THIS AUTHOR HAS NOT had the blessing of visiting the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, nor does he ever expect to be given that privilege. Therefore, in describing the miraculous Image I can only relate what has come to my mind, either from contemplating the excellent copies I have had before me while writing this article, or from what I have garnered from other Guadalupan commentators. But a copy, even though it contains the same message—the same heavenly face—cannot supply that sense I spoke of in my account of the whole story. The sense of Presence! For that experience one must go to Tepeyac Hill.
In gazing upon the Picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe, let the beholder not forget that he is looking at a Portrait made in Heaven. It is not the work of man. That is what makes this Picture essentially different, aside from all the other miraculous circumstances, from any other Madonna in existence. In Guadalupe, we are really contemplating something that belongs in Heaven, not on earth. For on earth we are supposed to live by faith, not by vision. Yet, what we have here before our mortal eyes is what the angels and saints eternally see and praise above.
For her Mexican Portrait Our Lady posed, so to speak, with a smile soft and sweet. In her countenance there is to be seen the quiet joy of perfect peace and beatitude. Painters like Murillo and Fra Angelico have captured on canvas the virginity of Mary; while others, like Raphael, have succeeded in divinizing her maternity. Nevertheless, as Fr. Lee points out, “In their best productions the work attracts attention to itself: the style, the school, the man, proclaim themselves . . . In Our Lady of Guadalupe it is different. The Picture has nothing to say of itself … It but presents her who came in the light and the music, who spoke the sweet words . . .”
Nor does the Image portray the type of beauty that would bring pleasure merely to the eyes. It is infinitely more uplifting than that. The loveliness herein to be contemplated, indeed the loveliness that Our Lady wishes us to see in her miraculous Portrait, is that which radiates holiness, simplicity, purity, and compassion, written on a face resplendent with grace and glory. It is the sinless soul of Mary that shines through the Image on Juan Diego’s tilma. An attractiveness more lasting and more God-directing than any of the vain homocentric chimeras that Hollywood produces. The face we see here before us is the masterpiece of God. “More beautiful or more lovely than it,” wrote Fr. Abad, the Jesuit poet, “there is nothing in this world!” And what the Mother of God said at Lourdes to St. Bernadette she pre-announced at Guadalupe, not in words but by a Picture: “I am the Immaculate Conception.”
Moreover, there is a treasure-house of doctrinal symbolism in the Image. For the illiterate natives, the tilma read like a holy book. It was a sermon more convincing than even St. Anthony could have delivered. The Virgin of Tepeyac came to them in their bitterest hour with promises of her maternal protection. The miraculous Picture was the seal of her fidelity.
And who was this Woman? She was greater than all their gods. And yet she was of the same human nature as they. The sun, which they had worshipped, served to glorify her; the stars adorned her garment; the moon was her pedestal; and the wind, represented by the angel with wings outstretched, was happy to be her cape-bearer. Thus, all the principal elements of nature, representing the whole of creation, were subject to her. But, by her folded hands pointing up to heaven, and by her bowed head, she clearly acknowledged One greater than she to whom she herself was subservient. She was not God, the Portrait said, certainly not some goddess. There was only One God, the Creator of all things. This God loved man so much that He sent His Only Begotten Son, sharing the same Nature as Himself, to become man for the salvation of the world. This was the Incarnate God that the Virgin of Tepeyac was carrying in her womb. His cross, embroidered on His Virgin Mother’s collarpiece, was the same sign revered by the Spanish conquerors. It was a symbol of their redemption as well, for upon it every man’s ransom was copiously paid.
The Verdict Of Science
Like the much publicized Shroud of Turin, the tilma of Juan Diego is a standing miracle. Skeptical investigators have many times been allowed, after hours, into the Guadalupan basilica to scrutinize the Image inch by inch with sophisticated analytic detectors. Their conclusions were always the same: the work is beyond the power of man to produce. Professor Philip Callahan, a scientist and painter from the University of Florida, was a member of a team that examined the tilma in 1979 using the latest in infrared photography—a foolproof method of unveiling the underlying elements in paintings. After three hours of tests the examiners concluded that the Image was absolutely unexplainable. And the preservation of the colors in their original brightness after four hundred and fifty years? Impossible!—humanly speaking. Furthermore, the burlap canvas, which no artist in his right mind would ever choose for a painting, had received no preparation at all. A surface such as that positively could not be painted upon smoothly. But any attempt at a natural explanation was thrown out altogether when the infrared lens unveiled no brush marks whatsoever on the original Picture. Nor were other analysts able in their laboratories to find a trace of paint residue or dye of any sort on the original Image. What produced the colors on Juan Diego’s cloak, or how they were applied, remains a total mystery to science. In fact, even the restful bluish-green color of Our Lady’s mantle is unique. It seems to be made of an unearthly shade that as yet no artist has been able to exactly match.
And to take the matter one step further. A painter would be out of his mind to choose an Indian’s tilma to work on, but even more so to paint right over the center seam of the cloak. And had the Virgin (who of course was fully aware of what the outcome would be) not turned ever so slightly to the right, the unseemly stitch would have divided her face in half. Perhaps just as astonishing is the fact that only the seam still holds the tilma together. The law of gravity does not allow a single flimsy cotton thread to bind two heavier materials of cloth for more than ten years, much less for four hundred and fifty. There is still more to wonder at. The coarse weave of the tilma was utilized by the Artist in such a precise manner as to give depth to the face of the Image. “It may seem strange for a scientist to say this,” admitted Professor Callahan, “but as far as I am concerned, the original picture is miraculous.”
One would think that the Mexicans would be satisfied with the Image as it was given by Heaven to them. But no, bold as children, they decided every now and then to improve upon this work of God with human hands and brushes. The areas they touched up are the only sections of the Picture now showing any signs of cracking. This of course is what naturally happens when paint made with human hands gets old. So displeased was Our Lady with this over-pious foolishness that she permitted the moon, which they had painted silver, to turn black. Perhaps the Queen of Mexico should have left imprinted beneath her Image the words of her Risen Son to St. Mary Magdalene when He revealed Himself to her at the tomb, Noli me tangere (Do not touch me).
The Man In Her Eye
But to say merely that the Picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe is a wonder to behold is to fall a little short of the reality. It is more than just wonderful; it is the wonder of the world. It is a miracle. A miracle that occurred in our land. And if miracles never cease, as the saying goes, neither has this one. For it was left to our time to discover the surprising fact that in Our Lady’s eyes could be seen the bust of a man. This astonishing discovery was made in 1951 when a draftsman was scrutinizing the Virgin’s face under a magnifying glass. Spontaneously, a new explosion of interest in the devotion was enkindled worldwide. When the eye was blown up many times its normal size by photographers, the reflection of the man was so clearly discernible that observers could see, from the shape of his shoulders, that he must have been holding something outward for view when the picture was snapped. I’m sure you’ve already arrived at the correct conclusion. The mysterious man, the apple of Our Lady’s eye, was her own “Dear little one,” Juan Diego.
It must be that the Blessed Virgin was actually present, though not visibly, in the room with her ambassador, and directly across from him, as he unfurled his tilma before Bishop Zumarraga. It was thus that she posed to have her picture taken, so to speak, on the tilma in the place the flowers had occupied. The rough cloth acted like a photographic plate, reproducing the Image across from it, not just in the negative—as if this would have been less of a miracle—but in full color. You see, at the very moment the Image appeared, the unsuspecting Indian was caught on film reflected in the Blessed Mother’s eyes, even though she was invisible. No painter could have possibly produced this reflection. No painter would even have thought of trying! And more, the man in Our Lady’s eye has a depth and a distortion in his frame that perfectly corresponds to the laws of optical curvature. Astonishing? Yes, miracles usually are.
My belief that miracles have happened in human history is not a mystical belief at all. I believe in them upon human evidences as I do in the discovery of America . . . . Somehow or other an extraordinary idea has arisen that disbelievers in miracles consider them coldly and fairly, while believers in miracles accept them only in connection with some dogma. The fact is quite the other way. The believers in miracles accept them (rightly or wrongly) only because they have some evidence for them. The disbelievers in miracles deny them (rightly or wrongly) because they have a doctrine against them. — G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936)