Side trip: Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico City

Side trip: Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico City

Our Jubilee Journey with Mary has so far brought us to seven churches in the Arlington Diocese. We’ve had wonderful experiences, but how blessed and happy we are to have been able to include in this year’s celebrations this very special trip to the most special Basilica of Saint Mary of Guadalupe in Mexico City. Please know that:

Mary is real. Mary is present. Mary is in Guadalupe.

So not exactly a side trip. All we can say is, please go. Fly. Walk. Ride your bike. Uber it. Call me for travel arrangements. Go there!

Visit date: Thursday, August 17, 2023

Mass: 11:00 am weekday

Address: Fray Juan de Zumárraga No. 2, Villa Gustavo A. Madero, Gustavo A. Madero, 07050 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico

Website: Basilica of Saint Mary of Guadalupe (

Thursday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time, Lectionary: 416:

Peter approached Jesus and asked him,
“Lord, if my brother sins against me,
how often must I forgive him?
As many as seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.
That is why the Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king
who decided to settle accounts with his servants.
When he began the accounting,
a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount.
Since he had no way of paying it back,
his master ordered him to be sold,
along with his wife, his children, and all his property,
in payment of the debt.
At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said,
‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.’
Moved with compassion the master of that servant
let him go and forgave him the loan.
When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants
who owed him a much smaller amount.
He seized him and started to choke him, demanding,
‘Pay back what you owe.’
Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him,
‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’
But he refused.
Instead, he had the fellow servant put in prison
until he paid back the debt.
Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened,
they were deeply disturbed,
and went to their master and reported the whole affair.
His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant!
I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to.
Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant,
as I had pity on you?’
Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers
until he should pay back the whole debt.
So will my heavenly Father do to you,
unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.”

When Jesus finished these words, he left Galilee
and went to the district of Judea across the Jordan.

Preface note from Michael:

Terry and I would like to acknowledge and thank Sisters Julia and Linh from the Pauline bookstore who guided us on our visit to Guadalupe. The books they recommended were faithful companions for us and illuminated our visit

As I, too many Americans, even Catholics, don’t know much or anything about the “Virgin of Gaudalupe.” She is known in Mexico formally as Nuestra Señora de Gaudalupe but more commonly as La Virgen de Guadalupe. Along with our Mary-named church visits this year, we took the opportunity to celebrate Terry’s birthday at Guadalupe with Our Lady.

If you are unfamiliar of the events regarding Saint Juan Diego and The Virgin of Guadalupe, before moving on, please see this page, What is Guadalupe? that goes over the miraculous events at Guadalupe, Mexico City, in 1531, their historical context, and their larger meaning.


by Michael

We flew from DCA through Houston to Mexico City, arriving mid-afternoon. A work friend of Terry’s set us up with a wonderful driver, Gonzalo, who took us to our hotel in the Historic Center, near the National Palace and across the street from the Metropolitan Cathedral. We chose our hotel randomly using Marriott points. Turned out great: a small, non-corporate, cool spot, pleasant staff, boutique hotel. Circulo Mexicano.

We thought our hotel was near enough to the Guadalupe site, but it’s not, as distance in Mexico City is measured by traffic not by the flight of a crow. But it is in the historical center of the city, which provides interesting pluses and minuses. On the plus side, it’s near the Presidential palace. On the downside, it’s near the Presidential palace.

I did enjoy watching the man standing by the Palace with a bullhorn, yelling instructions or condemnations, I couldn’t gather which. There was also an ongoing indigenous culture celebration in the National plaza that was full of life. Around it all, there were more vendors than visitors, all of them quite vocal. Since our hotel is on the opposite side of a tremendous cathedral that resides by both, the collective sounds of protest, celebration and marketplace were only noticeable from the rooftop garden of our hotel.

That church, by the way, is the amazing, huge, and wondrous Catedral Metropolitano, started in the 16th and built up through the 19th century. It’s huge inside and out, and fascinating to wander through. (More on the cathedral below.)

When we returned to the U.S., everyone we spoke to asked if we had seen the Aztec ruins. “Sure,” I told them, “Our hotel was across the street from the Templo Mayor, the Aztec emperor’s temple area. There are some pieces of it left. Pretty cool. But the cathedral built on the site is AMAZING!” They look at me and change the subject. “Hmm,” I think to myself, You don’t even know that the Mother of God turned those murderous temples into shrines to peace and redemption.

Actually, most Americans confuse the Templo Mayor in the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan, with the large pyramids at Teotihuacan, which are 25 miles from Mexico City and which were built and abandoned prior to the Aztec rise.

As with anything in history, Aztec antecedents were long: the Toltec, who arrived around 900, built larger and larger pyramids than those that preceded them, and also initiated the practice of constant warfare built around human sacrifice, which also preceded them. The Aztec sun-god Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent, was a Toltec adoption from prior civilizations that the Aztec, invaders from the North, added to their own symbol of the eagle perched on a cactus with a snake in its mouth, which is today on the Mexican flag.

When the Spanish under Hernan Cortés suddenly arrived to Tenochtitlan, the full Aztec ascension was but two centuries old, and the largest temple — where the Metropolitan Cathedral stands today — had been completed less than fifty years before.

It was at the Templo Mayor in Tenochtitlan that teams of Aztec priests carried out their frenzied, brutal, ritualistic murders. Upon dedication of the “Sixth Temple”, i.e., the sixth reconstruction of the temple in 1487, anywhere from 4,000 to 80,400 people were sacrificed over four days. One estimate puts the annual victim count at 250,000, although historians generally claim a much lower number, saying that the high count was of Spanish exaggerations to justify their conquest. That’s a rather silly qualification, as exaggeration of numbers at battles, etc. is typical across history, and that 20,000 people were ritually murdered each year and not 250,000 in no way lessens the crime.

There is another Aztec-built, or adopted pyramid, that survives in today’s greater Mexico City, Tenayuca, located, north of Guadalupe at the base of the Sierra Guadalupe mountains. Saint Juan Diego would have walked past it on his way from his house to where he encountered La Virgen.

One can only wonder what Saint Juan Diego thought of it all. The annual murder went on through most of his life, although he lived away from the capital. As one of the earliest Aztec converts to Christianity, in baptism he died to that prior life, however much of it he knew. I like to think of the 80,000 souls murdered over those four days as reconciled by the thousands of baptisms that immediately followed Our Lady of Guadalupe’s magnificent visit and Saint Juan Deigo’s preaching and guidance to his renewed brethren.

Our Lady of Guadalupe:

Terry’s summary of “What happened with St. Juan Diego in December 1531?”

First, the image is impossible. There is no pigment. No brush strokes. The material should never have been able to last 30 years, much less 500. It survived dynamite that was detonated on the altar beneath it that exploded with such force it bent the brass candlesticks next to it and blew out windows blocks away. The image was unharmed. Sulfuric acid was accidentally spilt on it, and the colors were not damaged. The colors change depending on where you are standing. This effect can only happen in nature—not with paint.

In this image, Our Lady speaks to two warring entities which were bent on wiping each other out. She also speaks to us today. Her whole image is a Codex of Peace. By her signs, she shows that she has personally witnessed the only human sacrifice ever needed for or by God, and this type of sacrifice need not ever be repeated. She stopped the Aztecs from their barbaric murders. She stands in front of the sun, thereby blocking out the old Aztec god requiring sacrifice.  She stands on the moon eclipsing it. She is being held up by an angel (some say Juan Diego as a child) with the wings of an Eagle. (Juan Diego’s native name means “speaks like an eagle.”) The eagle on the cactus eating the snake was the image that dictated where the Aztecs built their temples. It is the image on the Mexican flag.

She is clothed in the blue of an Empress. Her robe contains the exact constellations in the sky on December 13, 1531—as seen from the heavens looking down to earth. Her rose colored tunic is a map of Mexico. The ribbon around her waist tells the Aztecs she is pregnant. Her loose hair combed straight down tells the Aztecs she is a virgin. She wears the cross at her throat. Her eyes are humbled, and her hands are in prayer, so she is not the Deity. She is bending her knee in supplication to Another. Aztecs see the bent knee as dancing—how they would pray.

When magnified, her eyes show the thirteen people in the room at the time that Juan Diego dropped the roses in his tilma to the floor. There is a flower just over her womb, a jasmine petal, which is four-petaled in the shape of a cross. The Aztecs read this as the sign of the Deity and perfection. When the flower symbolizing perfection over her womb is magnified, what does one see?  A winking fetus. I kid you not. 

– Terry

Some photos from Guadalupe:

Now, back to our visit:

Getting to the hotel

Traffic from the airport to our hotel was horrible, taking almost two hours, most of which was spent near the hotel, as streets in the Historic District were shut down for events or protests that day. As such, we checked in around 4:00, later than we had hoped, but early enough to start walking around. We didn’t get more than two blocks before finding a tremendous entranceway to a tremendous church — not the Cathedral, mind you.

The huge, ornate doors led us into a marvel of shrines, art, statues, columns, and crucifixes. Even the checkered stone floor was tremendous:

I didn’t even think to find the name of this church, and nor can I find it on a map now. We were too overwhelmed to care about what is was called or where it was while awestruck by what it was. Seeing this and other churches across Mexico City — we drove past so many, each as impressive as the next, I began to realize the might and wealth of the Spanish empire. They tore down one of the largest structures in the world, the Templo Mayor, flattened it, and using its stones built what would become one of the largest churches in the world, and, certainly, one of the most ornate.

What’s even more shocking to me as historian and, moreover, as an American, is that this church was built within the same period as the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. Florence’s great palace, the Uffizi, and the Louvre at Paris were both started within 25 years of the start of the Metropolitan Cathedral (and the Florentines and Parisians didn’t have to tear down a 200-foot high pyramid to make space for their buildings). See here for an impressive list of existing colonial churches in Mexico City, the first started in 1536. Most of what tourists see of historic Vatican, London, Madrid, Paris, Florence, etc. was built around the same time as Mexico City.

In the Historical Center, modern buildings have incorporated the old into their new constructions, as was the case at our hotel, Circulo Mexicano:

As such, Mexico City isn’t “colonial”, as I have encountered in other citeis in Latin America, it is worldly and authentically itself.

We had dinner at a fantastic modern restaurant in a very old building that our driver pointed out to us on the way in, El Cardinal, which seems to have cafes around the city. The Maitre ‘D greeted us in Spanish, which I did not catch, so he quickly asked in perfect English, “Table for two?” I can get buy in Spanish, but not always. There was no expectation that clerks or waiters would speak English, although many did, or enough to get by, and vice versa. For the most part, my poor Spanish or their English sufficed to share an idea. Not knowing Spanish is no reason not to go there, and everyone was pleasant about whichever language was at use.

Back at the hotel, Terry stayed put in our room while I explored the rooftop guest area. It’s cool: there’s a pool, a sauna, hot tub, breakfast room, and bar. Best of all is the staff, who are super pleasant. I was the only one there in the early evening, so I got to talking with the two bartenders who assured me that they rarely lost hotel guests in the pool, which a walkway breached and that seemed to me much like the causeways that Cortes and the Spanish ran while barely escaping the general revolt of the Aztec, who took advantage of their Venetian-like city to drop the gold- and silver-laden Spanish and their horses into the lake.

I told the pair that we were there to visit La Virgen de Guadalupe. They applauded the idea and told me about Juan Diego and La Virgen and how she gave Juan Diego Spanish roses for the Bishop, which he carried to him, wrapped up in his tilma. One of the bartenders, Jesus, was especially enthusiastic, and kindly allowed me to film his narration of the story. This is precious:

We had arranged for Gonzalo, the driver, to meet us at the hotel at 10:30 am to take us to Guadalupe. He insisted on waiting for us while we were there, but we assured him that we would not be there a short time, which proved to be the case. That morning, we enjoyed an elongated Eastern Standard Time a.m., so we had time to get the day moving slowly. We started with a birthday breakfast for Terry on the rooftop cafe:

Gonzalo ran a touch late to the hotel due to traffic (a theme for our stay), so I had time after breakfast to run over to the Aztec ruins and to walk around the Metropolitan Cathedral. I bought a map from one of the kiosks, and it was incomprehensible to me every time I tried to figure it out. No matter, for we had Gonzalo by car and Terry’s intuition by foot to guide us, all of which worked out perfectly wherever we went.

Around 11:00 Gonzalo dropped us off at Guadalupe.

It’s rather unimpressive as you walk into the area, facing the back, concrete wall of the Basilica. Coming around towards the front, however, we encountered an enormous statute of Saint John Paul II, and then took in our first view of the enormous plaza in front of the Basilica, which we imagined straining full of people during the Pope’s visits. But once inside the Basilica, the world changes.

Stepping inside, one is taken from what appears to be a questionably modern, concrete tent, or something, into a marvelous container worthy of the Ark it carries, La Virgen de Gaudalupe, whose radiating glow welcomes and draws one inside. We sat in the nearest section to contemplate and take in the scene and looking at La Virgen from afar with our binoculars. As people gathered for a Mass, we walked around the outer edge to the entrance to the viewing corridor, which runs beneath the altar.

We walked down the ramp below a Cross labeled, “1492” (wow). All day long people place flowers along the top of the wall of the ramp, and we watched the line of them grow throughout the day. At the bottom are the three famous walking sidewalks which takes one past Our Lady, whose heavenly portrait is about 20 feet above. The view is excellent, although the glass protecting her is evident, although not obstructing. Once past, it’s an easy walk back around through an entrance lobby and gift shop area. We must have passed beneath her three or four times, choosing a different vantage and alternatively using our binoculars for detailed views.

Misreading the Mass schedule, I assumed we had 30 minutes before the next Mass, which had started already as we walked back into the Basilica. So we stepped out to visit the Old Church, which had housed La Virgen de Guadalupe starting in 1709:

Transfer of the image of the Virgin at the inauguration of the Sanctuary of Gaudalupe, 1709 (Wikipedia). The church was elevated to Basilica in 1904. It was here that a bomb was set off during the Cristero War, causing great damage but none to the image of the Virgin Mary.

The Old Church today maintains the form of when La Virgen was displayed behind the altar. Terry noticed how the painting of the Lord Jesus occupies the location where La Virgen was previously displayed, and that the entire altar is under a canopy– a tent, and ark, perhaps.

The entire Old Church speaks over and over again about the Virgin Mary. The ceiling portrays the mysteries, the tremendous murals show scenes from Guadalupe to the Vatican’s recognition of them. The logic of the portrayals speaks to the process of event, revelation, recognition, and acceptance. That the church could no longer hold La Virgen speaks to Gaudalupe’s larger place in Catholicism, an expanding presence through Saint John Paul II, who presided over the beatification of Jaun Deigo in 1990.

We returned to the Basilica for the 1:00 Mass, presided by a priest whose chasuble displayed the tilma image on the front and the miraculous roses on the back. He spoke strongly and compassionately, with a long homily that I half-understood but cannot now recall. The Mass was full, reverent, and inspired. We both came away with awe and contentment.

From there we walked across the plaza, imagining the sea of worship there at Saint Juan Diego’s beatification and other events. The pathway is centered by the wonderful statue of Juan Diego revealing the roses and the miraculous image of the Virgin of Gaudalupe to the astonishment of Bishop Juan de Zumárraga. That very scene is recorded in the image itself, in the pupils of Our Lady, in which, upon 2500x enlargement, can be seen the figures of those present, fourteen in all, at the moment from the very perspective of Our Lady on Juan Diego’s tilma.

Behind the statue are two interesting churches, one, the Parroqouia de Indios, and another dedicated to miraculous waters that flow down the hill. Just behind them commences the rise of Tepeyac, which is not an easy climb.

I described in images above the shrine at the top of the hill. More photos are in the Photo Gallery page. I can only add to the scene the idea that hills are so very important to both human experience and our divine interactions. God needs neither us nor hills. He reveals himself to us through them, such as here, where Juan Diego met the Mother of his son. Hills and mountains provide both peaks and views, which mark experience and meaning.

We descended the continuing path, which led us to a wonderful surprise, unrelated to Our Lady of Guadalupe but commiserate with her and so very appropriate for Mexico.

Cristo Rey belongs here, and so appropriately. A side path leads one around the statue to and old wall, full of bullet holes, which takes a few back-takes to comprehend and appreciate. Catholic Mexico was born of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and nearly died in the anti-clerical Cristero War of 1926-1929. Past the old wall are monuments to the Lord’s message in the Beatitudes, creating a moving and heart-wrenching walk if considering those who were there persecuted for the Lord’s name.

We were more than a few hours into our visit, and yet yearned for another view of Our Lady. We returned to the Basilica and the walkway beneath her, which we took several more times, with binoculars and awe.

We coordinated with Gonzalo to pick us up and deliver us back through horrid Historic Center traffic, exercising the benefit of experience this time by having him drop us directly at a recommended restaurant rather than fighting our way first to the hotel. We enjoyed a lovely, late lunch by the National Art Museum, content, tired, and inspired from our day.

After lunch, Terry led us, I don’t know how, to a store she had seen on our meandering ride in to our hotel from our arrival at the airport, as she liked a dress she had seen in the window. This led to great hilarity between the store clerk and me over Terry’s laser-beam focus on that dress. She marched into the store, straight past the clerk, and grabbed the dress. The clerk looked at me and shrugged. I told her not to worry, she had already made the sale, to which she smiled knowingly. Terry modeled the dress, which she thought would be perfect for her upcoming trip to Singapore. Then she looked with glee upon a winter coat which for whatever reason was on sale there in August in Mexico City, 19.4 degrees latitude, albeit 7,350 feet in elevation. (Someone told me it snowed there in 1960, and Juan Deigo spoke of the frost atop Tepeyac Hill.).

She needed a new winter coat, and this one looked hilarious to me, so I gave her the thumbs up. She was most happy about it because she had recently given away her winter coat to a visitor to Virginia from Liberia who cried from the cold when it hit 50 degrees last May. (See here for our Liberia Literacy and School project.) It seemed appropriate, then, to buy a snow jacket in the tropics after giving away her prior one to someone who lives in the tropics.

Terry offers the following defense against tropical winter coat shopping: when she unexpectedly saw the winter coat in the store, it reminded her of the coat she gave away but which she very much liked, especially since it protected her from actual cold a few years back in Alaska:

I think she’s cute either way, and it was her birthday, so hurray!

Back at the hotel we bought a few mementos for folks back home, including some amazing chocolate for the Rectory office at St. Thomas More back in Arlington, VA. Cocoa is native to Mexico, and this shop, Rocio, featured varieties from across the country. (If you’ve never seen a cacao pod, check the Rocio website.)

Thankfully, our hotel security guard was still there, so I reported to him that we prayed for his wife and for him to the Virgin de Guadalupe. He was so very thankful, and we hope that you will pray to the Virgin Mary for them, as well.

Our security guard’s wife is ill and unable to walk. Please pray for them.

We had time thereafter to re-explore the fantastic Metropolitan Cathedral, then, in preparing for an early, early flight, we took a drink on the rooftop bar, relating to our friend, the bartender Jesus, about our encounter with La Virgen, and heading to bed early so very content and feeling blessed with the day.

– Michael


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