Lives of the Saints
Our Models and Protectors

Spiritual Bouquet:

December 9

Saint Juan Diego
Saint Juan Diego

Saint Juan Diego
Visionary of Our Lady of Guadelupe

Saint Juan Diego is the first native-born Saint of the two Americas to be canonized. The ceremony was performed on July 31, 2002. He was born around 1474 in Cuauhtitlan, in the Kingdom of Texcoco. His name was originally Cuauhtola-toatzin, which meant "the eagle who speaks.” At the age of 48 he was converted, and at his Baptism by the first Franciscans of his land, he received the name of Juan Diego.

From that moment on, he lived in a holy manner, always occupied with duties related to the Lord’s service. He went regularly to the Doctrine, and to the religious ceremonies. All the Indians of that time considered him a holy man and called him “the pilgrim”, for they would always see him going alone, on Saturdays and Sundays, to the “Doctrine” of Tlatelolco, an area in Mexico City where the first group of Franciscans resided. There he learned the things of God, taught by those whom Juan Diego called “My beloved priests”. The journey was long and he had to leave very early from the village of Tulpetlac, where he was living at that time, and walk southwards, going around the hill of Tepeyac near Mexico City.

At the time of the Apparitions, Juan Diego was a mature man of some 57 years, recently widowed by the death two years earlier of his wife, Maria Lucia, in 1529. Thus on Saturday, December 9, 1531, while walking around the hill of Tepeyac, he heard beautiful singing, and a sweet voice calling him from its summit: "Juanito, Juan Dieguito." When he reached the hilltop, he met there a beautiful Lady, standing, enveloped with a cloak bright as the sun. She introduced Herself as the Mother of the sole God of all times and peoples, whose Will was that a church be built at this site. There, this Mother would be able to offer all Her love to every human being. She asked him then to communicate Her desire to the bishop, Juan de Zumarraga, native of Castille. His meetings with this bishop were difficult for Juan Digo, for he had to wait long hours in the outer apartments, and at first the bishop did not believe him. When Juan saw the Lady again, he asked Her to replace him by a nobler messenger, for he was a man of the fields, a person without any importance. And, in affectionate terms, he added: “My Virgin, my littlest daughter, my Lady, my child, please, dispense me. I will bring sorrow to Your face. I will fall into disgrace with You, my Queen and Patron.” The Queen of Heaven answered him with the same familiarity and the same tenderness, calling him: “The littlest of My sons”, but She insisted firmly that he should go and seek out the bishop a second time.

Juan Diego went to the episcopal palace again the next day, and Monsignor, still reticent, asked him for a sign as a proof. The visionary was discouraged, above all because when he returned home he found his uncle sick. The latter, sensing that his end was at hand, asked him to go to Mexico City to obtain a priest who would administer Extreme Unction to him.

On December 12th, then, early in the morning, Juan Diego set out for the Franciscan Convent of Tlatelolco. In order not to delay his arrival, he attempted to avoid the Lady and went around the hill by another route; nonetheless, She came to meet him. Confused, he explained to Her his anxiety. She answered him in the most beautiful of words, which penetrated to the depths of his soul: "Listen; and may your heart be reassured, My littlest of sons; may nothing afflict you, for what alarms you is nothing. May your countenance and your heart remain serene. Do not fear this sickness or any other sickness, or any other sorrow. Am I not here, I who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and My protection? Am I not the source of your joy? Are you not in the folds of My cloak, enveloped by my arms? Is there something else that you need? And the Mother of God reassured him: "Let nothing afflict or trouble you; let not the sickness of your uncle oppress you with sorrow, for he will not die. Be certain that he already is better.” And indeed, at that precise moment, the Most Holy Mary also appeared to his uncle and restored him to health, as Juan Diego would learn later. And in order that he might present the Bishop with a proof of Her message, She commanded him to come up to the summit of the hill where they first had met. She said to him, “There you will find flowers; pick them and make a bouquet, then come down, and bring them here before Me.” Obeying with confidence, Juan Diego went up the hill, even though he knew there were never any flowers growing in that stony, arid soil. What was more, it was at that moment the full winter season and the ground was frozen. When he reached the summit, he was seized with astonishment, seeing before him a beautiful garden with many flowers in bloom, covered with dew and diffusing a very sweet perfume. They were Castillian roses, by a delicate attention of the Virgin for the Bishop. Juan Diego began to cut as many flowers as his tilma (cloak) could contain. And the Blessed Virgin told him to go in that way to the Bishop.

After a long wait he found himself in the Bishop's presence for the third time. He opened his cloak, from which the flowers fell, and on the cloak was the picture of the Holy Virgin Mary as it can still be seen today. The Bishop and his associates were stupefied. He wept and asked pardon for not having fulfilled the will of Heaven at once. Juan Diego then revealed the exact name of the Lady: The perfect Holy Virgin Mary of Guadalupe. Guadalupe in Spain was already the site of a Marian pilgrimage. The entire city was in astonishment. The miraculous way in which the picture had been painted was admired: no man could have done that.

After the Apparitions, Juan Diego received authorization to reside alongside the hermitage where the image was kept. He wanted to be near the sanctuary in order to take care of it every day, above all to clean it, which for the natives is a true honor, since they maintain great deference for holy things. The external grace which accompanied the vision and the miracle was intensified by an interior grace for Juan Diego personally; he prayed, fasted and sought silence. Always at the disposition of any who came to venerate the image, he would continually repeat his story, in such wise that the history of the Apparitions spread rapidly, and not only within the confines of Mexico, but throughout all the Americas. The evangelization of the natives afterwards was very rapid, contradicting all expectations, since at first it had scarcely advanced at all. The Indians understood that this affair concerned them also, and that Our Lady loved them. From the first, the inexplicable impression of the image was for the Mexicans a proof of the veracity of the Message.

Juan Diego died in 1548, loved and known by his fellow-citizens. Recent and very advanced scientific analyses of the image have only confirmed its extraordinary character, especially because the fabric of the tilma, which was made from agave leaves, normally has a maximum life of 20 years. But the tilma has remained intact since the Apparitions, despite the humidity of this region. In contrast, certain retouches of the image, made over the centuries, have already begun to deteriorate or disappear. When in 1921 a bomb was placed near the image to destroy it, everything around it was fragmented, even the marble steps of the main altar and the glass windows of the surrounding houses. But the tilma with its image remained intact, as well as the glass globe covering it.

Source: CD of Saint Benedict’s Abbey of Port-Valais, Le Bouveret (VS) Switzerland.

Alphabetical list of Saints