Our Lady of Guadalupe or the Virgin of Guadalupe is a Catholic title of Mary, mother of Jesus associated with a series of apparitions in Tepeyac, Mexico City, which are believed to have occurred in December 1531, and a venerated image on a cloak enshrined within the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. The basilica is the most-visited Catholic shrine in the world, and the world's third most-visited sacred site.
Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, a member of the Chichimeca people is said to have encountered the Virgin of Guadalupe on a hill in Tepeyac while walking between his home and a Franciscan mission.
The Virgin of Guadalupe spoke to him in his Nahuatl language, he recounted later. She stood in front of the sun, a crescent moon and angel at her feet, and wore a cloak full of stars, representing the beginning of a new civilization. A black ribbon around her waist represents pregnancy. She asked Juan Diego to approach the regional bishop to request that a church be built on Tepeyac hill in her name. The bishop asked Juan Diego for proof that he had seen an apparition of the Virgin Mary. According to the story, she instructed him to climb the hill and pick flowers there, which were unseasonably in bloom during the winter in a place where normally only cactus grew, and she then placed them in his tilma, or cloak, to take to the bishop. When Juan Diego released the flowers before the bishop, an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe miraculously revealed itself on his cloak. The bishop knelt before the image and agreed to build a temple on the hill of Tepeyac, where a small shrine was built to protect and venerate Juan Diego’s cloak.
The Virgin of Guadalupe is often linked to the Aztec goddess of the earth and corn, Tonantzin, (Nahuatl for “our mother”) because of the matriarchal representation and belief that the site where the Virgin of Guadalupe appeared to Juan Diego was the site of a temple for Tonantzin before the Spanish destroyed it.
It could have been a strategy used by Spanish missionaries to convert Indigenous people, using a Catholic figure to replace an Indigeous deity through plays or stories.
In a lot of ways, the idea of Tonantzin was able to survive precisely because there was a figure that was really similar to who Tonantzin was. But at the same time, this is really a strategy from the colonizers to try to replace those symbols. Even if those symbols survive, they have been transformed in very significant ways.