|Codex Escalada ~ The earliest known representation of the vision of Our Lady of Guadalupe.|
December 9 is the feast of St. Juan Diego, visionary of Guadalupe whose famous tilma may be seen to this day in the basilica at Tepeyac hill. I was fortunate enough to be able to see the tilma on a visit to Mexico City in 1988, though it was enclosed in a glass case about 15 feet overhead and you had to get on a moving walkway to see it.
Following is the earliest extant history of Juan Diego's story from a Nahuatl document called the Nican Mopohva (Here it is Told). It is thought that this document was composed in the 1560s, about thirty years after the events it describes. This excerpt is taken from Emeritus Professor David K. Jordan's website at UCSD where he has provided a sentence-by-sentence translation. Please visit to read the whole thing and for additional background information.
Here it is told, and set down in order, how a short time ago the Perfect Virgin Holy Mary Mother of God, our Queen, miraculously appeared out at Tepeyac, widely known as Guadalupe. First she caused herself to be seen by an Indian named Juan Diego, poor but worthy of respect; and then her Precious Image appeared before the recently named Bishop, Don Fray Juan de Zumárraga.The image included above is of the Codex Escalada, a depiction on deer skin of the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe to Saint Juan Diego dated tentatively to 1548. For a very interesting discussion of the provenance of this item, see this article by Daniel J. Castellano.
Ten years after the City of Mexico was conquered, with the arrows and shields put aside, when there was peace in all the towns, just as it sprouted, faith now grows green, now opens its corolla, the knowledge of the One by whom we all live: the true God.
At that time, the year 1531, a few days into the month of December, it happened that there was a humble but respected Indian, a poor man of the people; his name was Juan Diego; he lived in Cuauhtitlán, as they say. And in all the things of God, he belonged to Tlaltilolco.
And as he drew near the little hill called Tepeyac it was beginning to dawn. He heard singing on the little hill, like the song of many precious birds; when their voices would stop, it was as if the hill were answering them; extremely soft and delightful; their songs exceeded the songs of the coyoltotl and the tzinitzcan and other precious birds.
Juan Diego stopped to look. He said to himself: "By any chance am I worthy, have I deserved what I hear? Perhaps I am only dreaming it? Perhaps I'm only dozing? Where am I? Where do I find myself? Is it possible that I am in the place our ancient ancestors, our grandparents, told about, in the land of the flowers, in the land of corn, of our flesh, of our sustenance, possibly in the land of heaven?"
He was looking up toward the top of the hill, toward the direction the sun rises from, toward where the precious heavenly song was coming from. And then when the singing suddenly stopped, when it could no longer be heard, he heard someone calling him, from the top of the hill, someone was saying to him: "Juan, Dearest Juan Diego."
Then he dared to go to where the voice was coming from, his heart was not disturbed and he felt extremely happy and contented, he started to climb to the top of the little hill to go see where they were calling him from. And when he reached the top of the hill, when a Maiden who was standing there, who spoke to him, who called to him to come close to her. And when he reached where she was, he was filled with admiration for the way her perfect grandeur exceeded all imagination...
He prostrated himself in her presence. He listened to her voice [her breath], her words, which give great, great glory, which were extremely kind, as if she were drawing him toward her and esteemed him highly. She said to him, "Listen, my dearest-and-youngest son, Juan. where are you going?"
And he answered her: "My Lady, my Queen, my Beloved Maiden! I am going as far as your little house in Mexico-Tlatilolco, to follow the things of God (everything that makes God be God) that are given to us, that are taught to us by the ones who are the images of Our Lord: our priests."
Then she talks with him, she reveals her precious will, and she says to him: "Know, be sure, my dearest-and-youngest son, that I am the Prefect Ever Virgin Holy Mary, mother of the one great God of truth who gives us life, the inventor and creator of people. the owner and lord of what is around us and what is touching us or very close to us, the owner and lord of the sky, the owner of the earth. I want very much that they build my sacred little house here, in which I will show him, I will exalt him on making him manifest; I will give him to the people in all my personal love, in my compassionate gaze, in my help, in my salvation, because I am truly your compassionate mother, yours and of all the people who live together in this land, and of all the other people of different ancestries, those who love me, those who cry to me, those who seek me, those who trust in me, because there I will listen to their weeping, their sadness, to remedy, to cleanse and nurse all their different troubles, their miseries, their suffering. And to bring about what my compassionate and merciful gaze is trying to do, go to the residence of the bishop of Mexico, and you will tell him how I am sending you, so that you may reveal to him that I very much want him to build me a house here, to erect my temple for me on the plain; you will tell him everything, all that you have seen and marveled at, and what you have heard. And know for sure that I will appreciate it very much and reward it, that because of it I will enrich you, I will glorify you; and because of it you will deserve very much the way that I reward your fatigue, your service in going to request the matter that I am sending you for. Now, my dearest son, you have heard my breath, my word: go, do what you are responsible for [in this effort]."
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