Do You See What I See
The image known as Our Lady of Guadalupe has inspired and amazed countless people for nearly five centuries. While contested, it has baffled serious scientists with such facts as the “printing” means is completely unexplainable.
Of course, for those who believe, it is clearly a miraculous image of divine origin. But rather than simply rehashing what is widely known, this essay will explore certain topics from a different angle, and present an interesting observation.
To begin, exactly what is the image from 1531? This is a hard question. The problem is that very early on, the image received some paint from human hands. However, an exact replica was painted and sent to King Philip II of Spain in 1570. As the replica matches the image known today in terms of depiction, it can be concluded any substantive alterations were made before then.
These modifications have been described as man’s contribution to complete the image just as when man “completes” God’s creation through his works and endeavors. This is a reasonable theory. But does it stand up to scrutiny? While man is mandated by God to subdue creation, we often makes an utter mess through sin. But what mandate was given to alter the image in question?
To answer that, let us consider another object of divine origin, Scripture. This is an interesting analogy because Scripture is not of divine origin in its creation. It was various men (and possibly no women) who wrote down what they wanted to write down, and how they wanted to write it down. The divine origin part is these men were inspired by the Holy Ghost to write down what they did, and nothing more.
So is Scripture work in progress, just waiting for the right men (and now women) to touch up the flaws and fill-in the gaps? It can seem that way from how some translate or interpret the Bible. But understanding Scripture can be difficult.
There is also the problem of discrepancies in manuscripts. Mistakes creep in from copyists, both additions and subtractions, which makes deciphering codices difficult in some areas. But one thing is clear: intentionally adding or removing text would not improve Scripture.
New and Improved
In other words, don’t mess with Scripture. So returning to the image of Our Lady, can the original be improved? Evidently, those entrusted with it thought so. What they modified is not exactly clear, but the evidence indicates the changes were enhancements, not additions.
In particular, the sunburst was enlarged using gold over the original white. The moon was also enlarged and is said to have been painted silver though now it has turned black. The sash indicating the Virgin was pregnant was also enlarged where the original and current color is black as that is a proper indicator. Also, the fingers were shortened to make the image look more like a native Indian verses a young Jewish princess. And other elements have been questioned as well.
So what was the motive behind altering an image that everyone thought was a divine origin: what were they thinking? The cast, beyond the Bishop and other Church men, likely included the great painters of the day who were pulled in for their expert opinion. But as they didn’t leave a transcript, one will be gratuitously provided:
“What a beautiful image of Our Immaculate Lady, surrounded by the brilliant white light of Her purity,” exclaims the Bishop. “That is true, your Excellency. Though white is such a common color, and much inferior to the rich color of gold that would much better represent the immense worth of the Virgin of Guadalupe,” says Rembranto.
The Bishop responds, “You might be right. But look how She is standing above the great luminary: the Virgin is greater than the moon!” “Oh, but the moon is much too small: its proportion highly inadequate. And color! Surely, it must be silver to express its great worth so to proclaim the Virgin far exceeds it,” injects Van Goghia.
“But see the lovely sash showing the Virgin is with Child!” pleads the Bishop. “No, no: much too subtle. This can only be bold to be seen from a distance for when the great crowds come to venerate,” declares Rembranto.
The Bishop laments and then cries out: “What are we to do? The Image, it’s... it’s ruined!” Silence befalls over the chamber before Rembranto and Van Goghia console the Bishop by proudly announcing:
“We can repaint it. We have the technology. We can make it greater than it was. Bigger…bolder…better.”
And so goes episode one of the 6 Million Dollar Image. Silliness aside, it must be remembered that it’s impossible to judge the mind set and circumstances that led to the alterations half a millennium ago, or any subsequent modifications. The “culprits” no doubt were solid painters and the artistry itself has an undeniable charm, which has now become familiar across the globe.
Yet, in terms of actually improving the image: that is being contested here. In non-critical devotional circles, the masterpiece being completed by man theory is still in vogue. However, from sheer visual comparison, that position is completely untenable because what the original image looked like is unknown.
Of course, that cuts both ways. The position here is based on the caliber of the artists. The Virgin Herself arranged the flowers which Juan Diego had picked and brought to Her in his tilma. This is Immaculate Mary, God’s true masterpiece, at work.
So first, consider the Mother of the Redeemer’s aesthetic sensibilities, understanding of culture, profound fathoming of theology and Her direct vision of God in the beatific vision at a depth that likely surpasses that of all other creatures combined. For contestant #2, well, this isn’t going to be much of a contest.
This is not conclusive because man through grace can cooperate with the will of God and thus participate in His creative action. But when unaided, man cannot perform a single salutary act and introduces havoc to the degree it is opposed to the will of God.
The argument is also based on the Image being a self-portrait, which is a generally accepted notion. But since when are others authorized to make changes to a self-portrait? From this it follows that whatever they did, which is not clear, but whatever it was, it was wrong. How’s that for relentless art criticism?
Relentlessness aside, let us now examine the enhancements theory more closely. Some alterations are visibly detectable because paint has flaked off over the years. On the sash, there is a rather large area on our left with missing paint: the gold from the floral design can be seen through. The right side is more solid, but numerous breakaway spots can be observed, and significantly, one region very high up.
If every non-black spot represents a paint-less point, then the ray beyond that point would be an alteration. Tracing each such point would yield a map representing the region that was added. While this would be a good exercise for precision, even eyeballing it indicates the original sash was substantially smaller.
By applying the same technique, the moon doesn’t seem so fair anymore. There is a near contiguous “invalidated” region across the entire right “horn” near the middle. Per symmetry and its height, this implies that most of the left horn is an alteration. Further, the right horn has considerable flaking across the lowest region, which shows this is mostly alteration as well. And connecting the dots on the bottom section nearly invalidates the rest of the moon as well.
However, the original color behind the moon isn’t known. In the first written description of the Image, the moon (and sash) had a “mulberry or a dark color.” This seems to contradict that the altered moon was painted silver, which is roughly the show-through color. As such, the ray-tracing technique has significant limits and of itself isn’t conclusive from the observations being made here, though examining the original or a high-resolution picture may provide stronger indications.
In any case, the Image is graphically Apocalypse 12:1 as the moon and sash evidently go back to day one (from what is known). Hence from that, there is nothing to suggest that the Woman was originally standing on a serpent. However phonetically, the name given by the Virgin is likely Genesis 3:15.
Linguist research indicates the title revealed to Juan Diego’s uncle was something like Coatlaxopeuh, which means she who crushes the serpent. The natives resisted using the name Guadalupe, in part possibly because the G and D consonants were difficult to pronounce as they are not part of their language. Though even today where Nahuatl is spoken, the Image is called Santa Maria Te Quatlaupe, a variant of Coatlaxopeuh that is a little easier to say.
Altogether, this makes it doubtful that Guadalupe was the term spoken by the Virgin. Hence, the conjecture the Spaniards misinterpreted the title as Guadalupe, which was a familiar shrine in Spain. But this is a hotly contested subject.
So why is the Image’s title even shrouded in mystery? It would be a small thing for God to arrange the title’s accurate transmission. Timing may be one reason.
Coatlaxopeuh is iconic to Immaculate Conception as it denotes a complete victory over sin and Satan, which would have been readily understood by the Mexicans of the day. Also note that the apparition is intrinsically connected to the Immaculate Conception as a concept for the first apparition occurred on that feast day plus Her use of “perfect” to qualify “Virgin.”
Yet, it is quite another thing to use Immaculate Conception as a title. 299 years would pass before the seminal Miraculous Medal apparition that depicts Mary crushing the head of the serpent with its petition: “O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.” Just 24 years later, the Immaculate Conception was proclaimed as a dogma, which was followed by Lourdes 4 years later. It was then, and only then, that the Blessed Mother used Immaculate Conception as a title.
While Coatlaxopeuh is not equivalent to Immaculate Conception, it is strongly related and apparently close enough so its obfuscation was proper. Further, there is a timeline here, which the Virgin is not ignorant of. Mary’s role in the completion of Genesis 3:15 was not slated for the year 1531, albeit Guadalupe more than hints at it. However that day is drawing ever nearer, which has significance for an upcoming section.
But first, there is the crown: a fascinating and related topic. From examining the Image today, one could get the impression it originally had a crown that was painted over by the sunburst. In fact, prior to 1895, most reproductions depicted a crown as most certainly the Image before then had one.
Yet, was the crown part of the original image? It has been argued in the negative because Codex 1548 depicts the Virgin without one. However, that early representation is of the apparition, not the tilma. As the crown wasn’t an integral part of the apparition’s events per se, it wouldn’t be surprising if the oral accounts omitted it. This would naturally carry over to the first written account.
Indeed, the Nican Mopohua doesn’t mention a crown wherein that contains but the scantest description of what the “Perfect Virgin” looked like. This makes sense because with the Image available to see, words become superfluous. Hence, it wouldn’t be inconsistent for Codex 1548 to depict a crownless Virgin at the apparition if the oral accounts were silent on that point. Further, there is no strict necessity that the Virgin appeared with a crown, just as nothing suggests the Virgin appeared standing on the moon. The apparition and the Image could easily differ on those details.
Another piece of evidence, and much earlier, is the painting of the first miracle. This depicts the scene of the Indian who was accidentally shot dead during the procession of the Image to the newly built chapel, just two weeks after the apparition. They removed the arrow and petitioned Our Lady to restore him to life, which She did on the spot.
The painting also shows the Image within the scene and with a large crown. The painting was made about two years after the apparition, so it basically goes back to day one. However, the original painting was lost. What exists today is copy, which introduces the possibility the crown was added.
One additional item will be considered: the Codex Saville - America’s Oldest Book. This codex was created during 1450 to 1557. It has an entry for 1531 that depicts Our Lady of Guadalupe. Her head is surrounded by a nimbus over which hovers a huge oversized crown. The painter/historian clearly gave great importance to the crown.
But alas, while the codices indicate the Image originally had a crown, there is the issue of its gold flaking off. So let’s continue with 1895, the year of the Papal Coronation of the Image. This was a glorious event with great care given to the design of the crown. In preparation for the solemn ceremony, which began in 1887, it was decided that a complete renovation of the Basilica was in order. Of necessity, in 1888, the Image was temporarily moved.
But when the Image was restored to the renovated sanctuary, the crown was gone. However, the alteration was probably made in 1887 as José de Jesús Cuevas speculated then that the vanishing crown was miraculous. Gabino Chávez came to a similar conclusion. He wrote in 1895 that all of the gold couldn’t have flaked by itself, and no one would have dared to alter the Image or even be able to erase it. Hence, there was no other explanation.
However, the most probable explanation is that José Antonio Plancarte was behind it. Plancarte, who was in charge of the renovation, was accused in 1887 that he had Salomé Piña, a famous painter working on the project, erase the crown. Years later, a disciple of Piña confessed on his deathbed that this was so. Plancarte denied the charge, but after the Coronation, he was denounced by Bishop Zamora for improper conduct regarding various issues, including marrying a prospective nun in a civil ceremony to override her parent’s objections. Plancarte intended no impropriety, believing the marriage was canonically invalid, but it shows he took matters into his own hands, and very imprudently, at least with this incident.
But enough of such details. The revelation of the motives and what actually happened will have to wait until the General Judgement. Though it seems the safe money is on that this incident will have the decorum of a sudden death match between the Three Stooges and the Marx Brothers, at best.
So did the Image originally have a crown? It is possible the original was enlarged or painted a different color, and thus suffered the same fate as the flaking sunburst, etc. It has also been asserted that Plancarte’s motive to paint over the crown verses restoring it was to make the Image look more modern. Here, it should be noted, that the frame was lowered to cover-up the area above Our Lady’s head, evidently to make the alteration less noticeable and/or to cover-up the mess. Ahh, man contributing to a masterpiece.
So did the Image originally have a crown? Only one thing is certain: the end result of the Coronation of the Image was its de-coronation.
Finally, we come to this essay’s “coronation,” which deals with ships. The story begins with the sighting of mysterious ships that were reported to Montezuma II between 1503 and 1509. Then came the ships in the dream of his sister, Princess Papantzin. Falling into a coma, she was taken for dead and was placed in a tomb, before crying out to be released.
Upon recovering, Papantzin reported how a luminous being showed her an array of large ships with black crosses on their sails, identical to the black cross on the luminous being’s forehead. She was told that men would come and conquer the country, but also bring them knowledge of the true God.
Ten years later, the ships with black crosses arrived when Cortes landed in Mexico on Good Friday. In the ensuing fighting, as the Spanish drew nearer, Montezuma had one of their helmets brought forward to see for himself its ominous black cross.
It is well-known that the Image has a black cross located on the neck line collar. The Image’s ships are another story, which doesn’t seem to be in print, though they probably have been spotted before. Appropriately, the fleet is located below the black cross. But this is like finding objects in clouds, so it takes a bit of imagination.
The Two Columns dream revealed “the statue of the Immaculate Virgin” on one column, and “a Host of great size” on the other higher column. Bosco didn’t see a Chalice. But in the painting illustrating his dream, the Host and Virgin have the same orientation as in the Image. Or for an alternate interpretation, the top part of the Chalice can be seen as the column’s adornment that the Host rested upon as it has the same shape as in the painting.
Saint Bosco probably didn’t fully understand this dream, but he did explain its main point, namely, the Church being under attack where “the enemy ships are persecutions.” And most importantly, that the only means left to save the Church during this confusion is devotion to Immaculate Mary and the Blessed Sacrament with frequent communion. Bosco fearful dream has a happy ending, the same ending as Lepanto, the enemy ships are vanquished.
And so goes the prophecy, which bring us back to Genesis 3:15.
There are contested issues with the Image. Some even contest the existence of Juan Diego (the historical evidence clearly speaks otherwise). And there are the many marvels such as the reflections in the eyes and other such wonders. Yet, at the end of the day, beyond the issues and wonders, devotion dominates. The Image that defies reproduction continues to draw millions to the pure and loving Madonna.
One of the most engaging parts of the story is the humble dialog between Juan Diego and the Virgin, which is quite charming. Yet, Mary is also the Advocate, a lawyer. And there was some contention between the two, albeit gentle, though the Blessed Mother can be quite feisty.
The context of the climatic dialog was the illness of Juan’s uncle. Though, there is no reason to believe the Virgin wouldn’t apply the same argument, again and again, for any difficulty imaginable. Hence, the Virgin will be given the last word here. It will be left to the reader to decide whether She successfully makes Her case:
Listen and let it penetrate your heart, my youngest and dearest son, do not be troubled or weighted down with grief. Do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain. Am I not here, who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not your fountain of life? Are you not in the folds of my mantle, in the crowing of my arms? Is there anything else that you need?