The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe just outside Mexico City is the second most visited Roman Catholic shrine in the world. Each year about 18 to 20 million people travel to the famous church on the site where the Virgin Mary appeared to St. Juan Diego in 1531.
Friday is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe and Juan Diego is Tuesday's Saint of the Day.
The Blessed Virgin Mary appeared five times from December 9 through 12. According to the traditional account, Juan Diego, a convert, was walking between his village and Mexico City on December 12, 1531 when Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared, speaking to him in his native Nahuatl language. She told him to build a church at the site.
When Juan Diego spoke to the Spanish bishop, the bishop did not believe him, asking for a miraculous sign. Although it was winter, the Virgin told Juan Diego to gather flowers, and Spanish roses bloomed right at his feet.
When Juan Diego presented these to the bishop, the roses fell from his apron (the Tilma) and an icon of the Virgin was miraculously imprinted on the cloth. The bishop ordered a church built at once, dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Our Lady of Guadalupo has been recognized as patron saint of Mexico City since 1737. Her patronage continued to extend until it included all of America by 1946.
The present church was constructed on the site of an earlier 16th-century church that was finished in 1709, the Old Basilica. When this basilica became dangerous due to the sinking of its foundations, a modern structure called the New Basilica was built next to it; the original image of the Virgin of Guadalupe is now housed in this New Basilica.
Built between 1974 and 1976, the new Basilica has a circular floorplan so that the image of the Virgin can be seen from any point within the building. The circular structure is 100 meters (330 feet) in diameter, and can accomodate up to 50,000 people. The choir is located between the altar and the churchgoers to indicate that it, too, is part of the group of the faithful. To the sides are the chapels of the Santisimo and of Saint Joseph. It has 9 chapels on the upper floor. Under the main floor are the Basilica's crypts, with 15,000 niches and 10 chapels. Its seven front doors are an allusion to the seven gates of Celestial Jerusalem referred to by Christ.
In the Sanctuary grounds where the new Basilica is located there are also many other buildings, including the original chapel on the exact site of the apparitions to Juan Diego (Capilla del Cerrito) and the Old Basilica consecrated in 1709, as well as other chapels where Masses and other sacraments of the Church are celebrated daily.
The Basilica as well as the other chapels are the center of fervent religious activity, around the clock:
- At least 30 Masses are celebrated every day of the year.
- In the new Basilica main altar there are Masses every hour on the hour, from 6 a.m.to 8 p.m. every day of the year. There are 8 masses also in its San Jose Chapel (8 a day, 5 Sat and Sunday) and in the crypt.
- There are also Masses in the Capilla del Cerrito, Capilla del Pocito, Parroquia de Capuchinas and Parroquia de los Indios buildings.
- Hundreds of baptisms are celebrated every week. There are holy matrimonies, first communions and confirmations celebrated.
-Confessions are heard every day of the year in the Basilica, continuously from 6 a.m. 6 p.m.
On November 14, 1921, a factory worker placed a bomb a few feet away from the apron. The explosion demolished the marble steps of the main altar, blew out the windows of nearby homes and bent a brass crucifix, but the fabric suffered no damage. Since 1993, the apron has been protected by bullet-proof glass.
In 2002, Pope John Paul II declared Juan Diego a saint; he was the first Mexican to achieve sainthood. Replicas of the miraculous image can be found in thousands of churches, including the National Shrine in Washington, D.C
The Words of Our Lady to Juan Diego:
"I wish that a temple be erected here quickly, so I may therein exhibit and give all my love, compassion, help, and protection. Because I am your merciful mother, to you, and to all the inhabitants on this land and all the rest who love me, invoke and confide in me; to listen there to their lamentations, and remedy all their miseries, afflictions and sorrows. And to accomplish what my clemency pretends, go to the palace of the bishop of Mexico, and you will say to him that I manifest my great desire, that here on this plain a temple be built to me."