Site Of Apparitions At Guadalupe Seen As Linked To Miraculous Image In Spain
By Michael H. Brown
This week the Pope will be at the apparition site of Guadalupe, Mexico, to canonize Juan Diego, who saw the Blessed Mother there in the 1500s. It will be a dramatic moment in the history of apparitions -- almost surely the largest gathering ever for a canonization (with more than 12 million expected). Rare it is for a site of apparition to gain this ultimate stamp of Vatican approval: not just approval of the event itself but a visit from the Pope to canonize the seer.
And it brings to mind a remarkable mystery.
The mystery is that centuries before Juan Diego, there was an apparition site of precisely the same name in the hilly terrain southwest of Madrid -- at Guadalupe, Spain.
It was there, in 1326 -- two centuries before Guadalupe, Mexico -- that a cowherd named Gil Cordero was searching for a lost cow when he spotted a woman "of marvelous beauty" coming from the woods. It was right after he had found his cow, which seemed dead but then miraculously revived moments before the apparition.
"Have no fear, for I am the Mother of God, by whom the human race achieved redemption," she told the speechless herdsman. "Go to your home and tell the clergy and other people to come to this place where I appear to you and dig here, where they will find a statue."
Although initially mocked, Cordero finally convinced clergy and noblemen to come to the spot, where they pushed away small boulders and dug into the stones, revealing a small cave. Inside was an unstained wood statue along with an ancient bell. There was a document inside explaining the origin as well as relics of St. Fulgentius and St. Florentina.
It was the statue, however, that drew the attention. As the document explained, it was a long lost image of Mary that Pope Gregory the Great had given the bishop of Seville. It was originally from St. Mary Major Basilica in Rome -- where it had been known for its miraculous powers. At the end of the fourth century it had once been paraded through that city to halt a horrible plague.
Now, in the 1300s, the unstained, oriental wood statue found in Spain at this swampy spot called Guadalupe (which meant "hidden river" or "channel") seemed in perfect condition despite six centuries in the earth. It had been buried for safe-keeping when the Muslims invaded Spain, where they plundered many relics.
"According to manuscripts in the Monastery Archives and the Spanish National Library, the statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe-Estemadura was twice hidden," writes Jody Brant Smith in a splendid book about the image. "It was first put away for safekeeping in Byzantine times. It was hidden again in A.D. 711, at the beginning of the Muslim invasion of Spain. Historian Jacques LaFaye quotes from an anonymous Codex dated A.D. 1440. It tells of: 'that time when all the Christians fled from Seville. Among them were some saintly priests who took with them a statue of Our Lady, Holy Mary... and in these mountains the priests dug a cave that they surrounded with large gravestones; inside they placed the statue of Our Lady, Holy Mary, together with a small bell and a reliquary containing a writing which told how this statue of Holy Mary had been offered at Rome to the Archbishop of Seville, St. Leander...'"
A shrine was built there at Guadalupe, Spain, and it was eventually visited by Christopher Columbus -- who is said to have carried a replica of it on his voyage to the Americas (where he named one of the islands he found "Guadeloupe").
Was there a connection between this and the subsequent naming of the site in Mexico?
There is debate about this. Some believe that, hearkening back to the earlier apparition in Spain, local missionaries and priests dubbed the new site of apparitions in Mexico "Santa Maria de Guadalupe." If true this means the apparition site that will be in the spotlight this week has roots that go back not only to a "hidden channel" in Spain but also to at least the fourth century and a miraculous icon in Rome.
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