Did She Say Guadalupe?
When the Blessed Virgin Mary
appeared in 1531 to the poor Indian Juan Diego and imprinted her image upon
his cloak, she also appeared to his sick uncle Juan Bernardino and cured
him. She gave the uncle the task of telling the bishop what
her image should to be called.
As recorded in the Nican Mohopua,
an account written in Aztec*, she told him it was to be known as: "Cenquizla Ichpochtzintli
Santa Maria de Guadalupe (The Perfect Virgin, Holy Mary of Guadalupe)..." We see the word Guadalupe
written here, but
is this what the Blessed Virgin actually said to Juan Bernardino?
It's a reasonable
question because he spoke the Aztec language of Nahautl which does not contain the letters
"G" and "D" found in Guadalupe.
The Nahautl alphabet contains 17 letters: A, C, Ç (C with a cedilla),
E, H, I, L, M, N, O, P, Q, T, U, X, Y and Z. So it leads to a natural
thought, could the uncle have spoken the word Guadalupe or articulated it
well enough to be understood?
According to The Wonder of Guadalupe by Francis Johnston, a
Belgian Jesuit studied the matter exhaustively, and in 1931 wrote a book
that said that "it was expected that Our Lady would give Juan Bernardino a
message of such transcendental importance in his own language, so that he
could remember the words and accurately repeat them, instead of a message
containing an Arabic word like Guadalupe which could not be spelt or
pronounced in Nahautl."
It is safe to say that whatever
she said, there was a purpose behind it. It seems likely that Mary said something in Aztec to Juan Bernardino:
something familiar to his
ear and tongue, and something meaningful to the Indians, but something that
was misunderstood by the bishop as meaningful to him and the Spanish.
There was a shrine by the name of Guadalupe back in Spain. God may
have permitted this to help the Spanish accept the events, and for the
sake of peace and unity.
Francis Johnston said Becarra Tanco, who participated
in the Apostolic Proceedings of 1666, concluded that Mary used the word "Tequantlaxopeuh," meaning
"who saves us from the devourer."
In 1991 my wife Serafina and I went to Tulpetlac, north of
Mexico City where Juan Bernardino lived and saw the Blessed Virgin. We were told the uncle's house used
to stand where the church stood, behind where the altar was situated and
where a baptistry was located. In that church
of La Quinta Aparicion (The Fifth Apparition) we encountered the very same word "Tequantlaxopeuh"
that Tanco had settled upon, on a wall plaque.
The plaque related that in this place in her fifth apparition, the Mother of God cured Juan Bernardino,
making this the first miracle and asked that her image be called "Santa
Maria de Guadalupe" (Holy Mary
of Guadalupe). Immediately following this, the word "Tequantlaxopeuh"
appeared in larger letters, set off with dashes. It was as if the
plaque was disputing what was being said. The plaque also said
that Pope Pius XII granted a plenary indulgence to those who visit this place,
and gave the name Tulpetlac and the date: December of 1531.
We spoke with
a priest there, and he pronounced Tequantlaxopeuh as "Tea-quantla-show-pay"
and said it meant "la que pisa la serpiente" which in English means,
"she who steps on the serpent." When we visited the church at a later
date, we found the plaque outside by the entrance.
Francis Johnston also mentions the
following studies. In 1895 Professor D. Mariano Jacabo Rojas, head of the
Department of Nahautl in the National Museum of Archaeology, History and
Ethnography, did an "intensive scientific study of the word Guadalupe."
He concluded she used the word "Coatlaxopeuh" which means "she who breaks,
stamps or crushes the serpent (Coatl means snake in Nahautl)," which was
supported by other authorities decades later in 1936 and 1953.
In the 1950's Helen Behrens, an
authority on the image, studied the word Guadalupe, assisted by a Nahautl scholar
Byron MacAfee. She stated in her report that "Neither Bishop Zumarraga nor
any other Spanish prelate has been able to explain why she wished
her image to be called de Guadalupe. The reason must be
that she did not say the phrase at all. She spoke in the native
language, and the combination of words she used must have sounded like de
Guadalupe to the Spaniards." She went on to say that "te coatlaxopeuh"
has a similar sound, the "te" part meaning stone. Add stone
to the word serpent in the meaning of Coatlaxopeuh and you get "she who breaks,
stamps, or crushes the stone serpent."
If you pronounce "te" as "tay,"
it would rhyme with "de" ("day") in Spanish, and
sound somewhat similar. Now phonetically combine the elements: te (tay),
coatla (kwa-tla) and xopeuh (show-pay) and you get "tay kwa-tla-show-pay."
You can hear similarities in it to "day gwa-da-loo-pay", but the "show"
doesn't ring similar to the "loo" of Gwa-da-loo-pay.
There is a characteristic of the Aztec
language that might explain the matter. Tulpetlac, for example, is
written as Tolpetlac, as are other Aztec words. Angel Maria Garibay
in his Llave de Nahautl (Key of Nahautl), says that here is a
sound between the "o" and the "u". He says that in modern dialects
there sometimes is a different sense in different regions. What if
the "-xopeuh" part were pronounced with a "u" sound rather than an "o" sound,
and hence, "-xopeuh" was pronounced "shoo-pay" instead of
"show-pay"? And " Santa Maria te coatlaxopeuh" was
pronounced as "Santa Maria Tay-gwa-tla-shoo-pay"?
Could this have been what Juan
Bernardino actually said? He would reflect the speech
patterns he lived with. It might
explain how he was misunderstood to have said Guadalupe.
And consider what Francis Johnston
states in The Wonder of Guadalupe. He says in areas of
Mexico where Nahautl is spoken, inhabitants say Santa Maria de
Quatlasupe, referring to the image. Could this be an
indication of how the "oo" sound lived on in the tradition of the people? At
It seems to me the evidence is
against the uncle
having said Guadalupe. The Aztec language didn't have all the letters
the word, and it was the uncle's task to relay the name of the image to
the bishop. In addition, you have the various studies concluding it was
I feel pretty comfortable with the belief
that Juan Bernardino did not say Guadalupe, and that it is an error that
heaven allowed, for a reason.
There is another possibility,
if one wants to think a little outside of the box. The Blessed Virgin
may have told Juan Bernardino to say, "Santa Maria de Coatlaxopeuh,"
and then added for his ear to catch and for his memory to retain, "the same
person as the one the Spanish call "Santa Maria de Guadalupe." When Juan Bernardino
relayed his message and said what sounded similar to Guadalupe, the Bishop
could have questioned him through the interpreter, whether he was saying it was
de Guadalupe. Juan Bernardino, remembering what Mary added, could have
smiled and nodded "yes." It could have been simple as
that, and the
rest is history.
* Some words were in Spanish