Millions of people in Mexico celebrate the Virgin of Guadalupe each year on December 12. The celebration is carried on by the making of a promise every year, to carry a torch that represents the light of Guadalupe, and carry it from town to town in order to spread her light and spirit. During the first two weeks of December you can see groups of people in every Mexican state, running torches along the highways day and night in order to spread the light of Santa Maria de Guadalupe.
The story of Guadalupe has been handed down for generations and is based on several historical documents. It originates in 1531, just 10 years after Tenochtitlan (Mexico City) was conquered by Hernan Cortez, in 1521.
Early one morning Cuauhtlatoatzin, a macehual native (humble class native) who had already been baptized as Juan Diego, was passing by Tepeyac Hill in Mexico City. He began to feel a sweet harmony which made him stop. There he witnessed the vision of a young beautiful girl below a rainbow, surrounded by song birds with a soft brightness emanating from her.
He was very surprised. She said to him, “I am the Santa Maria Virgin, God. s true mother.” She asked him to build a sacred casita (a temple) to show His son, and let the people experience her love, compassion, help and defense. A place where she could hear their laments, remedy their misery, and relieve their sorrow and pain.
She asked Juan to go tell the elected Bishop, Franciscan Juan de Zumarraga, about her request. Juan Diego went but the Bishop did not believe him and instead thought that Juan Diego had suffered some kind of hallucination.
Juan Diego forgot the event. The next day he passed by the same area on the road, and the Virgin was there again, asking him to take her message to the Bishop. This happened four times until the Bishop finally asked Juan Diego to bring him a sign or some proof that what he spoke of was true. When Juan returned to the Virgin she agreed to provide the sign, and told Juan to “Go home and come back tomorrow, I will give you the sign you need.”
When he arrived home his Uncle Juan Bernardino was very sick and Juan tried to help him. The only way Juan Diego could help him was to go to Tlatelolco the next day, December 12, to look for a priest who could come to help his uncle spiritually. Juan Diego thought that if he went the same way to Tlatelolco he normally used, the Virgin would stop him, so he changed his route and took a different road.
The Virgin appeared to him again to tell him that his uncle had been healed; then she requested that he climb the hill to cut some flowers and to bring them back.
Juan Diego obeyed her even though he knew that only cactus would be found there, never flowers. However, he found a big variety of beautiful flowers which he cut and took down to the Virgin. He arranged them in the ayate, this is a kind of ixtle mantle that the natives use as an overcoat and also for carrying small objects. She asked him to take the flowers to the Bishop as a sign.
When he arrived at the Bishop he let the ayate roll out, and in the instant that the flowers fell out, the Guadalupe Virgin’s image was imprinted on the ayate, just as Juan Diego had seen her. This image was so vivid that the people present froze and then slowly began to kneel down in worship of this miracle. The next day, everyone accompanied Juan Diego to the site where the Virgin requested that the temple be built. They confirmed that Juan Bernardino had been healed by the Guadalupe Virgin and vowed to call her Santa Maria de Guadalupe from that time forward.