Our Lady’s Mantle

Truths of the Image
The splendor of truth in the mantle and stars of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

For centuries, the beauty of the Guadalupan apparitions has inspired amazement. Yet, the beauty of Our Lady of Guadalupe goes beyond superficial attraction. Rather, it challenges us and communicates truth.

As the humble Indian Juan Diego drew near Tepeyac Hill, he was amazed that the barren, desolate place had become like a heavenly garden filled with the exquisite song of the most precious birds. For the indigenous people, “flower and song” symbolized truth. Thus, even before Juan Diego met the Virgin, he found himself before an extraordinary, even heavenly, expression of truth. The experience of beauty helped to prepare him for a personally transformative experience.

Juan Diego looks further only when the birdsong stops and he hears a woman’s voice calling him. In the Náhuatl text, we get a stronger glimpse at why: the Virgin calls him not only by his Christian name, but adds the affectionate ending “tzin” to his name: “Juantzin Juan Diegotzin!” Even though the Virgin is unseen, Juan Diego understands in these few words that the woman who called him loves, respects and dignifies him. It is the call of love that gives Juan Diego a reason to climb Tepeyac.

The Virgin’s identity is likewise communicated through beauty. When Juan Diego reaches the hilltop, he can identify the noble woman as the Virgin Mary in part because her “perfect grandeur exceeded all imagination: her clothing was shining like the sun, as if it were sending out waves of light.” This directly reflects the words of St. John the Evangelist in the Book of Revelation: “A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (12:1).

On Juan Diego’s tilma, the Virgin’s identity as a woman of heaven and earth is affirmed by her garments’ colors and decorations: her reddish tunic is the color symbolic of earth, while the star-speckled green-blue mantle symbolizes the heavens. In addition, the mantle’s color indicates her royalty, since only the native emperors could wear cloaks of that color. According to the apparition account, even the earth and the flora shone like precious stones.

In this experience of beauty, we see echoes of Psalm 8:2-5, in which the beauty of creation causes man to examine his relationship with God: “O LORD, our Lord, how awesome is your name through all the earth! You have set your majesty above the heavens! … When I see your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and stars that you set in place — What are humans that you are mindful of them, mere mortals that you care for them?”

Facing this grandeur of Tepeyac, Juan Diego was confronted with this same question. In the encounter with the Virgin Mary, the answer is made clear. Through her declaration of motherhood, and her pointing us to her son Jesus Christ, we are confirmed as her spiritual children and the children of God. Even more, we find in the Guadalupan events that we can only understand ourselves if we ask another question: “Who is God?”

The Virgin, clothed with a mantle of stars as queen  of heaven and earth, points us toward the truth that God is love, and mankind is the recipient of his love. The “One True God” is a God whose love is so great that he comes to us through what was most significant and precious to him, his own mother; and whatever our condition, God confirms us in our dignity as his children. Out of his immense love for us, God gave his own life, defeating death, filling us with hope and giving a new meaning to our whole existence. In return, Our Lady of Guadalupe requested a “little sacred house,” a church, in which to honor the Almighty God. This church marked a beginning — a new “cosmic home” for a people transformed by the splendor of divine truth and divine love.