Juan Diego (?–1548?)
Juan Diego (?–1548?)
According to several traditions, Juan Diego was a poor Indian chosen by the Virgin Mary to be her messenger to Brother Juan de Zumárraga (1468–1548), the first bishop of New Spain. The Virgin asked to have a sanctuary built near Mount Tepeyac, north of Mexico City, so that she could provide her love, aid, and protection to the people of the newly conquered land. Whether Juan Diego was actually a real person has been the subject of debate since the late eighteenth century, but the dispute became more intense after Pope John Paul II's visit to Mexico in 1990. At that time the upper hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Mexico officially announced that Diego was on the way to becoming a saint.
Those who wanted sainthood for Juan Diego provided Rome with a "biography" that was a combination of "select" segments from various documents written by indigenous and Spanish individuals. None of them is contemporary to the Virgin's appearances, which, according to this "official version," occurred on December 9 and 12, 1531, ten years after the Spanish conquest of Mexico City, or Tenochtitlan. The lack of contemporary testimonies is one of the strongest criticisms against admitting the veracity of the Virgin's appearance. Zumárraga is the only historical person in the account, but he never mentioned the miracle in his numerous writings.
The reconstructed biography sent to Rome presents Juan Diego as a very poor macehualli (the Nahuatl word for "commoner") born in 1474 in Cuauhtitlan, a town located fourteen miles north of Mexico City. His original name in the Nahuatl language was Cuauhtlatoa (He Who Speaks Like an Eagle). Before the arrival of the Spaniards, he had married María Lucía but had decided to live with her in celibacy. Juan Bernardino, Juan Diego's uncle, is the other relevant character. He was favored with one of the Virgin's first miracles, when he was cured of a fatal epidemic disease (a cocoliztli). Juan Diego died at age seventy-four, in 1548, and was buried in the first chapel built in Tepeyac, a building he had tended with great care.
Chávez, Eduardo. Our Lady of Guadalupe and Saint Juan Diego: The Historical Evidence. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2006.
Nobisso, Josephine. Saint Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe. Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 2002.