May 6, 1990
July 31, 2002, Basilica of Guadalupe, Mexico City by Pope John Paul II
May 30, 1548, Tepeyac, Gustavo A. Madero, Mexico
Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe
Tepeyac, Lope, The Dumbfou, Fantasy 3
Eloy de la Iglesia, Imanol Uribe, Andrucha Waddington
Roman Catholic Church
Saint juan diego by marian films
Saint Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, also known as Juan Diegotzil (1474–1548), a native of Mexico, is the first Roman Catholic indigenous saint from the Americas. He is said to have been granted an apparition of the Virgin Mary on four separate occasions in December 1531 at the hill of Tepeyac, then outside but now well within metropolitan Mexico City.
- Saint juan diego by marian films
- Saint juan diego and our lady of guadalupe
- Main sources
- Guadalupe narrative
- Beatification and canonization
- Historicity debate
- Historicity arguments
- Zumrragas silence
- Post 1548
- Pre 1548
- The Franciscan silence
- Probative value of silence
- The evangelization of the New World
- Reconciling two worlds
- Indigenous rights
The Basilica of Guadalupe, located at the foot of the hill of Tepeyac, claims to possess Juan Diego's mantle or cloak (known as a tilma) on which an image of the Virgin is said to have been impressed by a miracle as a pledge of the authenticity of the apparitions. These apparitions and the imparting of the miraculous image (together known as the Guadalupe event, in Spanish "el acontecimiento Guadalupano") are the basis of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which is ubiquitous in Mexico, prevalent throughout the Spanish-speaking Americas, and increasingly widespread beyond. As a result, the Basilica of Guadalupe is now the world's major centre of pilgrimage for Roman Catholics, receiving 22 million visitors in 2010. Juan Diego was beatified in 1990 and canonized in 2002.
Saint juan diego and our lady of guadalupe
According to the sources identified below, Juan Diego was an Indian born in 1474 in Cuauhtitlan, and at the time of the apparitions he lived there or in Tolpetlac. Although not destitute, he was neither rich nor influential. His religious fervor, his artlessness, his respectful but gracious demeanour towards the Virgin Mary and the initially skeptical Bishop Juan de Zumárraga, as well as his devotion to his sick uncle and, subsequently, to the Virgin at her shrine – all of which are central to the tradition – are among his defining characteristics and testify to the sanctity of life which is the indispensable criterion for canonization. He and his wife, María Lucía, were among the first to be baptized after the arrival of the main group of twelve Franciscan missionaries in Mexico in 1524. His wife died two years before the apparitions, although one source (Luis Becerra Tanco, possibly through inadvertence) claims she died two years after them. There is no firm tradition as to their marital relations. It is variously reported (a) that after their baptism he and his wife were inspired by a sermon on chastity to live celibately; alternatively (b) that they lived celibately throughout their marriage; and in the further alternative (c) that both of them lived and died as virgins. Alternatives (a) and (b) may not necessarily conflict with other reports that Juan Diego (possibly by another wife) had a son. Intrinsic to the narrative is Juan Diego's uncle, Juan Bernardino; but beyond him, María Lucía, and Juan Diego's putative son, no other family members are mentioned in the tradition. At least two 18th-century nuns claimed to be descended from Juan Diego. After the apparitions, Juan Diego was permitted to live next to the hermitage erected at the foot of the hill of Tepeyac, and he dedicated the rest of his life to serving the Virgin Mary at the shrine erected in accordance with her wishes. The date of death (in his 74th year) is given as 1548.
The earliest notices of an apparition of the Virgin Mary at Tepeyac to an Indian are to be found in various annals which are regarded by Dr. Miguel León-Portilla, one of the leading Mexican scholars in this field, as demonstrating "that effectively many people were already flocking to the chapel of Tepeyac long before 1556, and that the tradition of Juan Diego and the apparitions of Tonantzin (Guadalupe) had already spread." Others (including leading Nahuatl and Guadalupe scholars in the USA) go only as far as saying that such notices "are few, brief, ambiguous and themselves posterior by many years". If correctly dated to the 16th century, the Codex Escalada – which portrays one of the apparitions and states that Juan Diego (identified by his indigenous name) died "worthily" in 1548 – must be accounted among the earliest and clearest of such notices.
After the annals, a number of publications arose:
- Sánchez (1648) has a few scattered sentences noting Juan Diego's uneventful life at the hermitage in the sixteen years from the apparitions to his death.
- The Huei tlamahuiçoltica (1649), at the start of the Nican Mopohua and at the end of the section known as the Nican Mopectana, there is some information concerning Juan Diego's life before and after the apparitions, giving many instances of his sanctity of life.
- Becerra Tanco (1666 and 1675). Juan Diego's town of origin, place of residence at the date of the apparitions, and the name of his wife are given at pages 1 and 2 of the 6th (Mexican) edition. His heroic virtues are eulogized at pages 40 to 42. Other biographical information about Juan Diego (with dates of his birth and death, of his wife's death, and of their baptism) is set out on page 50. On page 49 is the remark that Juan Diego and his wife remained chaste – at the least after their baptism – having been impressed by a sermon on chastity said to have been preached by Fray Toribio de Benevente (popularly known as Motolinía).
- Slight and fragmented notices appear in the hearsay testimony (1666) of seven of the indigenous witnesses (Marcos Pacheco, Gabriel Xuárez, Andrés Juan, Juana de la Concepción, Pablo Xuárez, Martín de San Luis, and Catarina Mónica) collected with other testimonies in the Informaciones Jurídicas de 1666.
- Chapter 18 of Francisco de la Florencia's Estrella de el norte de México (1688) contains the first systematic account of Juan Diego's life, with attention given to some divergent strands in the tradition.
The following account is based on that given in the Nican Mopohua which was first published in Nahuatl in 1649 as part of a compendious work known as the Huei tlamahuiçoltica. No part of that work was available in Spanish until 1895 when, as part of the celebrations for the coronation of the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe in that year, there was published a translation of the Nican Mopohua dating from the 18th century. This translation, however, was made from an incomplete copy of the original. Nor was any part of the Huei tlamahuiçoltica republished until 1929, when a facsimile of the original was published by Primo Feliciano Velásquez together with a full translation into Spanish (including the first full translation of the Nican Mopohua), since when the Nican Mopohua, in its various translations and redactions, has supplanted all other versions as the narrative of preference. The precise dates in December 1531 (as given below) were not recorded in the Nican Mopohua, but are taken from the chronology first established by Mateo de la Cruz in 1660.
Juan Diego, as a devout neophyte, was in the habit of regularly walking from his home to the Franciscan mission station at Tlatelolco for religious instruction and to perform his religious duties. His route passed by the hill at Tepeyac. First apparition: at dawn on Saturday December 9, 1531 while on his usual journey, he encountered the Virgin Mary who revealed herself as the ever-virgin Mother of God and instructed him to request the bishop to erect a chapel in her honour so that she might relieve the distress of all those who call on her in their need. He delivered the request, but was told by the bishop (Fray Juan Zumárraga) to come back another day after he had had time to reflect upon what Juan Diego had told him. Second apparition, later the same day: returning to Tepeyac, Juan Diego encountered the Virgin again and announced the failure of his mission, suggesting that because he was "a back-frame, a tail, a wing, a man of no importance" she would do better to recruit someone of greater standing, but she insisted that it was he whom she wanted for the task. Juan Diego agreed to return to the bishop to repeat his request. This he did on the morning of Sunday, December 10 when he found the bishop more compliant. The bishop, however, asked for a sign to prove that the apparition was truly of heaven. Third apparition: Juan Diego returned immediately to Tepeyac and, encountering the Virgin Mary reported the bishop's request for a sign; she condescended to provide one on the following day (December 11).
By Monday, December 11, however, Juan Diego's uncle Juan Bernardino had fallen sick and Juan Diego was obliged to attend to him. In the very early hours of Tuesday, December 12, Juan Bernardino's condition having deteriorated overnight, Juan Diego set out to Tlatelolco to get a priest to hear Juan Bernardino's confession and minister to him on his death-bed. Fourth apparition: in order to avoid being delayed by the Virgin and embarrassed at having failed to meet her on the Monday as agreed, Juan Diego chose another route around the hill, but the Virgin intercepted him and asked where he was going; Juan Diego explained what had happened and the Virgin gently chided him for not having had recourse to her. In the words which have become the most famous phrase of the Guadalupe event and are inscribed over the main entrance to the Basilica of Guadalupe, she asked: "No estoy yo aqui que soy tu madre?" (Am I not here, I who am your mother?). She assured him that Juan Bernardino had now recovered and she told him to climb the hill and collect flowers growing there. Obeying her, Juan Diego found an abundance of flowers unseasonably in bloom on the rocky outcrop where only cactus and scrub normally grew. Using his open mantle as a sack (with the ends still tied around his neck) he returned to the Virgin; she re-arranged the flowers and told him to take them to the bishop. On gaining admission to the bishop in Mexico City later that day, Juan Diego opened his mantle, the flowers poured to the floor, and the bishop saw they had left on the mantle an imprint of the Virgin's image which he immediately venerated.
Fifth apparition: the next day Juan Diego found his uncle fully recovered, as the Virgin had assured him, and Juan Bernardino recounted that he too had seen her, at his bed-side; that she had instructed him to inform the bishop of this apparition and of his miraculous cure; and that she had told him she desired to be known under the title of Guadalupe. The bishop kept Juan Diego's mantle first in his private chapel and then in the church on public display where it attracted great attention. On December 26, 1531 a procession formed for taking the miraculous image back to Tepeyac where it was installed in a small hastily erected chapel. In course of this procession, the first miracle was allegedly performed when an Indian was mortally wounded in the neck by an arrow shot by accident during some stylized martial displays executed in honour of the Virgin. In great distress, the Indians carried him before the Virgin's image and pleaded for his life. Upon the arrow being withdrawn, the victim made a full and immediate recovery.
Beatification and canonization
The modern movement for the canonization of Juan Diego (to be distinguished from the process for gaining official approval for the Guadalupe cult, which had begun in 1663 and was realized in 1754) can be said to have arisen in earnest in 1974 during celebrations marking the five hundredth anniversary of the traditional date of his birth, but it was not until January 1984 that the then Archbishop of Mexico, Cardinal Ernesto Corripio Ahumada, named a Postulator to supervise and coordinate the inquiry, and initiated the formal process for canonization. The procedure for this first, or diocesan, stage of the canonization process had recently been reformed and simplified by order of Pope John Paul II.
The diocesan inquiry was formally concluded in March 1986, and the decree opening the Roman stage of the process was obtained on April 7, 1986. When the decree of validity of the diocesan inquiry was given on January 9, 1987 (permitting the cause to proceed), the candidate became officially "venerable". The documentation (known as the Positio or "position paper") was published in 1989, in which year all the bishops of Mexico petitioned the Holy See in support of the cause. Thereafter, there was a scrutiny of the Positio by consultors expert in history (concluded in January 1990) and by consultors expert in theology (concluded in March 1990), following which the Congregation for the Causes of Saints formally approved the Positio and Pope John Paul II signed the relative decree on April 9, 1990. The process of beatification was completed in a ceremony presided over by Pope John Paul II at the Basilica of Guadalupe on May 6, 1990 when December 9 was declared as the feast day to be held annually in honor of the candidate for sainthood thereafter known as "Blessed Juan Diego Cuauthlatoatzin". In accordance with the exceptional cases provided for by Urban VIII (1625, 1634) when regulating the procedures for beatification and canonization, the requirement for an authenticating miracle prior to beatification was dispensed with, on the grounds of the antiquity of the cult.
Notwithstanding the fact that the beatification was "equipollent", the normal requirement is that at least one miracle must be attributable to the intercession of the candidate before the cause for canonization can be brought to completion. The events accepted as fulfilling this requirement occurred between May 3 and 9, 1990 in Querétaro, Mexico (precisely during the period of the beatification) when a 20-year-old drug addict named Juan José Barragán Silva fell 10 meters head first from an apartment balcony on to a cement area in an apparent suicide bid. His mother Esperanza, who witnessed the fall, invoked Juan Diego to save her son who had sustained severe injuries to his spinal column, neck and cranium (including intra-cranial haemorrhage). Barragán was taken to hospital where he went into coma from which he suddenly emerged on May 6, 1990. A week later he was sufficiently recovered to be discharged. The reputed miracle was investigated according to the usual procedure of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints: first the facts of the case (including medical records and six eye-witness testimonies including those of Barragán and his mother) were gathered in Mexico and forwarded to Rome for approval as to sufficiency, which was granted in November 1994. Next, the unanimous report of five medical consultors (as to the gravity of the injuries, the likelihood of their proving fatal, the impracticability of any medical intervention to save the patient, his complete and lasting recovery, and their inability to ascribe it to any known process of healing) was received, and approved by the Congregation in February 1998. From there the case was passed to theological consultors who examined the nexus between (i) the fall and the injuries, (ii) the mother's faith in and invocation of Blessed Juan Diego, and (iii) the recovery, inexplicable in medical terms. Their unanimous approval was signified in May 2001. Finally, in September 2001, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints voted to approve the miracle, and the relative decree formally acknowledging the events as miraculous was signed by Pope John Paul II on December 20, 2001. The Catholic Church considers an approved miracle to be a Divinely-granted validation of the results achieved by the human process of inquiry which constitutes a cause for canonization.
As not infrequently happens, the process for canonization in this case was subject to delays and obstacles of various kinds. In the instant case, certain interventions were initiated through unorthodox routes in early 1998 by a small group of ecclesiastics in Mexico (then or formerly attached to the Basilica of Guadalupe) pressing for a review of the sufficiency of the historical investigation. This review, which not infrequently occurs in cases of equipollent beatifications, was entrusted by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints (acting in concert with the Archdiocese of Mexico) to a special Historical Commission headed by the Mexican ecclesiastical historians Fidel González, Eduardo Chávez Sánchez, and José Guerrero. The results of the review were presented to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints on October 28, 1998 which unanimously approved them. In the following year, the fruit of the Commission's work was published in book form by González, Chávez Sánchez and Guerrero under the title Encuentro de la Virgen de Guadalupe y Juan Diego. This served, however, only to intensify the protests of those who were attempting to delay or prevent the canonization, and the arguments over the quality of the scholarship displayed by the Encuentro were conducted first in private and then in public. The main objection against the Encuentro was that it failed adequately to distinguish between the antiquity of the cult and the antiquity of the tradition of the apparitions; the argument on the other side was that every tradition has an initial oral stage where documentation will be lacking. The authenticity of the Codex Escalada and the dating of the Nican Mopohua to the 16th or 17th century have a material bearing on the duration of the oral stage. Final approbation of the decree of canonization was signified in a Consistory held on February 26, 2002 at which Pope John Paul II announced that the rite of canonization would take place in Mexico at the Basilica of Guadalupe on July 31, 2002, as indeed occurred.
The debate over the historicity of St. Juan Diego and, by extension, of the apparitions and the miraculous image, begins with a contemporary to Juan Diego, named Antonio Valeriano. Valeriano was one of the best Indian scholars at the College of Santiago de Tlatelolco at the time that Juan Diego was alive; he was proficient in Spanish as well as Latin, and a native speaker of Nahuatl. He knew Juan Diego personally and wrote his account of the apparitions on the basis of Juan Diego's testimony. A copy of Valeriano's document was rediscovered by Jesuit Father Ernest J. Burrus in the New York Public Library.
Some objections to the historicity of the Guadalupe event, grounded in the silence of the very sources which – so it is argued – are those most likely to have referred to it, were raised as long ago as 1794 by Juan Bautista Muñoz and were expounded in detail by Mexican historian Joaquín García Icazbalceta in a confidential report dated 1883 commissioned by the then Archbishop of Mexico and first published in 1896. The silence of the sources is discussed in a separate section, below. The most prolific contemporary protagonist in the debate is Stafford Poole, a historian and Vincentian priest in the United States of America, who questioned the integrity and rigor of the historical investigation conducted by the Catholic Church in the interval between Juan Diego's beatification and his canonization.
For a brief period in mid-1996 a vigorous debate was ignited in Mexico when it emerged that Guillermo Schulenburg, who at that time was 80 years of age, did not believe that Juan Diego was a historical person or (which follows from it) that it is his mantle which is conserved and venerated at the Basilica. That debate, however, was focused not so much on the weight to be accorded to the historical sources which attest to Juan Diego's existence as on the propriety of Abbot Schulenburg retaining an official position which – so it was objected – his advanced age, allegedly extravagant life-style and heterodox views disqualified him from holding. Abbot Schulenburg's resignation (announced on September 6, 1996) terminated that debate. The scandal, however, re-erupted in January 2002 when the Italian journalist Andrea Tornielli published in the Italian newspaper Il Giornale a confidential letter dated December 4, 2001 which Schulenburg (among others) had sent to Cardinal Sodano, the then Secretary of State at the Vatican, reprising reservations over the historicity of Juan Diego.
Partly in response to these and other issues, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints (the body within the Catholic Church with oversight of the process of approving candidates for sainthood) reopened the historical phase of the investigation in 1998, and in November of that year declared itself satisfied with the results. Following the canonization in 2002, the Catholic Church considers the question closed.
Leaving aside any question as to the reality of supernatural events as such, the primary doubts about the historicity of Juan Diego (and the Guadalupe event itself) arise from the silence of those major sources who would be expected to have mentioned him, including, in particular, Bishop Juan de Zumárraga and the earliest ecclesiastical historians who reported the spread of the Catholic faith among the Indians in the early decades after the capture of Tenochtítlan in 1521. Despite references in near-contemporary sources which do attest a mid-16th-century Marian cult attached to a miraculous image of the Virgin at a shrine at Tepeyac under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and despite the weight of oral tradition concerning Juan Diego and the apparitions (which, at the most, spans less than four generations before being reduced to writing), the fundamental objection of this silence of core 16th-century sources remains a perplexing feature of the history of the cult which has, nevertheless, continued to grow outside Mexico and the Americas. The first writer to address this problem of the silence of the sources was Francisco de Florencia in chapter 12 of his book Estrella de el norte de Mexico (see previous section). However, it was not until 1794 that the argument from silence was presented to the public in detail by someone – Juan Bautista Muñoz – who clearly did not believe in the historicity of Juan Diego or of the apparitions. Substantially the same argument was publicized in updated form at the end of the 19th and 20th centuries in reaction to renewed steps taken by the ecclesiastical authorities to defend and promote the cult through the coronation of the Virgin in 1895 and the beatification of Juan Diego in 1990.
The silence of the sources can be examined by reference to two main periods: (i) 1531–1556 and (ii) 1556–1606 which, for convenience, may loosely be termed (i) Zumárraga's silence, and (ii) the Franciscan silence. Despite the accumulation of evidence by the start of the 17th century (including allusions to the apparitions and the miraculous origin of the image), the phenomenon of silence in the sources persists well into the second decade of that century, by which time the silence ceases to be prima facie evidence that there was no tradition of the Guadalupe event before the publication of the first narrative account of it in 1648. For example, Bernardo de Balbuena wrote a poem while in Mexico City in 1602 entitled La Grandeza Mexicana in which he mentions all the cults and sanctuaries of any importance in Mexico City except Guadalupe, and Antonio de Remesal published in 1620 a general history of the New World which devoted space to Zumárraga but was silent about Guadalupe.
Period (i) extends from the date of the alleged apparitions down to 1556, by which date there first emerges clear evidence of a Marian cult (a) located in an already existing ermita or oratory at Tepeyac, (b) known under the name Guadalupe, (c) focussed on a painting, and (d) believed to be productive of miracles (especially miracles of healing). This first period itself divides into two unequal sub-periods either side of the year 1548 when Bishop Zumárraga died.
The later sub-period can be summarily disposed of, for it is almost entirely accounted for by the delay between Zumárraga's death on June 3, 1548 and the arrival in Mexico of his successor, Archbishop Alonso de Montúfar, on June 23, 1554. During this interval there was lacking not only a bishop in Mexico City (the only local source of authority over the cult of the Virgin Mary and over the cult of the saints), but also an officially approved resident at the ermita – Juan Diego having died in the same month as Zumárraga, and no resident priest having been appointed until the time of Montúfar. In the circumstances, it is not surprising that a cult at Tepeyac (whatever its nature) should have fallen into abeyance. Nor is it a matter for surprise that a cult failed to spring up around Juan Diego's tomb at this time. The tomb of the saintly fray Martín de Valencia (the leader of the twelve pioneering Franciscan priests who had arrived in New Spain in 1524) was opened for veneration many times for more than thirty years after his death in 1534 until it was found, on the last occasion, to be empty. But, dead or alive, fray Martín had failed to acquire a reputation as a miracle-worker.
Turning to the years before Zumárraga's death, there is no known document securely dated to the period 1531 to 1548 which mentions Juan Diego, a cult to the Virgin Mary at Tepeyac, or the Guadalupe event. The lack of any contemporary evidence linking Zumárraga with the Guadalupe event is particularly noteworthy, but, of the surviving documents attributable to him, only his will can be said to be just such a document as might have been expected to mention an ermita or the cult. In this will Zumárraga left certain movable and personal items to the cathedral, to the infirmary of the monastery of St. Francis, and to the Conceptionist convent (all in Mexico City); divided his books between the library of the monastery of St Francis in Mexico City and the guesthouse of a monastery in his home-town of Durango, Spain; freed his slaves and disposed of his horses and mules; made some small bequests of corn and money; and gave substantial bequests in favour of two charitable institutions founded by him, one in Mexico City and one in Veracruz. Even without any testamentary notice, Zumárraga's lack of concern for the ermita at Tepeyac is amply demonstrated by the fact that the building said to have been erected there in 1531 was, at best, a simple adobe structure, built in two weeks and not replaced until 1556 (by Archbishop Montúfar, who built another adobe structure on the same site). Among the factors which might explain a change of attitude by Zumárraga to a cult which he seemingly ignored after his return from Spain in October 1534, the most prominent is a vigorous inquisition conducted by him between 1536 and 1539 specifically to root out covert devotion among Indians to pre-Christian deities. The climax of the sixteen trials in this period (involving 27 mostly high-ranking Indians) was the burning at the stake of Don Carlos Ometochtli, lord of the wealthy and important city of Texcoco, in 1539 – an event so fraught with potential for social and political unrest that Zumárraga was officially reprimanded by the Council of the Indies in Spain and subsequently relieved of his inquisitorial functions (in 1543). In such a climate and at such a time as that he can hardly have shown favour to a cult which had been launched without any prior investigation, had never been subjected to a canonical inquiry, and was focussed on a cult object with particular appeal to Indians at a site arguably connected with popular devotion to a pre-Christian female deity. Leading Franciscans were notoriously hostile to – or at best suspicious of – Guadalupe throughout the second half of the 16th century precisely on the grounds of practices arguably syncretic or worse. This is evident in the strong reaction evinced in 1556 when Zumárraga's successor signified his official support for the cult by rebuilding the ermita, endowing the sanctuary, and establishing a priest there the previous year (see next sub-section). It is reasonable to conjecture that had Zumárraga shown any similar partiality for the cult from 1534 onwards (in itself unlikely, given his role as Inquisitor from 1535), he would have provoked a similar public rebuke.
The Franciscan silence
The second main period during which the sources are silent extends for the half century after 1556 when the then Franciscan provincial, fray Francisco de Bustamante, publicly rebuked Archbishop Montúfar for promoting the Guadalupe cult. In this period, three Franciscan friars (among others) were writing histories of New Spain and of the peoples (and their cultures) who either submitted to or were defeated by the Spanish Conquistadores. A fourth Franciscan friar, Toribio de Benevente (known as Motolinía), who had completed his history as early as 1541, falls outside this period, but his work was primarily in the Tlaxcala-Puebla area. One explanation for the Franciscans' particular antagonism to the Marian cult at Tepeyac is that (as Torquemada asserts in his Monarquía indiana, Bk.X, cap.28) it was they who had initiated it in the first place, before realising the risks involved. In due course this attitude was gradually relaxed, but not until some time after a change in spiritual direction in New Spain attributed to a confluence of factors including (i) the passing away of the first Franciscan pioneers with their distinct brand of evangelical millennarianism compounded of the ideas of Joachim de Fiore and Desiderius Erasmus (the last to die were Motolinía in 1569 and Andrés de Olmos in 1571), (ii) the arrival of Jesuits in 1572 (founded by Ignatius Loyola and approved as a religious order in 1540), and (iii) the assertion of the supremacy of the bishops over the Franciscans and the other mendicant Orders by the Third Mexican Council of 1585, thus signalling the end of jurisdictional arguments dating from the arrival of Zumárraga in Mexico in December 1528. Other events largely impacting on society and the life of the Church in New Spain in the second half of the 16th century cannot be ignored in this context: depopulation of the Indians through excessive forced labour and the great epidemics of 1545, 1576–1579 and 1595, and the Council of Trent, summoned in response to the pressure for reform, which sat in twenty-five sessions between 1545 and 1563 and which reasserted the basic elements of the Catholic faith and confirmed the continuing validity of certain forms of popular religiosity (including the cult of the saints). Conflict over an evangelical style of Catholicism promoted by Desiderius Erasmus, which Zumárraga and the Franciscan pioneers favoured, was terminated by the Catholic Church's condemnation of Erasmus' works in the 1550s. The themes of Counter-reformation Catholicism were strenuously promoted by the Jesuits, who enthusiastically took up the cult of Guadalupe in Mexico.
The basis of the Franciscans' disquiet and even hostility to Guadalupe was their fear that the evangelization of the Indians had been superficial, that the Indians had retained some of their pre-Christian beliefs, and, in the worst case, that Christian baptism was a cloak for persisting in pre-Christian devotions. These concerns are to be found in what was said or written by leading Franciscans such as fray Francisco de Bustamante (involved in a dispute on this topic with Archbishop Montúfar in 1556, as mentioned above); fray Bernardino de Sahagún (whose Historia general de las cosas de Nueva España was completed in 1576/7 with an appendix on surviving superstitions in which he singles out Guadalupe as a prime focus of suspect devotions); fray Jerónimo de Mendieta (whose Historia eclesiástica indiana was written in the 1590s); and fray Juan de Torquemada who drew heavily on Mendieta's unpublished history in his own work known as the Monarquía indiana (completed in 1615 and published in Seville, Spain, that same year). There was no uniform approach to the problem and some Franciscans were less reticent than others. Bustamante publicly condemned the cult of Our Lady of Guadalupe outright precisely because it was centred on a painting (allegedly said to have been painted "yesterday" by an Indian) to which miraculous powers were attributed, whereas Sahagún expressed deep reservations as to the Marian cult at Tepeyac without mentioning the cult image at all. Mendieta made no reference to the Guadalupe event although he paid particular attention to Marian and other apparitions and miraculous occurrences in Book IV of his history – none of which, however, had evolved into established cults centred on a cult object. Mendieta also drew attention to the Indians' subterfuge of concealing pre-Christian cult objects inside or behind Christian statues and crucifixes in order to mask the true focus of their devotion. Torquemada repeated, with variations, an established idea that churches had been deliberately erected to Christian saints at certain locations (Tepeyac among them) in order to channel pre-Christian devotions towards Christian cults.
Probative value of silence
Only when very particular conditions obtain can legitimate inferences be drawn from silence in contemporary sources. The doubtful relevance of silence as to the Gudalupe event in certain documents from the time of Zumárraga has already been noted under section 6.2.2 above, and Miguel Sánchez himself preached a sermon in 1653 on the Immaculate Conception in which he cites chapter 12 of the Book of Revelation but makes no mention of Guadalupe.
The evangelization of the New World
Both the author of the Nican Mopectana and Miguel Sánchez explain that the Virgin's immediate purpose in appearing to Juan Diego (and to don Juan, the seer of the cult of los Remedios) was evangelical – to draw the peoples of the New World to faith in Jesus Christ:
"In the beginning when the Christian faith had just arrived here in the land that today is called New Spain, in many ways the heavenly lady, the consummate Virgin Saint Mary, cherished, aided and defended the local people so that they might entirely give themselves and adhere to the faith . . in order that they might invoke her fervently and trust in her fully, she saw fit to reveal herself for the first time to two [Indian] people here".
The continuing importance of this theme was emphasised in the years leading up to the canonization of Juan Diego. It received further impetus in the Pastoral Letter issued by Cardinal Rivera in February 2002 on the eve of the canonization, and was asserted by John Paul II in his homily at the canonization ceremony itself when he called Juan Diego "a model of evangelization perfectly inculturated" – an allusion to the implantation of the Catholic Church within indigenous culture through the medium of the Guadalupe event.
Reconciling two worlds
In the 17th century, Miguel Sánchez interpreted the Virgin as addressing herself specifically to the Indians, while noting that Juan Diego himself regarded all the residents of New Spain as his spiritual heirs, the inheritors of the holy image. The Virgin's own words to Juan Diego as reported by Sánchez were equivocal: she wanted a place at Tepeyac where she can show herself:
"as a compassionate mother to you and yours, to my devotees, to those who should seek me for the relief of their necessities".
By contrast, the words of the Virgin's initial message as reported in Nican Mopohua are, in terms, specific to all residents of New Spain without distinction, while including others, too:
"I am the compassionate mother of you and of all you people here in this land, and of the other various peoples who love me, who cry out to me . ."
The special but not exclusive favour of the Virgin to the indigenous peoples is highlighted in Lasso de la Vega's introduction:
"you wish us your children to cry out to [you], especially the local people, the humble commoners to whom you revealed yourself"
At the conclusion of the miracle cycle in the Nican Mopectana, there is a broad summary which embraces the different elements in the emergent new society "the local people and the Spaniards [Caxtilteca] and all the different peoples who called on and followed her".
The role of Juan Diego as both representing and confirming the human dignity of the indigenous Indian populations and of asserting their right to claim a place of honour in the New World is therefore embedded in the earliest narratives, nor did it thereafter become dormant awaiting rediscovery in the 20th century. Archbishop Lorenzana, in a sermon of 1770, applauded the evident fact that the Virgin signified honour to the Spaniards (by stipulating for the title "Guadalupe"), to the Indians (by choosing Juan Diego), and to those of mixed race (by the colour of her face). In another place in the sermon he noted a figure of eight on the Virgin's robe and said it represented the two worlds that she was protecting (the old and the new). This aim of harmonising and giving due recognition to the different cultures in Mexico rather than homogenizing them was also evident in the iconography of Guadalupe in the 18th century as well as in the celebrations attending the coronation of the image of Guadalupe in 1895 at which a place was given to 28 Indians from Cuautitlán (Juan Diego's birthplace) wearing traditional costume. The prominent role accorded indigenous participants in the actual canonization ceremony (not without criticism by liturgical purists) constituted one of the most striking features of those proceedings.
To the spiritual and social significance of Juan Diego within the Guadalupe event, there can be added a third aspect which has only recently begun to receive explicit recognition, although it is implicit in the two aspects already discussed: namely, the rights of indigenous people to have their cultural traditions and way of life honoured and protected against encroachment. All three themes were fully present in the homily of Pope John Paul II at the canonization of Juan Diego on July 31, 2002, but it was the third which found its most striking expression in his rallying call: "¡México necesita a sus indígenas y los indígenas necesitan a México!" (Mexico needs the indigenous people, the indigenous people need Mexico). In this regard, Juan Diego had previously been acclaimed at the beatification ceremony in 1990 as the representative of an entire people – all the indigenous who accepted the Christian Gospel in New Spain – and, indeed, as the "protector and advocate of the indigenous people".
In the process of industrial and economic development that was observable in many regions of the world after the Second World War, the rights of indigenous peoples to their land and to the unobstructed expression of their language, culture and traditions came under pressure or were, at best, ignored. Industrialization (led by the petroleum industry) made the problem as acute in Mexico as elsewhere. The Church had begun to warn about the erosion of indigenous cultures in the 1960s, but this was generally in the context of "the poor", "the under-privileged", and "ethnic minorities", often being tied to land reform. The Latin American episcopate, at its Second and Third General Conferences held at Medellin, Colombia (November 1968) and at Puebla, Mexico (January 1979) respectively, made the transition from treating indigenous populations as people in need of special care and attention to recognising a duty to promote, and defend the dignity of, indigenous cultures. Against this background, it was Pope John Paul II, starting with an address to the indigenous peoples of Mexico in 1979, who raised the recognition of indigenous rights to the level of a major theme distinct from poverty and land reform. The first time he linked Juan Diego to this theme, however, was not on his first Apostolic journey to Mexico in 1979, but in a homily at a Mass in Popayán, Colombia, on July 4, 1986. Numerous Papal journeys to Latin America in this period were marked by meetings with indigenous peoples at which this theme was presented and developed.
Also at about this time, the attention of the world community (as manifested in the UN) began to focus on the same theme, similarly re-calibrating its concern for minorities into concern for the rights of indigenous peoples. In 1982 the Working Group on Indigenous Populations of the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (then called Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities) was established by a decision of the United Nations Economic and Social Council, and in 1985 work began on drafting a declaration of rights (a process which lasted 22 years). In due course, 1993 was proclaimed the International Year of the World's Indigenous People. The following year, the United Nations General Assembly launched the International Decade of the World's Indigenous Peoples (1995–2004) and then, on September 13, 2007, it adopted a Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.