This Day in World History
December 12, 1531
Virgin of Guadalupe appears to Mexican peasant
According to the tradition accepted by the Roman Catholic Church, a fifty-five-year old Native American who had converted to Christianity was moving down Tepeyac Hill to a church in Mexico City to attend mass. Suddenly, he beheld a vision of the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus Christ and an iconic figure in the Catholic Church. She instructed him to tell the local bishop to build a shrine to her on the spot. The Native American, Juan Diego, hurried to the bishop to relate the story. The bishop was intrigued but unconvinced; he needed proof, he said. Three days after the first encounter, on December 12, 1531, Diego saw the vision again. Asking for a sign, Mary told him to gather roses and carry them in his cloak to the bishop. When Diego opened his cloak and the roses fell out, the image of the Virgin Mary was embedded in the fabric of the inside of the cloak. A shrine was built on the site, and later a basilica.
The account is not universally accepted. The bishop identified in the story did not reach office until three years after the visitation was said to take place, and his papers say nothing of the event nor of Juan Diego. Indeed, documentary evidence about the visitation comes from more than a century later. Nevertheless, since the 1550s, the site has been home to a shrine—one of many dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe across Mexico. The Virgin of Guadalupe was named the patron saint of Mexico and recently was named the patroness of all the Americas. She has long been a national symbol for Mexicans. Today, the basilica in Tepeyac Hill contains a cloth said to be the original cloak—and is a much-visited pilgrimage destination.