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The famous image is steeped in spiritual symbols.
When the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego and imprinted her image on his tilma, a cactus-fiber mantle, she did so recognizing the local beliefs of the Aztec people. This led to an image of Our Lady that is full of symbols that were meant to teach the Aztec people who she was and highlight her closeness to the local population.
1. Face and Hair
Instead of the typical “white” Madonna, Our Lady of Guadalupe appears with the complexion of the indigenous people. More specifically she is a mestizo, a combination of Mexican and Spanish, indicating that she is for all people. Her eyes are cast downwards, indicating to them that she was not a god and symbolizing humility. The gaze is also one of compassion and motherly tenderness. Her hair is loose, indicating that she was a virgin maiden.
2. Mantle and Tunic
The lady wears a rose-tinted tunic with four-petaled flowers imprinted on it, symbolizing the earth and the four seasons. The rose color may point to the dawn, symbolizing a new era. Around her mantle is a bluish-turquoise cloak with stars upon it. This is the color of both royalty and the heavens above. She may not be a god, but she is certainly from heaven.
The black ribbon around her belly indicates that she is with child. Some believe that her appearance gives evidence that she is about to give birth.
She is pictured in prayer, showing again that she is not a god, but praying to someone else who is. Her knee is slightly bent which could indicate a prayerful dance.
A circle medallion is around her neck that is engraved with a cross. This symbolized her consecration to Jesus Christ.
Behind the lady are the rays of a sun. This meant she was greater than their Aztec sun god.
Similarly, she stands upon the moon, showing her superiority to the Aztec moon god and that she is greater than the night.
It was believed that angels took the Aztecs’ sacrifices to their gods. In this case, the lady is the sacrifice given and stands as the perfection of all sacrifices. Also, only royalty was lifted on shoulders, so it again points to her place in the heavenly court. The angel also has wings that are similar to an eagle’s wings in Aztec iconography.
All of this symbolism has an added dimension when viewed in light of Scripture. She is clearly the woman from the book of Revelation.
And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; she was with child and she cried out in her pangs of birth, in anguish for delivery. (Revelation 12:1-2)
Later on in that chapter it even reads, “But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle that she might fly from the serpent into the wilderness” (Revelation 12:14).
For the people of Mexico, this image was ground-breaking in symbolism and spoke directly to their culture while teaching them multiple Christian truths.