One of the best-known apparitions of the Blessed Virgin, occurring four times at Guadalupe, Mexico, in 1531. Our Lady appeared for the first time to the Indian Juan Diego (declared Blessed in 1990) on December 12, 1531, at Tepeyac, a hill just outside of Mexico City. The Blessed Virgin instructed him to go to the local bishop, Juan de Zumdrraga, and inform him that she desired a church to be built on the site where she had been seen. The bishop was at first reluctant to believe the earnest visitor, asking for some kind of sign. When Our Lady heard about the bishop's request, she instructed Juan Diego to go and gather roses, even though it was not the season for them. Obediently, he went to the place as told and there found the roses. Gathering them into his cloak (called a tilma by the Indians), he returned to the Virgin, who commanded him to go back to the bishop, instructing him not to open the cloak until he reached his destination. Once more before the bishop, Juan Diego unfolded the cloak. The roses fell out, but even more amazing was the life-size depiction of the Blessed Virgin, exactly as Juan Diego had described her, imprinted upon the tilma.
Under Zumdrraga's leadership, a church was erected, and the tilma soon became an object of great veneration among the Native Americans in Mexico, helping immeasurably to convert the population to Catholicism. Accepted by the Church, Our Lady of Guadalupe was declared the patroness of New Spain by Pope Benedict XIV who, in a decree in 1754 named December 12 a holiday of obligation and ordered a special Mass and Office. In 1910, Pope St. Pius X designated her the patroness of Latin America. This was extended to patroness of the Americas by Pope Pius XII in 1945. Pope John Paul II in 1988 raised the liturgical celebration on December 12 to a feast for all dioceses in the United States. The tilma is today preserved in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which was first dedicated as a shrine church in 1709 and later enlarged and elevated to the rank of basilica. Made of coarsely woven fabric of cactus fiber, the tilma is two strips, approximately seventy inches long and eighteen inches wide, seam together with the stitched seam along the middle of the picture until it nears the face when it turns aside. The Virgin is depicted with the sun, moon, and stars, and an angel beneath the crescent moon. The chief colors are gold, blue-green, and rosy red.