is also known as the Patroness of Guadalajara because of her protection of its citizens in storms and plagues.
A visit to Zapopan on October 12th will provide memories for a lifetime of the deep veneration of the people of Mexico toward Our Lady.
I was visiting the renowned shrine of Our Lady of Tonatico in the town of the same name in the state of Mexico. It is a ten-minute bus ride from the internationally recognized spa town of Ixtapan de Sal. Whereas Ixtapan is a bustling place, Tonatico is its opposite, a smaller serene spot encircled by mountains. The church of Our Lady of Tonatico is an exquisite place. Enormous in size. All in tones of burgundy and cream and brimming over with flowers to honour Our Lady.
But where was the famous statue? I glanced all around and it was nowhere to be seen. Then I looked up. Way up. And there she was! An unusually tall, elongated figure, situated high above the main altar. A kindly sacristan motioned for me to climb the staircase for a closer look. Before I realized it I was face-to-face with the famous Our Lady of Tonatico!
She looked decidedly different from any statue of Our Lady that I had ever seen before. That tilt of the head. The look of perplexity. Or, maybe of dismay. She looked so down-to-earth, just like everybody’s next-door neighbor. There was nothing ethereal in her expression at all.
And how to account for that unusual tilt of the head? That all began with a catastrophe that happened over two hundred years ago—
All the clergy and guests were gathering on the grounds for the blessing of the new church of Our Lady of Tonatico. A banquet was being held to celebrate the event.
During the festivities two of the townspeople were telling the pastor about a recent dream they had had concerning the new shrine. Oddly, both of the guests had related the identical dream. Its message? That the pastor would have much anxiety concerning this new sanctuary. No sooner had these words been spoken than one of the guests raced over with alarming news. The church was on fire! All stormed over to the calamitous scene. Before their very eyes the roof crashed in! The flames leaped higher and higher. Within minutes all had become a conflagration of burning timbers. Everything was ruined!
Everything, that is, except the statue of Our Lady of Tonatico. It, inexplicably, escaped all damage and beyond all logic, was found outside the church. “How did it get there?” everyone wondered. It was far too large to have been surreptitiously smuggled out of the church. The mystery remains to the present day.
Stranger still, the position of the statue’s head had become altered after the fire; it was now tilted upward toward the church. It was as though Our Lady were standing there—-with anguished eyes—watching the inferno unfold. The unusual angle of the head is visible to the present day.
The story of the miracle spread and the devotion of the townspeople to their favourite patron increased dramatically. She has become known for her extraordinary powers of intercession. Behind the church stands an entire building devoted to testimonials documenting Our Lady of Tonatico’s special favours. All four walls are literally covered with thousands of ex-votos (also called retablos). These are small hand-drawn pictures which depict miracles which have occurred. All are signed and dated by the grateful donors. Usually, the individuals do not paint the pictures themselves. They hire artists to do the work. Since the early 1600’s the statue has been known as “taumataurga” (wonder-working). She has been known to heal paralysis, cure blindness and save people horribly wounded in accidents.
And, according to the dates of some of the ex-votos, Our Lady of Tonatico is continuing her powerful intersessions to this day.
The much-loved statue of Our Lady in the church of Santa Anita has a most unusual and extraordinary talent—but it’s one that is not appreciated by all!
Tradition tells us that the miraculous and legendary image of Our Lady of Purification was able to declare—precisely—whether a sick person would get better or whether they would die! Not by words, but by the colour of her skin; if her face turned rosy pink and bright it meant life, if it turned dark, it meant death.
The stuff of pious legends? Or of naïve schoolchildren? Well, the Franciscan friars at the convent had some experience of this themselves—
But first, some of the history of the shrine is in order: In 1530 two Franciscan friars, Fray Juan de Padilla And Fray Juan de Badillo arrived in the hamlet to preach the faith. Historians relate that a European hermit had brought the statue to the area about the year 1700. The elderly hermit had eventually become ill and a devout Christian Indian woman named Augustina took care of him. On his deathbed, in gratitude, he entrusted the statue to her. Soon, favours abounded to those who prayed through her intercession!
Augustina was known as a “native doctor” and would visit sick people in their homes. She began to notice a strange phenomenon: while praying for a patient she would observe the features of the image—sure enough, if the features darkened it meant sure death for the patient. If the features brightened, it was a sign of imminent health.
The friars soon learned of the mysterious happenings and decided to investigate. To test this hypothesis, they brought the image to an ill friar: the image’s face turned dark. “You are beautiful, O Lady, but very dark,” said the sick friar. Shortly after, he died a holy death.
Over time, however, devotion to Our Lady’s image diminished and it became neglected entirely . This was to change however; after the middle of the 17th century, Franciscan Fria, Ignatio Tellez, saw the sorry image: it was in a dilapidated state and its garments were tattered and covered with dust. The friar discovered that this was indeed the miraculous statue he had heard about. He resolved to revive the ancient devotion—and this devotion has continued to the present day.
The Franciscans are in charge of this thriving parish to this day. Each year on the second of February, the Feast of the Presentation, a fiesta is celebrated with great solemnity and rejoicing. The small wooden statue of Spanish origin is about 18″ (cm) in height. She holds a golden candlestick in her right hand and on her left arm, the Child Jesus. Both Mother and Child are vested in sumptuous garments.
She has another title as well: “Help of the Sick.” Many a pilgrim attests to the powers of her intercession!
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.
The clowns. The acrobats. The trapeze artists! Who doesn’t love a circus? And the citizens of San Juan de los Lagos, a town 76 miles northeast of Guadalajara, were no exception. The circus was coming to town!
The year was 1623. A family of aerial acrobats was in the middle of their performance when the six-year-old daughter slipped, lost her footing and plunged to the ground far below. Impaled by a dagger through the chest, she died instantly. Safety nets were not in use at that time: instead—to increase the thrill factor—daggers had been placed in the earth with their points placed upward.
Hours later, as the young trapeze artist was being prepared for burial, Ana Lucia, the 86-year-old sacristan’s wife, elbowed her way through the crowd and placed a statue of Mary (known as Our Lady of San Juan de los Lagos) on the little corpse. “La Virgencita will return the child to life!” she proclaimed. “Let us all pray to Holy Mary!” Within minutes, the child blinked open her eyes, looked all around, and sat straight up. She was alive!
Since 1623 the shrine of Our Lady of San Juan de los Lagos has become one of the most celebrated shrines in Latin America, second only to Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. It attracts more than six million pilgrims a year.
In 1634 Guadalajaran Bishop Cervantes Carvajal, travelled to the town to investigate the extraordinary happenings. He interviewed many of the witnesses including 97-year-old Ana Lucia. His findings verified the authenticity of the miracle of 1623 as well as an “uninterrupted series of additional favours and miracles.” Further church investigations in 1639 and 1668 collaborated Bishop Carrvajal’s research.
The miracles continue to the present day: a special room has been set aside beside the sacristy for the displaying of ex-votos, pictorial testimonials, objects and letters of thanksgiving for miracles granted. The room is overflowing with them!
The shrine of Our Lady of San Juan de los Lagos, once a humble chapel with “mud walls and straw roof” is now a “magnificent” twin-towered basilica. On the feast of the Assumption in 1904 the statue was crowned with the authorization of Pope Pius X. In 1944 the seminary of San Juan de los Lagos was founded. Three years later Pope Pius Xll elevated the sanctuary to the status of a basilica. In 1972 the shrine became the Cathedral-Basilica for the newly established diocese of San Juan de Los Lagos.
Although the exact age of the statue is unknown it was most likely brought to the town by the saintly Franciscan missionary, Fray Miguel de Bolonia, in the sixteenth century. The ongoing existence of the statue is a miracle in itself: Over 500 years old, the statue should have disintegrated within a few years; instead it is intact, robust, unblemished—and in mint condition.
An exemplary honour was bestowed on the shrine on May 8, 1990: that was the day that Pope St. John Paul ll visited. He spent an “unprecedented” three minutes kneeling in front of the statue praying before the small image, “with eyes closed—in a spirit of intense recollection.” It seemed like he could barely tear himself away—Our Lady has that effect on people!
As I was leaving the shrine I spoke to one of the nuns in attendance: I brought up the subject of the vocations crisis we are having in the Church today. She looked at me quizzically: “Vocations crisis?” she asked. “What vocations crisis? Here we have three hundred seminarians! We are bursting at the seams!”
It looks like Our Lady of St. John is continuing her wonders to the present day!
The drive from Queretaro to Soriano is a little tedious; it is nothing but flat plains, humdrum scenery and sparse populations.
But then, as you approach the small town you are stunned to see the church—so enormous, so majestic! “Such magnificence in this sleepy place!” said one author. And at the centre of this glorious church, above the main altar, is the miraculous statue of Our Lady of Sorrows. You are touched by the expression on her face, such sorrow, such anguish of heart, “deep beyond telling” recalls one chronicler. It is a small statue, only 26” in height.
The statue spans two distinct time periods of Mexican evangelization: one in the mid 1500’s and the second in the mid-to-late 1700’s. But how can this be?
The deep devotion of the early Franciscans to Our Lady is legendary: Often it was their custom to leave innumerable statues of Our Lady along their trails. It is surmised that this statue is one of these. Historians believe that the first priest to preach here was Franciscan Fray Alonso Rangel who came to New Spain in 1529. He learned the Otomi language and converted many to the faith. And one cannot help but ask: “But what happened in the intervening years?”
The writer Pena said: “No Christian Indian or Spaniard was safe in this Sierra Gorda in the 1700’s,” and he spoke of the massacres by the Chichemeca Indians. “Nothing remained,” he said, “the missions were burnt and the missionaries were sacrificed.”
The little chapel in Soriano was not spared. It was in ruins. The year 1723, though, brought new life to the area. New mines had been discovered and new settlers arrived. And, upon this lively scene, arrived a zealous Franciscan missionary from Queretaro, Fray Guadalupe Soriano.
Being a curious sort, he decided to poke around the ruins of the ancient chapel. There, something caught his eye! Something metallic! He hastily cleared away the heap of stones and rubble. And there it was—-underneath a slab of rock—the statue of Our Lady of Sorrows. It had survived the massacre, the fires, the elements…intact.
Today “Hundreds of paintings, photos, cards and letters of thanksgiving adorn the walls of the adjoining chapel.” The citizens have a fervent love for Our Lady of Soriano. And she has rewarded them with a multitude of favours throughout the centuries.
In 1964 the statue was pontifically crowned and in 2009 Pope Benedict XVl elevated the church to the level of a Basilica. Fray Rengel would be proud!
Zacatecas. It’s one of those places you just can’t forget. A mountainous city in north central Mexico, it’s a place of superlatives. UNESCO bestowed the title, Patrimony of Humanity, on the city in 1993.
It’s considered one of the finest of Mexico’s colonial cities. It was once the biggest silver-producing city in the world and for three centuries was one of the country’s most prosperous areas.
And that’s not all. 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, which is majestically situated atop the Cerro de la Bufa, (Hill of the Bufa). The Bufa is a dramatic outcropping of rock which overlooks the city.
The statue of El Patrocinio was brought from Spain by the Spanish Conquistadores and was present at the founding of the city in 1546.
In 1588 Spanish King Felipe ll ordered a coat of arms for the city of Zacatecas: Prominent on the shield was an image of the Virgin Mary standing on the clouds atop the hill of the Bufa. The four founding Conquistadores are depicted at the foot of the hill. Symbolism on the shield can be traced back to a 500-year-old tradition: Initially the Chichema Indians were terrified of the Spaniards. They took refuge in the Cerro de la Bufa, hiding in the woods, fortifying themselves with supplies and weapons. Then came the events of Sept.8, 1530:
All were astounded by a vision in the sky: “A Lady of great beauty appeared on the Bufa with a child in her arms.” She advised the Indians to make peace with the Spaniards. All were startled and shouted “Milagro! Milagro!” (miracle) From that time on peace ensued between the two groups and the conversion of the indigenous population to the Christian faith proceeded tranquilly.
The Franciscans were the first evangelizers to the area: Francisco Jeronimo de Mendoza built the first church on the site in 1603. Until this time the church had been a small hermitage.
In 1707 the Franciscan Apostolic College for the Propogation of the faith was founded in nearby Guadalupe, Zacatecas, for the express purpose of evangelization. For the next century and a half the College provided priests for the shrine of EL PATROCINIO.
The charming wood statue (with such a youthful face!) measures 125 cm in height. It is enshrined above the main altar in the small, light-filled church. Neoclassical architecture dominates the interior.
The statue was crowned canonically by the authority of Pope Paul Vl in 1967. Cardinal Jose Rivera did the honours in the presence of 15,000 of the faithful.
“Zacatecas has always been the city of Mary,” he said, “right from the beginning.”
And it is probably the only city in the world where you can go directly to Mass—by cable-car!
“Reverse the ravages of time!” Cosmeticians have made fortunes on just such claims.
“Impossible!” say the realists. “Only in your dreams!” say the skeptics. But once, a very long time ago, just such a miracle did indeed occur…
The date was Sept. 19, 1644: The miracle occurred in Talpa, Jalisco, a small town in the Sierra Madre mountains of western Mexico.
Many years earlier, Franciscan missionaries had brought a 19”(48 cm) statue of Our Lady of the Rosary to the town. The fragile cornpaste statue had been crafted by Tarascan Indians in Patzcuaro, Michoacan, a state in central Mexico. The resourceful Tarascans combined dried cornstalk with the bulb of an orchid to devise a uniquely durable but lightweight substance, ideal for the moulding of statues. Patzcuaro had become renowned as the Christian sculptural centre of the country. Thus it was that the Franciscan missionaries would travel to Patzcuaro to purchase their statue.
It was placed in the local chapel and was the object of fervent veneration for many years. Over time, however, insects of all kinds began devouring the statue’s face. Eventually the statue became so disfigured—it was full of cracks and insect bites—- that the pastor, Father Pedro Rubio Felix became worried that the unsightly-looking image would be a deterrent to his parishioners’ faith. He announced: “The statue should be discarded! With all due reverence, of course.” He asked the cantor’s daughter, Maria Tenachi, to perform the task. She agreed to do so but only with the utmost reluctance. She loved the statue—and furthermore—she had received many favours from her patron!
She embarked upon her sad task. She began—ever so slowly—to carefully wrap the statue in altar cloths. Then—without warning, she was knocked to the floor by a dazzling light which beamed from the statue’s forehead. Maria fell “as if dead.” The people in the church rushed over, fearing the worst. “What has happened to Maria?” they screamed, racing to her side.” “She’s dead!” shrieked those closest to her; to everyone’s relief, however, Maria soon regained consciousness and rapidly recovered. Her eyes reverted at once to the statue: “Look, look at the statue!” Maria cried. Before their eyes the statue had transformed itself. “It looks perfect!” said one. “It looks brand-new!” said another. The news spread. People came running from all quarters to see the “renovated’ Virgin”. All were singing, praying, marvelling. “Milagro! Milagro!” (miracle) they shouted. The pastor, himself, witnessed the astounding events and testified to them in writing as did the onlookers in the church. And the Bishop of Guadalajara, Don Juan Ruiz Comenero said, “It is a great miracle!”
But that is not all. There had been, in reality, a double miracle: When Maria lifted the statue she was astonished by its weight: the featherweight, fragile statue had now become robust and heavy. It had changed into a new unknown substance.
Official church investigation in 1670 resulted in the document, La Autentica, which established the authenticity of the 1644 miracle. The fame of the image grew day by day and many were the miracles associated with her intercession. The small rustic chapel had to be expanded to accommodate the overflow crowds. In 1782 construction was completed on the “towering” church which stands today. It was declared a basilica by Pope Benedict XV in 1915 and the statue was crowned with papal approval in 1923.
As popular as she was three centuries ago, she is attracting even more crowds today: The travel guide Pacific Mexico refers to Our Lady of Talpa as one of the “three Sister Virgins of Jalisco who draw millions of pilgrims each year.” The other two are Our Lady of Zapopan in Guadalajara and Our Lady of San Juan de Los Lagos, in the town of the same name.
And Our Lady of Talpa is indeed proof—with God anything is possible. The ravages of time can be reversed—particularly in the spiritual realm!
The painting of Our Lady in the Church of Our Lady of the Angels in Mexico City is considered so celebrated and miraculous that it has been honoured by four popes, from Pope Pius Vl in 1793 to Pope Pius Xl in 1923.
One pope, Pope Pius Xl, was so enamoured of the painting that he kept a framed copy of the image by his bedside for years. It was one of the few items he grabbed as he fled Italy in great haste in 1848 during the political tumult in Italy.
In 1923 Pope Pius Xl authorized the pontifical coronation of the painting with Archbishop Don Mora y del Rio performoing the ceremony. The magnificent crown is visible today!
The painting has the most fascinating history:
in 1580 torrential rains flooded the Mexican capital.”Streets became rivers and homes were swept away.” Debris was rampant. But out of the flotsam, an Aztec Indian chief named Isayoque spotted a painting of exquisite beauty floating in the flood waters. It depicted Our Lady surrounded by a multitude of baby angels. He was so moved by the loveliness of the image that he built a small adobe chapel to honour this depiction of Our Lady. In 1595, worried that the painting was showing signs of deterioration, he commissioned an artist to paint a replica on the chapel’s adobe wall. In that same year the church hierarchy approved the chapel for public worship.
Over time, however, the old chapel fell to ruins—all that is, except for the adobe wall containing the image! The painting, miraculously, was still intact despite decades of exposure to the elements. In 1746, church authorities decided to “seal” the painting by covering it with wet mats and nailed boards. A year later when the coverings were removed the painting was in pristine condition! Sadly, though, three decades later, the small chapel was a “complete ruin.”
In 1776 a pious tailor was passing by the chapel. He was so struck by the painting’s beauty that he was resolved to build a new chapel. With the permission of the Archbishop of Mexico he began the renovations.
In 1793 Pope Pius Vl affiliated the Church of Our Lady of the Angels with the Church of St. John Lateran in Rome and granted it all the indulgences to be gained in the Lateran church. “To recount the marvels worked through the intercession of Our Lady of the Angels would require a volume in itself,” reports a historian.
But probably, the greatest miracle of all is the preservation of the image itself. Since 1580, the image’s hands and face have not been “retouched in the slightest.” And still today, it remains “radiant with beauty” according to the author of the book MEXICO, LAND OF MARY’S WONDERS.
Best of all, you can see the painting yourself! It can be found above the main altar in the magnificent Church of Our Lady of the Angels in central Mexico City.