History of Guadalupe

     On November 3rd, 1493, Columbus made landfall on his second voyage to the New World. In the early light of dawn, a dark cone blotted out stars on the horizon ahead. It was on one of a chain of islands called the Lesser Antilles which separates the Caribbean from the rest of the Atlantic. The Admiral summoned all hands to the quarterdeck where they devoutly sang the Salve Regina and other hymns, and rendered thanks to God. He named the island Dominica. As light grew, they sighted another island which he named Mariagalante (the nickname for his flagship) and a group he called Todos Los Santos (for the feast of All Saints, just passed). Columbus anchored at Mariagalante and went ashore, taking possession for Spain. In the meantime yet another island was sighted.

      The fleet saw the beautiful sight of a slender waterfall appearing to plunge from the clouds over the mountains. Here Columbus fulfilled the request of the monks at a shrine in Spain, where he had gone and prayed the previous June. They asked him to name an island after the famous Virgin there. He called the island Santa Maria de Guadalupe.

      The mainland of Mexico was still far over the horizon, as were the wondrous happenings to yet come, more than 40 years into the future. It is interesting that these same words would reappear in an account of those happenings in 1531 when the Blessed Virgin appeared in what is now Mexico. The Nican Mopohua , an account of those events, records her name as Santa Maria de Guadalupe.

       Not only are the words exactly the same, but the events in a geographical sense parallel history: first, the discoverers came to the islands, and then to the mainland of America. First, the name Guadalupe was attached to an island; then, to a place on the mainland.

       It was as if Holy Mary of Guadalupe sailed westward, leaving her name on the map. Think of it, a blue sea with a fleet of white sails billowing in the wind. And with it, the wind of the Holy Spirit, was blowing the Bark of Peter into our hemisphere.

      Francis Johnston in The Wonder of Guadalupe says that as the cult of Guadalupe began to spread throughout the country, all classes and ages of people began to long for a new moral code based on her example. As a result, he wrote, "The trickle of conversions soon became a river, and that river a flood which is perhaps unprecedented in the history of Christianity. 5,000,000 Catholics were lost to the Church owing to the Reformation in Europe at this time, but their numbers were more than replaced in a few years by more than 9,000,000 Aztec converts."

      In Signs & Symbols of Christian Art, it says, "Clouds in the heavens are the natural veil of the blue sky, and are, therefore, used as the symbol of the unseen God." With this in mind, after the appearances of Our Lady of Guadalupe, there came a flood of conversions among the Indiansa waterfall of grace from the heavens, from the clouds of the unseen God!

      But the story of the island named for Guadalupe, did not begin with the monks in June of 1493. It traced back to earlier that year, and then farther back yet in time.

      On his return to Europe from his epic voyage of discovery in 1492, the remaining ships of his group, the Nina and Pinta, ran into "an area of dirty weather," as recounted by Samuel Eliot Morrison in The Great Explorers - The European Discovery of America. He tells us that it was a cold and blustery winter when hundreds of ships went down, and many were driven ashore; a winter when vessels were windbound for months in Lisbon, and the port of Genoa froze over. In such a season, Columbus and those sailing with him, were far out to sea, crossing the Atlantic.

     The caravels of Columbus passed through three weather fronts. On the 13th of February, 1493, opposite winds, close to one another, formed cross seas and dangerous pyramidal waves that broke over the vessels. During the night the caravels lost sight of one another. The situation on Valentine's Day wasn't so lovely, and the crew of the Nina nearly gave up hope. They bargained with heaven for their deliverance from peril. Three times they drew lots for someone to go to a famous shrine. Then, all vowed to go to the first Marian shrine they came to.

     One of the lots was to the shrine of Guadalupe in Spain. Chick peas were put into a hat, one marked with a cross cut into it (See picture to right). Whoever drew that pea, would make the pilgrimage; Columbus drew it, and went to the shrineand received a request.

     But the story of Guadalupe goes back even farther in history. Francis Johnston relates that there's the tradition that Pope St. Gregory the Great venerated a statue of Mary, an image of her holding the Christ Child in one hand and a crystal sceptre in the other, signifying her divine motherhood. He eventually gave it to the St. Leander, the bishop of Seville, where it was subsequently venerated. When the Moors invaded Spain in the year 711, the image was put in an iron casket and hidden. More than six centuries later, in 1326, it's said Mary appeared to a shepherd named Gil Cordero, revealing to him its whereabouts. It was found in a cave with authenticating documents on the River Guadalupe. In 1340 King Alphonso XI of Castille ordered a monastery to house the statue and put it in the hands of the Franciscans. Soon it "became the most celebrated shrine in Spain."

     And then came 1493, and her name appeared in the New World.

                                                                                                   John Riedell  

Note: The stained glass window above is in St. Mary's Cathedral in Peoria, Illinois.


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