The Virgin of Guadalupe, sometimes referred to as Our Lady of Guadalupe, is an image of the Virgin Mary that is said to have miraculously appeared on 12 December 1531 on the cloak of a Mexican peasant named Juan Diego. Though there is some debate and controversy regarding the authenticity of the image as a miracle and not merely a work of art, for many Catholics and Mexicans the image is sacred and venerated as the unifying image of Mexico. The cloak upon which the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe exists remains in the Basilica of Guadalupe, built at the site where the miracle is said to have occurred.
Though the cloak has been studied extensively, there are conflicting reports regarding the nature and origin of the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Some researchers have declared they could not identify the types of materials used to create the image, as well as seeing various other miraculous or unexplainable qualities in the image. Other researchers, however, have stated that the image and the materials it is made from are decidedly terrestrial and not miraculous. These researchers found the materials and techniques used to be in accord with what was commonly used by artists in the 16th century.
Official Catholic record of the creation of the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe states that Juan Diego was walking from his home to Mexico City and was along the Hill of Tepeyac when he saw a young girl of about 15 or 16 years of age. The girl spoke to him in his native tongue, and asked him to build a church in that location in her honor. Diego stated that from her words he realized she was an apparition of the Virgin Mary. In Catholicism and other forms of Christianity, the Virgin Mary is traditionally regarded as the mother of Jesus Christ.
After hearing the words of the vision, Diego went to the Spanish bishop at the time and related to him what had occurred. The bishop asked Diego to return to the location and request a miracle from the apparition to prove her claims of divinity. Diego returned and found the vision of Mary once again, she then told him to gather flowers for the Bishop, though it was winter and flowers were not in bloom. Diego did as he was told, and found roses native to the bishop’s home, but not to that region, and delivered them to the bishop. On returning with the flowers, Diego and the bishop were startled to find that the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe had miraculously appeared on Diego’s cloak.
The image itself is of a young woman dressed in a blue cloak, wearing a robe beneath, her head bowed and hands together as if in prayer. Throughout the image, various symbols are integrated that have been argued to be both emblematic of apocalyptic imagery used in the Bible, as well as representing the Immaculate Conception, which is the idea of the conception of Jesus Christ to a virgin mother. Regardless of the nature of the image, or what it may precisely represent, the Virgin of Guadalupe has been used as a symbol of Mexican unity for centuries. The image was used by Miguel Hidalgo during the Mexican War of Independence, as well as Emiliano Zapata during the Mexican Revolution.