Juan Diego, a simple and God-fearing man, was one of a few converts and devoutly practiced the faith, walking six miles every morning to mass for six years. On Saturday, December 9, 1531, he began his usual pre-dawn journey. As he reached the hill known as Tepeyac, he heard wonderful music descending from the top of the hill. It sounded like the sweetest melody of singing birds. Suddenly the singing stopped, and a gentle woman’s voice was heard from above the mount saying, “Juanito, Juan Dieguito.” When he reached the summit, he saw a Lady standing there who told him to come near. He marveled greatly at her superhuman grandeur. Her garments were shining like the sun and the cliff where she rested her feet was pierced with glitter.
The Lady spoke to him: “Know and understand well, you the most humble of my sons, that I am the ever Virgin Holy Mary, Mother of the True God for Whom we live, of the Creator of all things, Lord of heaven and earth. I wish that a temple be erected here quickly, so I may therein exhibit and give all my love, compassion, help and protection, because I am your merciful mother… Go to the bishop of Mexico and say to him that I manifest my great desire, that here a temple be built to me.”
Juan went directly to the bishop and gave him the message. The bishop told Diego he would not believe in his encounter with Mary unless he had a sign. Our Lady told Diego to visit the bishop again, but Zumarraga repeated his request for a sign. Our Lady told Juan that she would give him a sign for the bishop on the following morning. He failed to return the next day, however, because his uncle Juan Bernardino was gravely ill and by night time had asked Juan to summon a priest.
The next day, Juan climbed Tepeyac from a different angle to prevent the Lady from seeing him and deterring his journey to get the priest. Yet, she approached him from that side of the hill, and, on hearing his mission, replied, “Do not fear this nor any other sickness or anguish. Am I, your Mother, not here? Are you not under my protection? Do not be afflicted by the illness of your uncle. He is now cured.”
Juan Bernardino related later that at that very hour a beautiful lady appeared to him, calling herself “she who crushes the serpent” (see Gen. 3:15). Juan Bernardino felt a profound peace come over his soul and through his limbs a healing wave seemed to roll, filling him with strength and cooling his burning fever. He was cured.
After reassuring Juan Diego, Our Lady told him to gather the flowers at the top of the hill and give them to the bishop for a sign. But how could this be? Flowers in December, the month in which all vegetation is destroyed by freezing? Flowers on a hilltop full of crags, thorns, and thistles? Reaching the top of the hill, Juan was amazed to find many varieties of exquisite roses of Castella (from Spain), hitherto unknown to Mexico. He placed the flowers in his tilma, a coarsely woven cloak of cactus fibers, and set out for the bishop’s house.
When Juan Diego reached the bishop’s house and was finally admitted, he unfolded the tilma, revealing the gorgeous, sweetly scented flowers. Suddenly, there appeared on the face of the tilma a precious image of the Ever-Virgin Holy Mary, Mother of God. The bishop and all others present fell to their knees upon seeing the miraculous image. News of the miracle spread throughout Mexico, and before the decade was out some eight million Mexicans converted to the faith.
An incredible list of miracles, cures and interventions are attributed to Our Lady of Guadalupe. Yearly, an estimated 10 million visit her Basilica, making Mexico City home the most popular Marian shrine in the world and the most visited Catholic church in the world next to the Vatican. Altogether, 24 popes have officially honored Our Lady of Guadalupe. His Holiness John Paul II visited her sanctuary four times: on his first apostolic trip outside Rome as Pope in 1979, and again in 1990, 1999 and 2002.
From 1531 until the present day, a continuous stream of pilgrims has flowed through the doors of the church on Tepeyac hill. It is estimated now that as many as twenty million pilgrims come to see the miraculous tilma every year.