In Paul Badde’s recent book about Our Lady of Guadalupe, he writes, “The modern age began with this image. It has changed both the weight and the balance of the earth.” And yet, although she is the most famous woman in the world, represented in millions of images, she “has become the great unknown.” María of Guadalupe: Shaper of History, Shaper of Hearts was written as a record of the author’s personal pilgrimage and, by inviting the reader on a journey of his own, can serve as a remedy to our own ignorance or indifference.
Besides the image itself on Blessed Juan Diego’s tilma, the book features another artifact: a document published in Mexico City in 1649, in which is “…set forth in an orderly way the marvelous manner in which the ever-virgin Holy Mary, Mother of God, our Queen, lately appeared on Tepeyac Hill, now called Guadalupe.” In the appendix, Badde has included a reproduction of the oldest extant copy, written in Nahuatl. One entire chapter is devoted to a translation of what the author calls, “…one of the most uplifting testimonies of world literature.” The recorded dialogues between the humble Indian and the personification of humility are filled with courtly and tender phrases, evidently from a culture that took time to speak with respect, affection, and clarity.
Blessed Juan Diego, as most readers know, went to see Bishop Zumárraga as directed by Our Lady. He was asked many questions, and he gave a perfect accounting, but still the bishop did not believe him, asking him to ask the Lady for a sign. When Juan Diego returned two days later, bearing a display of genuine Castilian roses, and opened his cloak, the image of his Señora was suddenly imprinted there on the cloak as the roses dropped to the floor. As soon as the bishop and others present saw it, they fell to their knees. They were overwhelmed with amazement and awe. They became sad for having not believed, even while their hearts and minds were ecstatic. The bishop, crying tears of repentance, prayed and asked pardon for not having begun to carry out her will and command.
As regards the image itself, in 1929, when studying in detail a recently-taken photograph, “something like the figure of a bearded man” was seen in Our Lady’s eyes. At the time, the political climate of Mexico prevented further investigation and the holy picture was hidden away for safe-keeping. Even later, for many years, investigation was discouraged. More photography was finally permitted in the 1950s and, then, in 1963, Kodak specialists agreed that the objects seen in the eyes of the Virgin Mary were exactly like those one would find in a photograph, but never in a painting. In fact, it was stated by experts in the field that, “No human being could have painted anything like it.” Much more recently, technology used in evaluating satellite images through digital magnification was applied to the image. Among many interesting details about the group of thirteen persons seen in her eyes, is this: “…an old bald man with a white beard, straight nose and heavy eyebrows, a tear running down his right cheek — with a strong resemblance to a portrait of Bishop Zumárraga. Near him is . . . in profile, a man in a tall hood, bearded and mustached, with a Roman nose and protuberant cheekbones, deep-set eyes, and lips half closed, who holds out some kind of scarf to the bald man. How good is the grace of God, to give modern skeptics such evidence!
And yet, so multidimensional and complex is this likeness of Our Blessed Lady, that every facet of it reveals marvelous details: from the subtly changing colors to the details of her clothing and the constellation of stars on her gown. There are no brush strokes on the image, yet it contains aspects of all four painting techniques without any of the primer coats that would be necessary for such a work. It is “the art of painting as it has never before been seen.” Despite several (relatively painless) detours into Medjugorje and some modern biblical exegesis, the book was exciting to read. With our December hearts tuned to Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception, as well as her Guadalupan feast on the 12th, let us listen to her message:
“For I am truly your compassionate Mother. … I am the mother of all who love me and call and entreat me. … Do not let your countenance or your heart be disturbed. … Am I, your Mother, not here? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not the source of your joy?”