The Way the Image Appeared
Article Speaks to the Question:
Did the Image
of Guadalupe Appear As Shown?
se pinto horizontalmente...," so says a book from Mexico, a volume of
the Enciclopedia Guadalupana, one of
four encyclopedias about Guadalupe. Did The Blessed Virgin paint horizontally as
the Spanish says?
Let's go back to December 12th, 1531...back to that moment in history, when the flowers
fell from Juan Diego's cloak, a sign to the Bishop of Mexico from the Blessed Virgin Mary. As soon
as the flowers fell and scattered on the floor, her image appeared on his
cloak called a tilma. In picture after picture, the scene of him
before the bishop is depicted with the image vertical on he cloth he wore.
What follows is one of those pictures, with the tilma stretched out.
There's even a statue depicting it this way, in front of a church
at Cuautitlan, Mexico, where Juan was born in 1474. Cuautitlan was situated 14 miles
north of the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan.
Serafina Riedell standing next to the statue
of Juan Diego at Cuautitlan.
depictions the truth of history, or are they history gotten wrong? To
attempt to answer this question, there are several things to consider: the size
of the tilma, the size of the image itself, certain characteristics of the cloth, the way the tilma was worn and
the height of Juan Diego.
The Size of the Tilma
An effort was made to make a copy of the tilma to size as it originally
was, based on measurements given in an article on page 102 of the
above-cited book. From the context, the figures were taken to be in
meters. The length of the original tilma
was given at 2.26, and the other dimension being 1.55, which is 89 by
61 inches, to the nearest tenth. These figures were followed in
making the copy.
Other figures were found, one putting it about
two inches shorter, while others put it longer by a fraction to about four
According to the above figures followed, the tilma
was about 7 1/2 ft. by 5
ft. before anything was taken away
from the original cloth. Here is
simplified copy of it, held by John Paul Luebbers and Cecilia Gualandri, two
First Grade students at St. Mary's School, Metamora, Illinois. They
were assisted by their teacher, Mrs. Barb Clem, holding the cloth from
behind. You'll note the extra material above the image and to the
right of it. About a third of the
original tilma's length was unsewn and given back to Juan Diego, and material was removed from above Mary's head at some point in history.
The Size of the Image
. What was removed from the original
took away about 20 inches both ways, leaving 68.9 by 41.3 inches of
material. Imprinted either horizontally or vertically, what is
immediately evident is that the image length of 68.9 inches could not fit
the 61-inch dimension of the original, but would fit the 89-inch longer
way. But then the question is whether it could have been worn the longer
Characterisitics of the Cloth
The referenced article says
that it was made of three long and
narrow pieces, each of a half a meter, joined or badly sewn with the thread
of the same maguey ("Estaba
hecho de tres piezas, largas y estrechas de media metro cada una, unidas, o
bastante mal cosidas con hilo del mismo maguey"). There is a seam that
runs the length of her, but misses her face; her image is on both sides of
this seam. The placement of the seam doesn't cross her face and cause any possible disfigurement there.
There is also in the
weaving, something about the structure of the cloth in places, which causes
a phenomenon called diffraction, a spreading of light that gives a third
dimension or a reality to it. This structure has been found along the
upper side of the lip, beneath the eye on the right and below the highlight
of the face on the left. With the face so important, it may very well mean
that heaven had an exact placement of the image in mind.
. The Way the Tilma
We're told Juan Diego wore it hung over one
shoulder and tied by way of the other. The book from Mexico says, "Juan
Diego llevaba su ayate sobre el hombro izquierdo y atados los extremos
superiores por el derecho. En esta forma vemos tambien el retrato de Juan
Diego mas antiguo que se concoce, del siglo XVII..." (Juan
Diego wore his ayate over his left shoulder and tied the upper ends by way
right. In this form we also see the oldest known picture of Juan Diego, from
the 17th century.)
The engraving by Antonio Castro
at the right, is judged the oldest picture of Juan Diego by P. Mariano Cuevas, a
Jesuit historian who authored
Historia de la Iglesia en Mexico (History
of the Church in Mexico). This picture of the engraving is from Antonio Pompa y
Pompa's El Gran Contecimiento Guadalupana (The Great Guadalupan
Event). The caption indicates that it's dated to "Siglo XVII"
(the 17th Century).
Compare it to the Codex 1548 (shown below), from which it was derived, making use of the left side. The Codex is a deerskin
drawing, darkened by the patina of age. It has the signature of Bernadino Sahagun, and is inscribed with the Aztec "Cuautlactoatzin," which
is close in spelling to Cuauhtlatoatzin, Juan Diego's Indian name.
Note the head of the faintly-showing person, midrange on the left.
From trying on the home-made copy of the tilma, you can put it on by putting
the middle of the upper side over one shoulder, grabbing the upper corners
and tying it over the other shoulder. It then hangs from the shoulders
down and wraps horizontally around. This way leaves one arm free,
on the knotted side to reach out. But
the knot, of course, may be rotated behind the neck and the tilma worn
apron-like. This way it may be used to carry things.
The knot may also be rotated in front, to wear the tilma like a cape.
To get at whether it could be worn the
longer way (the way it would have to be worn to have the image appear
vertically), we can use an artist's guide for drawing adults. The body is 7 to 8 heads high, with 7 1/2
heads figured as average. If
a person, for example, were 6 ft. tall, a head as an 8th of the total
height, would be 9 inches. For a person 7 1/2 heads tall, the head
would be 9.6 inches. To figure shoulder height, you'd also need to know the distance from the chin
down to the shoulder level. Add two to three inches to the 9 or
9.6 inches. Head and neck would be about a foot of the 6 ft. height,
leaving about 5 ft. from the shoulder to the ground.
At least part of the tilma must be worn upon
the shoulders to keep it from slipping down like a sleeve. But how
much cloth would rest on the shoulders? I believe this could
vary some. Considering cool or cold temperatures, it would be best
to figure the shoulder up to the neck. While I'm a little short of 6
ft. (between 5 ft. 9 and 5 ft. 10), I figure I'm of about
average height and measured a sport coat of mine from the inside of the
collar to the shoulder seam. About 9 inches. For an
approximate, let's add 9 inches to the 6 footer's 5 ft. from shoulder
to the ground, which adds up to 5 3/4 ft.
Were Juan Diego 6 ft. tall and
wearing the tilma the long way (7 ft.
there'd be a fair amount of cloth on the ground, more than a half a yard by
the above reckoning. Were the cloth two inches shorter, it wouldn't
make much difference; were it longer, there'd be more on the ground. Knotted to the side, he'd have some cloth before his feet.
The practicality is, that the tilma was not worn to drop all
the way to the ground, to be dragged in the dust and dirt, or stumbled over.
The garment would need ground clearance.
How Tall Was Juan Diego?
We may never know exactly how tall Juan
Diego was, but it's doubtful that he stood as tall as the 6 ft. example above.
Wikipedia on the
internet, lists a table of average adult height around the world, and while
Mexico isn't included, USA Mexican-Americans males of the 20-39 age range sampled,
were listed at 169.7 cm., which figures out to about 66.8 inches, not quite
5 ft. 7 in.
The Aztecs acknowledged that they descended
from the Chichimeca Indians, Juan Diego, being one of the Chichimeca people.
He spoke the Aztec language called Nahuatl. Victor W. Von Hagen in The Aztec - Man and Tribe, says
the common Aztec was between 5ft. 1 in. and 5ft. 5in, (see the drawing of the tilma comparison in the addenda below) and
Aztec women were smaller at 4 ft. 8in. (Curiously, the Blessed Virgin's
stature on the tilma is reported at 1.43 meters, a fraction over 4 ft. 8 in.
If you'd add a couple centimeters to allow for the inclination of the head,
her height would be a little more.)
The person who would've
known how tall Juan was, would've been his wife Maria Lucia. She wove
his tilma before her death in 1529 and the wondrous happenings of 1531.
I can visualize heaven watching her progress on the loom, with a
foreknowledge of what the future of her work would be. I can imagine that
in the process of weaving it, she did some measuring and that she made it
so it wouldn't drag on the ground.
(A possible height of Juan Diego is
given below. At this height, his head could account for about 8.6 to
9.2 inches. Here he has 5 to 6 in. of ground clearance for the tilma
[and that's not a lot] and maybe 8 to 9 in. to rest on the area from
shoulder to the neck. It's figured the knotting could
hike the cloth up some on one side. Even wearing the tilma the shorter
way, were he in the middle of Von Hagen's figures for an Aztec man, at 5 ft.
3, that could lower the tilma to touch the ground.)
I think we can reasonably conclude that Juan would not have been tall enough
to have worn it the long way. It
appears that this will be going against a strong tradition, but the evidence
points to the image appearing sideways on the tilma, not up and down on it.
It supports the words in Spanish, "La Virgen se pinto
Thoughts to Add
A reader might ask what
difference would it make. In a sense, it might not make much
difference. We would've oriented it up-and-down anyway, to see it the
way we see persons. And of importance would be the image itself,
the devotion it inspires and the thought it brings.
However, we should know the truth of history, the
reality of what happened. We should value truth for the sake of truth
and make it known.
This doesn't mean we have to do away with the art showing it otherwise,
and apparently derived from history gotten wrong. Let what art exists, exist.
As far as that goes, the name
Guadalupe itself may be history gotten wrong, but we have lived with it as
Guadalupe and will continue to do so.
But there's another
aspect, and that is the credit due to God. There's the thinking
that the image was photographic in nature. We are familiar with
photography and have a sense of understanding it. But thinking this
way, the familiarity may take away from some of the marvel of
the image. A horizontal imprinting of the image may make its appearance seem even more remarkable―if
so, let that remarkableness redound to the glory of God.
used in making the tilma copy:
To the nearest 10th of an inch.
2.26 by 1. 55
2.26 meters = 89 inches.
1.55 meters = 61 inches.
After one piece was given back to
Juan Diego: 2.26 by 1.05
2.26 meters = 89 inches.
1.05 meters = 41 inches.
After 51 cm. was cut away from
above the Virgin's head: 1.75 by 1.05
1.75 meters = 68.9 inches.
1.05 meters = 41.3 inches.
1 meter = 39.37 inches, 1.093
yards, 3.281 feet
About 2.54 centimeters = one inch
1 meter = 100 centimeters (cm)
1 centimeter = 10 millimeters (mm)
Regarding variations in
Some of the information to follow may be as little
hard to keep track of, but it is given in the interests of accurateness.
Variations were found on pages
536-537 of another of the
encyclopedias. On page 537 it mentions a length of 2.29 meters by Carrillo Y Perez
in Pensil Americano, published in 1797, which is about an inch
longer than the 2.26 meters given above.
On the preceding page, no. 536,
we're told Don Mariano Mariano Fernandez de Echeverria y Veytia was
the only one who gave us the original measurements. With Veytia
we encounter units of measurement that I suppose are unfamiliar to many of
us: a vara, a dedo and an ochava. The
width of the cloth in Veytia's Baluartes de Mexico is given as
1 1/4 "varas" and a "dedo"; the
length, as 2 1/2 "varas" and one "ochava"
The book says
a vara is 84 centimeters (cm.) long, a dedo is 18 millimeters (1.8
cm.) and an ochava
is an 8th part of such measurements. (Dedo
in Spanish means finger or toe. It also means a finger's breadth.
Ochava is probably akin to the Spanish word for eight, ocho.)
For the length, Veytia's varas add up to 210 cm. plus the ochava of 26
cm. 25 mm., and even though this totals 236.25 cm., the text says it is
226.25, which is a mathematical error. Perhaps this accounts for the
226 cm. given on page 102 that I followed in making the tilma copy. At
any rate this would make the tilma about four inches longer, and were the
tilma worn lengthwise, there'd be more cloth to fall on the ground.
The width in varas adds up to 105 cm., plus a dedo of 1.8 cm. for a total of
106.8cm. According to page 102 cited above, 105 cm. is not the
original figure but the measurement after Juan received back a
portion of the tilma, .
In 1786, one Bartolache says it was 170 cm.
tall (he figured two varas and a dedo [which he rounded to 2 cm. instead of
1.8] ) and 105 cm. in width. These figures are apparently the
measurements after material was taken away. His length is about two
What we need to concerned about here
is the measurements as they were at the time. If you look up a vara,
among the things, you'll find a vara defined as a yardstick,
having 33 British inches, and of variations in length in other places, like
Latin America, Spain and Texas.
Regarding a painting showing Juan Diego
a painting done concerning the transfer of the image out over the causeway
to the hermitage. It shows Juan and his uncle beside the altar, on the
right side as you look at it. He looks of average height, the artwork
being a portion of the
Instalacion de Nuestra Sra. de Guadalupe en Su Primera Ermita, 26 de
diciembre de 1531 (Installation of Our Lady of Guadalupe en Her Hermitage,
December 26, 1531 ). Juan de Zumarraga, the Bishop of
Mexico, and Bishop Fuenleal are on the other side of the
(On the occasion of transferring the image to Tepeyac, two weeks after the image was imprinted on the tilma, an
Indian was accidentally killed, felled by an unloosed arrow. It had gone through his neck. The Indian was brought before the image, and was restored to life with
only marks where the arrow had entered and exited. Picture
photographed from Enciclopedia Guadalupana.)
Regarding the drawing
After attempting to get the image reproduced by a printing process in Peoria
and failing to find a way to reproduce it to size, I turned to drawing it
myself. My initial drawing on a piece of muslin, was abandoned because
I tried a second drawing on a medium weight canvas, but
first built an open frame to hold it. I had taken a smaller color drawing of mine and had it
enlarged. That smaller drawing is between 16 and 17 inches high, from
the top of her head to the bottom of the winged being. I put the
enlarged drawing behind the canvas, tacked and stretched to the wooden frame, and traced
outlines from the drawing onto the canvas. This was in front of a window
in order to get light behind it.
I used markers, highlighters and colored pencils, and some marker paint
for correction. My work is imperfect, and isn't a reproduction in every respect (e.g,
I left out the figuring in the gown), but the effort should show how it was
imprinted and the image in relation to the rest of the tilma.