While many people know the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe’s appearance in Mexico to Juan Diego on Dec. 12, 1531, not everyone knows the significance that roses played in the miraculous event.

Our family visited the shrine in 2006 and my husband Mark brought home a life-sized replica of Our Lady of Guadalupe’s image. It hangs in our living room and he uses it during presentations that he frequently gives about this amazing story. Although there is much to love about the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the part about the roses is one of my favorites.

 

Bishop’s Prayer

The story begins nearly twelve years after Hernan Cortes landed with Spanish soldiers and nearly ten years after their battles were over, which put an end to the practice of human sacrifice and gave Spain control. But conversions to the Catholic faith through Franciscan missionaries occurred at a snail’s pace. It even seemed that the natives were ready to revolt against the Spanish government, whose brutality undermined the missionaries’ efforts to evangelize.

In 1529, the first Bishop of Mexico, the Franciscan Fray Juan de Zumárraga, wrote to the king: "If God does not act to remedy the situation as soon as possible, this land will be lost forever." The bishop also prayed to Our Blessed Mother to intervene. He wrote in his journal that he had asked for a sign that his prayer would be answered: roses from his homeland of Castile, Spain.

On Dec. 9, 1531, as the simple peasant Juan Diego made his way to Mass in the early morning twilight, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to him on Tepeyec Hill. She instructed him to see the bishop and ask for a temple to be built on the site of her appearance. Naturally, Bishop Zumárraga was skeptical. But Juan Diego visited him again the very next day and reported a second appearance from the Blessed Mother. It was at the second meeting that the bishop asked for a sign.

While caring for his sick uncle for two days, Juan Diego missed the appointed third meeting with the Blessed Mother. When he finally passed by on his way to Mass once again, she still appeared and let him know that his uncle would be healed.

It was then that Juan Diego asked for a sign to bring back for the bishop. The Blessed Mother instructed Juan Diego to climb to the top of Tepeyac Hill where he would find flowers to pick and place in his tilma. He was to keep them hidden until he saw the bishop. Juan Diego gathered the dark pink roses into his cloak with the help of the Blessed Mother.

 

Personal Sign

For a third time, Juan Diego was ushered in to see the bishop with a sign that the apparitions were real — Castilian roses! That alone was a miraculous sign since they did not grow in Mexico, let alone in the middle of December. Juan did not realize — until after he opened his cloak letting the roses tumble out — that an image of Our Blessed Mother was emblazoned on his tilma.

The bishop and others in the room fell to their knees as they saw the miraculous image. They were astonished not because of the roses, but because before them appeared a colorful image of the Blessed Mother on the fabric of Juan Diego’s cloak. It was the exact image of Mary that Juan Diego had encountered on the hill. Both the bishop and Juan Diego were awe-struck at the miracle and the bishop now had no doubt that Juan Diego was telling the truth.

The roses, however, had not just served to hide the bigger surprise. Our Lady of Guadalupe had given a very personal sign to the bishop with roses from his own hometown of Castile, Spain, that his prayer would be answered. 

Our Blessed Mother’s image, clothed in the sun with the moon at her feet, was full of so much symbolism that the Mexican people needed only to gaze upon it to understand that the Blessed Mother had come to them from Heaven dressed as both a virgin but was also pregnant, to testify to the truth of the Catholic faith. It transformed the country.

Within nine years of her appearance, nine million Mexicans were baptized into the Catholic Church. Our Lady of Guadalupe is the reason that Mexico became a Catholic country. She is the patroness of the Americas and of the unborn, giving us great hope to overcome the culture of death of today. Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us!