One of the most recognizable images of Mexican Catholics is Our Lady of Guadalupe. It is depicted everywhere, even in the back windows of cars. The original is enshrined in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.
The history is that the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of Jesus Christ, appeared four times to a Mexican peasant named Juan Diego in December of 1531. He tried to tell the archbishop, Juan de Zumárraga, who didn’t believe Juan Diego. “Photos or it didn’t happen” he said, so during the third meeting Juan Diego told the apparition he needed some proof and she said she would provide it during their next meeting.
Juan Diego stood her up, though, because his uncle was sick. He tried to avoid the meeting place because he figured she’d talk all day and keep him from visiting Uncle Juan but she intercepted him anyway. She chided him with “No estoy yo aquí que soy tu madre?”, which means “Am I not here, I who am your mother?” She told him that his uncle had recovered and told him to gather flowers from the hill. He found four roses (not the ones from the bourbon)in bloom, roses which are not native to Mexico, which is doubly strange to see in December. The Virgin Mary arranged them in his cloak, or tilma.
Juan Diego returned to the archbishop and opened his cloak. The roses fell to the ground, revealing the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe. And Uncle Juan had indeed fully recovered as promised.
The first structure was called Temple Expiatorio a Cristo Rey, and completed in 1709. The icon of Juan Diego’s cloak, the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, resided there until 1974. The church was granted basilica status in 1904 by Pope Pius X. In 1921 a terrorist detonated a bomb inside the sancuary, which damaged the structure but the Virgin of Gaudalupe was not damaged.
The new basilica was built in 1974 and has a circular layout to allow the image of the Virgin to be seen from anywhere within the building. It can house up to 10,000 worshipers.
The Basilica displays the image of the Blessed Virgin behind the altar. Visitors naturally want to get a closer look so there is access from a lower level behind the altar to prevent tourists from interrupting Mass.
There is a moving walkway to keep the faithful flowing, preventing anybody from hogging the site.
We walked around the to the west side of the original basilica and I learned why it was replaced. Yes, that is a slit through the building to the left of the tower.
Mexico City was a lake at one time and the foundation of the old building is sinking. It has opened up what is basically an alley between two sections of the building.
The floor is really slanted, leaving a very uncomfortable feeling when walking through.
It’s hard to depict in photos but the altar rail is tilted one direction and the floor under the altar goes the other way.
The lean is pretty obvious in the photo above.
Whether you believe the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego and gave him the image or not, the icon is extremely important to the identity of the Catholic Church in Mexico. Don’t leave Mexico City without paying a visit.