May 19, 2002 issue, The Catholic Post, Diocese of Peoria, Illinois

                                                    The Way I See It:
"The Way I See It" is a weekly reader opinion feature of The Catholic Post. We invite contributions to this space and comments about material appearing here. This week's column is by John Riedell of Germantown Hills. A native of Lake View, Iowa, he is retired after many years as a graphic artist with the Peoria Journal Star. Married, a father of three and grandfather of four, he recently completed two years of study with the first class of the diocese's new St. John Bosco Catechetical Institute. He has a strong devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe and this week writes about Blessed Juan Diego, to whom the Blessed Mother appeared in 1531. Juan Diego is scheduled to be canonized by Pope John Paul II in Mexico City on July 30.
Juan Diego a 'Noble' Life
      In February The Catholic Post published an article about Juan Diego and a study sponsored by the Mexican bishops to advance the cause of his sainthood.  The article made several claims that should be open to question.

                                                   Claims about Juan Diego

      The head of the investigation, anthropologist Asuncion Garcia, contends Juan (1) had to be an indigenous nobleman (2) or he wouldn't have had the cloak he collected the flowers in,  (3) nor have been allowed near the bishop. She said the idea that Juan Diego was a "mere Indian" and a lowly one is (4) a "misconception extrapolated from his humility before the Virgin."

      The article says descendants of Juan Diego were traced in the study, and there's a plan to encourage them to take on (5) the name "Ixtilxochitl," the surname claimed as Juan's before his conversion. (6) An assertion is also made in the article that Juan had "two, three, or more women."

                                                         Claims Questioned

       (1) With regard to the claim of noble birth for Juan Diego, Francis Johnston in The Wonder of Guadalupe says he belonged to the middle class but was "as poor as the lowest class." He said upon marrying Juan lived in a "mud house thatched with corn stalks."

       The historian Warren Carroll in Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Conquest of Darkness says the seer was a "macehualtin, the despised poor of the Aztec empire, rather than one of the nobly born pipiltin . . ."

      While the books of Carroll and Johnston are comparatively recent, both authors make reference to a very old writing called the Nican Mopohua (Herein is related). Written in the Aztec language (with some Spanish) sometime in the mid-1550s, the Nican Mopohua is much closer in time to the events of 1531. It is attributed to Antonio Valeriano, a close friend of both Juan Diego and his uncle, who recorded the story first hand.

        In the 17th century there were hearings into Guadalupe and depositions taken, referred to as the Proceedings of 1666. The Nican Mopohua was the account chosen as "the most satisfactory" to be sent to Rome out of 18 accounts, which indicates the regard in which it was held.

        In the account's second graph, where it has been translated that Juan was a poor Indian, it uses the word "macehualtzintli," a key to understanding the social level he was on. When spelled without the "h," it can be translated "little plebian." Maceualli means vassal, country dweller, farmer, or peasant. The macehualli were not of the nobility nor the intermediate class, but were commoners grouped in the lowest class.

        (2) What about the statement that a non-noble Juan Diego wouldn't have worn a cloak?  Juan wore a tilma, a rectangular cloth tied over one shoulder -- a mantle or a cloak.  In Aztecs of Mexico, author George Vaillant claims that the Macehual or ordinary tribesman wore "a mantle knotted over one shoulder" and that "the poor made their garments of maguey fiber or coarse cotton."

         (3) The notion that unless he were a noble he couldn't get near the Bishop of Mexico is hardly fair to the bishop and his defense of the Indians. The Spanish emperor Charles V nominated Juan de Zumarraga as the Bishop of Mexico. He also made him Protector of the Indians, a public office which brought him into conflict with the civil authorities in Mexico. About the bishop, Juan Diego himself says that the bishop received him kindly.

         (4)  Regarding Garcia's "extrapolated" comment, it isn't only that Juan Diego humbled himself before Mary, it's what he said of himself in the Nican Mopohua.   After going to see the bishop as Mary asked, Juan felt the bishop didn't exactly believe him, and came back to Mary to ask her to send someone else instead.  He begs her "to have one of the nobles who are held in esteem, one who is known, respected, honored, (have him) carry, take your dear breath, your dear word, so that he will be believed."  He says that he is "a man of no importance."

      Mary tells him she has no lack of servants or messengers to carry out her will, but it was necessary that he go personally and the intercessor be.

       (5) Regarding the claim that his surname had been Ixtilxochitl, I don't know if we know if Juan Diego had a surname as a pagan. I've seen several versions of his pagan name, always one word, one being Cuauhtlatohuac, which Carroll says means "he who talks like an eagle." 

      Of the Ixtlilxochitls I've found, none fit the history of Juan Diego.   There was Ixtlilxochitl the Elder listed as the third of the rulers of Texcoco in Sahagun's Florentine Codex.  He preceded Nezahualcoyotl who died in 1472, two years before Juan was born.  One of the claimed descendants, who had thought Juan Diego was invented, is delighted that the study links Juan Diego to a king of Texcoco, Nezahualcoyotl, identified as his grandfather.  Nezahualcoyotl did have a grandson named Ixtlilxochitl who was a rival for the crown with his brother Cacama and this Ixtlilxochitl helped the Spanish. There are a number of references to him in William Prescott's history, The Conquest of Mexico. 

       Juan Diego (1474-1548) lived during this time period but it strains credibility to see how this Ixtlilxochitl could be confused with Juan Diego, when according to Prescott, he gathered 50,000 troops and led them to the Christians. In addition it was asserted in a footnote, that he was baptized Hernando according to one Herrera. This Herrera was probably "the celebrated chronicler of the Indies," Antonio de Herrera, who had access to the official colony returns, documents and state papers. However, Bernal Diaz del Castillo in his famous chronicle, The History and the Conquest of Mexico, says he was baptized Don Carlos. Either way it's not Juan Diego.

      Prescott writes of yet another, a writer named Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl, who he says flourished at the beginning of the 16th century. Perhaps he meant the 1600s as Francisco Perea says in El Mundo de Juan Diego (The World of Juan Diego), that don Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl was born in the 1570s, and he inherited the Nican Mopohua from Valeriano. This Ixtlilxochitl died in 1648, exactly 100 years after Juan Diego.

      Garcia says the descendents come from families who were once part of the kingdom of Texcoco. The city of Texcoco was to the east side of the lake system. Juan Diego was a native of Cuautitlan (also spelled Cuauhtitlan), some distance away on the northwest side of the lakes. The Nican Mopohua says "his name was Juan Diego; he lived in Cuauhtitlan, as they say." That he was a native of Cuauhtitlan is attested to in oral testimony in the aforementioned Proceedings of 1666.

       The Dark Virgin: The Book of Our Lady of Guadalupe says that "several aged Indian notables . . . all very much alert and in full possession of their faculties and highly regarded in their communities" testified under oath concerning direct knowledge of Guadalupe given by relatives, who were alive when the "great event took place."   One of these was Dona Juana de la Concepcion, then aged 85, the daughter of a former governor of Cuautitlan, don Lorenzo de San Francisco Haxtlatzontli, who kept meticulous records of the district and wrote and drew mapas or picture chronicles. Juana said "if her memory were not serving her badly" one of the mapas was of the Guadalupe apparition. Juan Diego "had been a native of his village and well known to don Lorenzo." Don Lorenzo was 15 in 1531 and heard the story of the apparitions from the seer himself and committed it to writing. Unfortunately for historical record, even though he guarded and treasured his mapas, thieves broke in and took "almost everything he had."

       (6) As to the claim that Juan Diego had more than one woman, there are differing points of view.  I'm only aware of one woman, his wife Maria Lucia, who died in 1529 and who, according to what we were told in Mexico, made the tilma on which the wondrous image appeared. After she died, Christopher Rengers, OFM Cap. says in Mary of the Americas that Juan went to live with his uncle who "had played the role of foster father from the time Juan Diego was a little boy." Rengers says Juan gave his little house and cornfields in his native Cuautitlan to his uncle, and then went to live in an adobe hut next to the first chapel at the apparitions site.  One might ask if he had a son, why aren't we hearing about him in this context?  

        The History of the Apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe mentions that he might have adopted one of many orphans, which might account for a son.

                                      Something Else to Consider

There's something else that should be properly considered here.  The Dark Virgin: The Book of Our Lady of Guadalupe says of Juan and Maria Lucia that "tradition holds that, shortly after both husband and wife were baptized, they heard a sermon by the noted Father, Fray Toribio de Benavente, to whom the Indians had lovingly given the name Motolinia (or, the Poor One), in which, while discussing the excellences of the virtue of chastity, he taught that it was possible even in marriage; whereupon they decided to follow that rule and lived from then on in perfect abstinence from the flesh, like brother and sister rather than husband and wife, and their fame spread far and wide; everyone who knew them agreed this was the case . . ."   That they undertook this way of life is remarkable.

          It seems to me there is something beautiful in the spirituality of Juan and Maria Lucia, something for us to admire, and something that fits in with the Immaculate One. Even if one wants to delve into the pre-Christian life of Juan Diego, I don't see it changing what he had become.

         Juan Diego doesn't have to be a member of the nobility to be a saint.  He need only live a life that's noble.         


The Nican Mohopua comes from the first two words of the account.  

         The first graph reads:
        "Nican mohopua, motecpana in quenin yancuican hueytl amahuizoltica monexiti in cenquizca ichpochtli Sancta Maria Dios Inantzin Tocihuapillatocatzin, in oncan Tepeyacac, motenehua Guadalupe."
        (English: Here is told and set down in order how a short time ago the Perfect Virgin Holy Mary Mother of   God, our  Queen, miraculously appeared out a Tepeyac, widely known as Guadalupe)

The second graph:
       "Acattopa quimottititzino ce macehualtzintli itoca Juan Diego; Auh zantepan monexiti in Itlazoixiptlatzin in ixpan yancuican Obispo Don Fray Juan de Zumarraga." 
(English: First she caused herself to be seen by an Indian named Juan Diego, poor but worthy of respect [another translation  has it: "First she let herself be seen by a poor Indian named Juan Diego."]; and then her Precious Image appeared before the recently named Bishop, Don Fray Juan de Zumarraga.")

 Note: As used here it is organized somewhat differently and the graphic is gone.

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