Santuario de Guadalupe

Annie Lux | - January 14, 2008

Our Lady of Guadalupe, Santa Fe

Guadalupe is a village in Spain where-guided by a vision of the Virgin Mary-a cowherd found a statue of the Virgin that had been lost for six hundred years. But this older story has been eclipsed by that of an Indian peasant named Juan Diego who, in the earliest days of Spanish missionary work in New Spain, claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary on a hillside near present-day Mexico City. The image familiar today as Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared on the Juan Diego's cloak as a sign to the Bishop there. The cult of the Virgin of Guadalupe spread quickly, and soon she was hailed as the "Queen of Mexico." Many churches have been dedicated to her, especially in hispanic communities; the first and most famous one in the United States is the Santuarío de Guadalupe in Santa Fe.

The Santuarío was probably built in the latter part of the eighteenth century, although some accounts place its construction date much earlier. Originally built in a simple adobe style with a cruciform plan, the large church on the south bank of the Santa Fe River-across town from San Miguel in the heart of Santa Fe's west-side historic Guadalupe district-the santuarío has undergone many different "looks" over the years. Its famous altar screen, with its large center painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe, was commissioned for the church in 1783 and was brought from Mexico City on muleback over the Camino Réal.

The church was used only sporadically until 1880, when the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad came to town. With the depot just a block away and the tracks running right past the church, it's appropriate that Archbishop Lamy designated the Guadalupe Santuarío as the new parish church to accommodate all the English-speaking immigrants that poured into Santa Fe on the railroad. It was at this time that Lamy-never a fan of mission-style architecture-had the church completely remodeled into a more European-style building. A pitched roof was added, a tall spire replaced the original bell tower, and windows were cut into the thick earthen walls.

In 1922, a fire destroyed the spire, most of the roof, and parts of the interior. Happily, the beautiful altar screen escaped damage. The resulting repairs gave the Guadalupe Santuarío yet another update, this time to a California Mission style.

A new parish church was built next door in 1961, and again the Santuarío fell into disuse. Rather than tear it down, in the 1970s it was leased to the Guadalupe Historic Foundation, which again renovated the exterior, this time with the idea of restoring the church to its original style as much as possible. The Santuarío was returned to the care of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe in 2006. Mass is celebrated there on the 12th day of every month, in honor of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12.

Juan Diego and the Virgin

On December 9, 1531, a poor Indian peasant named Juan Diego saw an apparition of the Virgin Mary on a hill outside what is now Mexico City. Juan Diego, a very devout man, was a 57-year-old fairly recent convert to Christianity: he'd been baptized seven years before by one of the first Franciscan missionaries in the New World. He often walked the many miles to the nearest church, and it was on one of these walks that he first saw the woman who identified herself as the mother of Jesus. She had dark skin like his, spoke to him in his own dialect, and called him "my son" and "Juanito." She told Juan Diego to go and tell the Bishop that she wanted a chapel built on that spot, the hillside called Tepeyac. Juan Diego obeyed, but of course the Bishop did not believe him. If this was true, he said, let the Virgin Mary send a sign as proof.

Juan Diego was afraid to tell the beautiful lady who'd spoken to him so kindly about the Bishop's request. It wasn't until three days later that he ventured near Tepeyac, and when he did, the Virgin was waiting for him. She was not angry. She told Juan Diego to pick the roses from the hillside and deliver them to the Bishop. Juan Diego was confused: it was December; the ground was frozen. But sure enough, there on the snow-covered, desolate hillside were red roses in full bloom. He gathered them into his cloak and hurried back to the Bishop. When Juan Diego opened his cloak, the roses spilled to the floor at the astonished Bishop's feet. But this was not the only sign: on the inside of Juan Diego's humble cloak was the image of the Lady Juan Diego had seen, the image we know today as Our Lady of Guadalupe.