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Saint Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin or Juan Diego (1474–May 30, 1548) was, according to Mexican Catholic tradition, an indigenous Mexican who reported a Marian apparition, Our Lady of Guadalupemarker, in 1531. The legend of the apparition has had a significant impact on the spread of the Catholic faith within Mexico. The Roman Catholic Church canonized him in 2002, as its first indigenous American saint.

The reality of Juan Diego's existence has been questioned by modern scholarship who point to the complete lack of sources about Juan Diego's existence prior to the publication of the Nican Mopohua a century later, in 1649.


The two primary sources to the life of Juan Diego are from 1648 and 1649. The first account, Imagen de la Virgen Maria, Madre de Dios de Guadalupe, Milagrosamente aparecida en la Ciudad de México, was written in Spanish by the priest Miguel Sánchez. It relates how Juan Diego witnessed the apparitions, how he informed Bishop Zumárraga, the miracles of the tilmahtli and the roses, the apparition to Juan Bernardino (Juan Diego's uncle), and how the shrine to Guadalupe was instated. According to contemporary sources this was the first time the apparition story was told to a wide audience. Historians have suggested that Sánchez built his account on an indigenous oral tradition local to the area, a variant of the earlier legend of the appearance of the Virgin of Los Remedios. The Virgin of Remedios was a popular saint to whom several miraculous curations were attributed, among them a curation of an indigenous herdsman near Tepeyac and a construction worker in Tacubamarker. The stories of the Virgen de Guadalupe and Virgen de Los remedios have several similarities, and have often been confused. Historians have suggested that the Nican Mopohua can be understood as a variation of the legend of the miracle of the Virgin de los Remedios.

The second source which is more famous than Sánchez' and goes into more detail about Juan Diego is the Huei tlamahuiçoltica (also called "Nican Mopohua") written in Classical Nahuatl by Mexican priest and lawyer Luis Laso de la Vega and published in 1649.

The historic veracity of both sources are considered questionable by many historians. The primary doubts arise in the complete lack of sources about the apparition and consequently about Juan Diego in the 117 years between the time given for the apparition and the first publication of the legend. Also the fact that the story was described as being previously unknown by those who read its first publication. Furthermore the fact that Bishop Zúmarraga who figures as a prominent character in the account has not left any mention of either Juan Diego or the apparition in his otherwise ample correspondence is a problem for the credibility of the accounts. The problems with the historicity of Juan Diego was recognized as early as 1883 by Joaquín García Icazbalceta historian and the biographer of Archbishop Juan de Zumárraga, in private letter to the Mexican Bishop Icazbalceta concluded that there was no historical basis for the character of Juan Diego.

In 1995 a deer skin codex pictorially demonstrating the apparition and the life of Juan Diego appeared in the possession of Xavier Escalada, a Jesuit writing an encyclopedia of the Guadalupan legend. This unprovenanced document, previously unknown to historians and archivists, became referred to as the Codex Escalada. This was at a time when the process of canonization was at a halt and historians and theologians were beginning to voice doubts about the veracity of the legend. The Codex seemed to provide ineffable proof of the historicity of the accounts of Sánchez and Laso de la Vega. To further strengthen its force of proof it bore the signatures of the important historical figures Antonio Valeriano and Bernardino de Sahagún which seemed to date it unequivocally to the mid 16th century around the time of the apparition. The sheer timing of the Codex' appearance was seen by many historians as suspicious, and the source is not generally regarded as an historical document but rather a pro-apparitionist fabrication.


According to the Nican Mopohua, Juan Diego was born in 1474 in the calpulli of Tlayacac in Cuauhtitlán, a small Indian village some 20 km (12mi) to the north of Tenochtitlan (Mexico Citymarker). Another source indicated that Juan Diego was born on July 12, 1474.

His original or birth name was Cuauhtlatoatzin (alternately rendered as Quauhtatoatzin, Guauhtlatoatzin, or Cuatliztactzin), which has been translated as "Talking Eagle" in the Nahuatl language.

Conversion to Christianity

A farmer, landowner and weaver of mats, he witnessed the Spanish conquest of Mexico by Hernán Cortés in 1521, when he was 47 years old. Following the invasion, in 1524, the first 12 Franciscan missionaries arrived in what is now Mexico City.

Cuauhtlatoatzin and his wife welcomed the Franciscans in 1524 or 1525 and were among the first to be baptized — he taking the Christian name of Juan Diego; she, Maria Lucia. Later, they moved to Tolpetlac to be closer to Tenochtitlan (Mexico City) and the Catholic mission that had been set up by the Franciscan friars.

According to his legend, after hearing a sermon on the virtue of chastity, they reportedly decided to live chaste lives. This decision was later cited as a possible reason for which the Virgin Mary chose to appear to Juan Diego. In 1529, a few years after her baptism, Maria Lucia became sick and died. According to Sánchez' account Juan Diego and his wife had lived in celibacy for their entire lives; this would be extraordinary since he lived the first 47 years of his life according to pre-Columbian indigenous customs that only prescribed celibacy for the highest priesthood. The Nican Mopohua adds the detail about his celibacy beginning after his first sermon.

The Apparition on Tepeyac Hill

As a widower, Juan Diego walked every Saturday and Sunday to church, and on cold mornings, wore a woven cloth called a tilma, or ayate made with coarse fibers from the maguey cactus for cotton was only used by the upper class Aztec.

On Saturday morning, December 9, 1531, he reported the following: As he was walking to church, he heard the sound of birds singing on Tepeyac hill and someone calling his name. He ran up the hill, and there saw a Lady, about fourteen years of age, resembling an Aztec princess in appearance, and surrounded by light. The Lady spoke to him in Nahuatl, his native tongue. She called him “Xocoyte,” her little son. He responded by calling her “Xocoyote,” his youngest child. The Lady asked Juan Diego to tell the bishop of Mexico, a Franciscan named Juan de Zumárraga, that she wanted a “teocalli,” a shrine, to be built on the spot where she stood, in her honor, where:

"I will demonstrate, I will exhibit, I will give all my love, my compassion, my help and my protection to the people. I am your merciful mother, the merciful mother of all of you who live united in this land, and of all mankind, of all those who love me , of those who cry to me, of those who seek me, of those who have confidence in me. Here I will hear their weeping, their sorrow and will remedy and alleviate all their multiple sufferings, necessities and misfortunes."

Recognizing the Lady as the Virgin Mary, Juan Diego went to the bishop as instructed, but the Spanishmarker bishop, Fray Juan de Zumárraga was doubtful and told Juan Diego he needed a sign. Juan Diego returned to Tepeyac hill and explained to the Lady that the bishop did not believe him. He implored the Lady to use another messenger, insisting he was not worthy. The Lady however insisted that it was of the utmost importance that it be Diego speaking to the bishop on her behalf. On Sunday, Juan Diego did as the Lady directed, but again the bishop asked for a sign. Later that day, the Lady promised Juan Diego she would give him a sign the following day.

According to the Nican Mopohua, he returned home that night to his uncle Juan Bernardino’s house, and discovered him seriously ill. The next morning, December 12, Juan Diego decided not to meet with the Lady, but to find a priest who could administer the last rites to his dying uncle. When he tried to skirt around Tepeyac hill, the Lady intercepted him, assured him his uncle would not die, and asked him to climb the hill and gather the flowers he found there. It was December, when normally nothing blooms in the cold. There, Diego's miracle of the roses occurred: he found roses from the region of Castillemarker in Spain, former home of bishop Zumárraga. The Lady re-arranged the roses carefully inside the folded tilma that Juan Diego wore and told him not to open it before anyone but the bishop. When Juan Diego unfolded his tilma before the Bishop roses cascaded from his tilma, and an icon of Our Lady of Guadalupemarker was miraculously impressed on the cloth, bringing the bishop to his knees.

According to the Nican Mopohua Zumárraga acknowledged the miracle and within two weeks, ordered a shrine to be built where the Virgin Mary had appeared. The bishop then entrusted the image to Juan Diego, who chose to live, until his death at about the age of 73 — on May 30, 1548 — in a small hermitage near the spot where the Virgin Mary had appeared. There he cared for the chapel and the first pilgrims who came to pray there, propagating the account of the apparitions in Mexico.

No records prior to 1648 exist showing that Bishop Zumárraga acknowledged the miracle or that he even knew of it.

Impact on Mexico and the Catholic Church

News of the apparition on Tepayac Hill spread quickly through Mexico; and in the seven years that followed, 1532 through 1538, the Indian people accepted the Spaniards and 8 million people were converted to the Catholic faith.

According to Daniel Lynch, director of the Apostolate of the Missionary Image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, “An amazing thing happened. Indians became reconciled to Spaniards. And we had a new race of people. Mixed blood. We called them "Mestizos". Our Lady of Guadalupe had appeared as a Mestiza. They call her the dark virgin, the little brown one.”

Our Lady of Guadalupemarker, as the Virgin Mary came to be known in this context, still underpins the faith of many Catholics in Mexico and the rest of Latin America, and she is recognized as patron saint of all the Americas.

Interestingly, the years 1532 to 1538 which saw a large number of people join the Catholic Church in Mexico based on Juan Diego's vision, were right in the midst of the period of Protestant Reformation of 1521 to 1579 in Europe. Hence as a large number of people left the Catholic Church in Europe, a large number of new Catholics appeared in Mexico, maintaining the overall strength of the Catholic Church. To this day, Latin America remains a major pillar of the Catholic Church.

Investigations, canonization and symbolism

Juan Diego was recognized by the Church soon after the apparition. He expressed a deep love for the Holy Eucharist, and by special permission of the Bishop he received Holy Communion three times a week, a highly unusual occurrence in those times.

In 1666, a Church investigation into the establishment of a feast day produced a document known as the Informaciones Jurídicas de 1666, purporting to gather information from informants who had had some connection with Juan Diego. In 1723 a formal investigation into this life was ordered by Archbishop Lanziego y Equilaz.


On January 9, 1987, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints declared Juan Diego venerable. Pope John Paul II beatified him on May 6, 1990, during a Mass at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, declaring December 9 Juan Diego's feast day and invoking him as “protector and advocate of the indigenous peoples.”

Controversy over the historical authenticity of Juan Diego was stirred in 1996 by Father Guillermo Schulenburg, a longtime abbot of the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, who called Juan Diego a mythical character.

The Vatican subsequently established a commission of 30 researchers from various countries to investigate the question. The commission's view was that Juan Diego had indeed existed, and the results of their research were presented to the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints on October 28, 1998. Among research documents submitted at that time were 27 Guadalupe Indian documents.


Juan Diego was canonized by Pope John Paul II on July 31, 2002. Pope John Paul II praised Juan Diego for his simple faith nourished by catechesis and pictured him (who said to the Blessed Virgin Mary: "I am a nobody, I am a small rope, a tiny ladder, the tail end, a leaf") as a model of humility.


By 1820, when the Mexican War of Independence from Spanish colonial rule ended, Our Lady of Guadalupemarker had come to symbolize the Mexican nation. The armies of both Miguel Hidalgo in 1810 and Emiliano Zapata in 1914 flew Guadalupan flags. The first president of Mexico adopted the name "Guadalupe Victoria" during the fight for independence from Spain.Today, the Virgin of Guadalupe remains a strong national and religious symbol in Mexico.

Many Mexicans also see the canonization of Juan Diego as a symbolic victory in the movement for greater recognition of their heritage reflected in the Catholic religion; Pope John Paul II held a Mass in Mexico that borrowed from Aztec traditions, including a reading from the Bible in Nahuatl. The Pope urged the Catholic Church in Mexico to be respectful of indigenous traditions and to incorporate them into religious ceremonies when appropriate.

Depiction and image

There was controversy over the official image of Juan Diego selected by the Archdiocese of Mexico City in 2002. Critics feel that it depicts Juan Diego as having European features rather than the features of a Mexican Indian.

Some faithful Catholics believe they can see a reflected image of Juan Diego in the eyes of Our Lady of Guadalupemarker.The first reported case was in 1929, when Alfonso Marcue, the official photographer of the old Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City, stated that he had noticed a reflected image of a bearded man in the right eye of the Virgin. Church authorities in Mexico instructed him to remain silent about it at the time. In 1951, Jose Carlos Salinas Chavez publicly reported discovering the image and also a reflection in the left eye. Since then fascination with the reflection has continued.

In 1979 Jose Aste Tönsmann, PhD, used high quality scanners at IBM and applied filtering techniques to enhance a digitized images of the eyes of Our Lady of Guadalupemarker to eliminate noise. He published his studies on the eyes on the tilma in the book El Secreto de sus Ojos, along with several photographs. He reported that in one of the photographs bishop Zumárraga and a “translator" can be seen next to Juan Diego.

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