The Tilma
―A long narrative poem, woven with some commentary, about a poor Indian who in 1531 encounters the glorious Mother of God in what is Mexico today.


O Maker of every kind,
Guide my every thought of mind.
Let the words on which I muse,
And those I'm inclined to use,
Be as thou would choose.


Here's told a story,
  Interwoven with glory
  And human worth,
When heaven came down
   In a rose-colored gown
   And appeared upon the earth.

It happened long ago,
Upon this continent here,
Beyond our border below,
There did heaven appear

Upon a high plateau,
Where Aztec foe had fought,
The Valley of Mexico,
Where Spanish conquest wrought

And to the land they sought,
They faith of Christian brought,
The light of faith that burned:
To it, some Indians turned.

Of those who turned we're told,
One had an eagle in his name,
And baptized, this native of old,
Juan Diego became.

From the eastern ocean o'er,
A shining water had come ashore;

En esta fuente se bautizo Juan Diego
: In this font Juan Diego was baptized.

With life of God it glistened,                  
As Juan the water christened,               
And at the font was washed away
The stain of sin from Adam's day!

A child of God he came to be,
And lived a life o'er nature he!

And thus the eagled one of afore,
Now could fly! Now could soar!
With pinions from God on high,
Now could mount the azure sky!

Of this Indian alive with grace,
The pen of history scribed a place.

Part I
A Morning upon a Hill.

Ten years had passed and gone
And full moons of time beside,
Since the fall of Tenochtitlan
Where Aztec did abide.

'Twas Fifteen Thirty-one
And much diminished the year,
December was partly done
And wondrous things were near...

'Twas early a Saturday,
The day of nine in number,
Juan rose as was his way,
The sun was yet aslumber...

In the dark before the dawn
From his abode he'd be drawn,
For things of faith and errands too,
He set his foot to journey anew.

From Tulpetlac he went to go, 6
To MejicoTlatilolco:
A habitation upon a lake,
A causeway there to take

Across the hills he trod
And stept his darkling way,
Across to things of God,
To study and to pray

Against the cold he wore,
A mantle of maguey woven,
Loomed by his wife before,
Death their life had cloven.

In days gone by, together they went
The leagues o'er land and lake,
And together gave a heroic consent
And another and lofty path did take!

For love of virtue they embraced,
A way of life forever chaste;
And pure and celibate they did live,
With grace that God doth give.

Thus a one, not ordinary,
A special soul in clay,
Was bound to the mass of Mary
On this the Immaculate's day.

Before the lake did begin
There rose a hill of rock,
There a temple once had been,
The hill of Tepeyac...

A place of Tonantzin afore, 10
Of sacrificing too;
Cortes her structure tore
The mother of gods untrue.

As Juan betook himself along   
This hill in dawning light,           
He heard the music of song
And its melodic delight...
A sound celestial
         On a mound terrestrial!

Like birds of beauty a-singing
Atop the rise that rose so near,
Their notes came down a-winging,
To alight softly in his ear.

Is it from slumber I arise?
His wonder it bestirred;
Or is this the earthly paradise
Which men of old left word?

At times the singing would stop
And the hillside seemed to respond,
The wilderness and that atop
Like a chorus in twain beyond...

Like a restless feathered bird,
He flit from thought to thought,
For the whence of what he heard,
The song his ear had caught...

He was looking toward the east
When the singing suddenly ceased...

And when the quiet came,
A voice from upon a summit,
Did call him by courteous name,
Did call with affection from it...

Unafraid he climbed the hill
And beheld a woman there;
She bid him closer still,
She was robed in radiant wear...

Upon a rock she shining stood,
Her rays did pierce it through;
It looked as a Moorish anklet would,
With precious stones and hue.

Mesquite and prickly pear
Were rich like emeralds grown,
And thorns and branches there,
Like gold a glitter shone.

And leaves near her poise
Looked like fine turquoise,
And the earth was shining ground,
Like the bow of the sky around.

She spoke, gentle and sweet,
In a manner that esteemed him;
She spoke, as he knelt at her feet,
Her littlest child she deemed him.

Revealing herself the Virgin Always,
Saint Mary, God's own mother,
In Aztec Tloque Nahuaque's, 12
The God in truth, no other

The One from Whom all life doth come,
And "close to Whom is everything":
Lord of heaven and earth in sum:
The Creator setting all a-wing.

She wanted Juan to know,
A temple
13 there to fashion,
Where she could offer and show,
Her love, help and compassion.

"For I am your merciful mother," said she,
Who wishes to help and harken to thee
"And all who dwell in this land";
These she included, and
"All those others who loving me,"
Do me invoke and trusting be.

I'll hear the complaints you speak
At this temple, I ardently seek,
And remedy your suff'rings all
And sorrows and hardships that befall.

To carry out my word
Of mercy, you must go
And tell the seen and heard,
To the Bishop of Mexico

Tell him I am sending thee
To make it clear to see,
How much I desire that he,
Here build a temple for me.

For the work and trouble to ensue,
You'll merit my  recompensing you;
Her trust, reward and all expressed,
She told him to go and do his best.

He took leave of the Sainted one,
The human yet untainted one,
To do as she wished, at her behest,
And downed the hill her visit blest...

Across the lake he took
A causeway to the city ahead;
Perhaps from the hill she did look
And watch his onward tread.

Part II
Problems Unfold

On coming to the city, on entry,
To the episcopal palace went he;
But there he met with delay,
Ere meeting the bishop that day. 

He knelt to the one sent to
And related the seen and told,
But it seemed not heard as true,
That disbelief did him enfold.

And sadly he returned to the hill
And addressed heaven's lady a plea:
Entrust another the task to fill,
One of import, who believed will be...

"I am a little man," he pled;
A ladder of wood, he said;
Important not and slender rope,
A leaf, a tailthese were his scope.

She said that many there were,
To carry a message for her,
But 'twas necessary that he,
The intercessor be.

He went anew the morrow then,
To tell the Virgin's wish again:
The bishop questioned for fact
And Juan responded exact.

But belief the bishop lacked
And upon the word of Juan alone,
He was unable to act:
He had a need and made it known.

Before he would believe,
A sign he must receive:
To insure the words there parted,
From the Lady herself had started.

The Indian left the palace
Of one who holds the Chalice,
And the syllables spoke did carry,
To pour in the ear of Mary.

The bishop this day of Ten,
Sent people after to spy,
To keep whither he went in ken
And with whom he spoke, descry.

And those of his house did follow
But lost their man to the eye,
Lost, on a road by a hollow,
The bridge of Tepeyac nigh.

They hunted all o'er without a trace;
The spies turned back to him disgrace;
They declared: deceived they were,
A fiction he spoke or dreamt he her.

If he returned, they inferred,
Chastise him severely then!
So lie he'd ne'er a word
Nor fools make them again...

The bishop did now incline
To disbelieve the matter entire,
But the Mother of Christ Divine
Gave ear to the bishop's desire.

She told the poor one devout,
To return for the sign requested;
The bishop will no longer doubt
But with belief be vested.

When the morrow comes round,
She would await him there...
But alas! that night he found
His uncle sick, in need of care.

The uncle too was Juan by name
And Bernadino as well;
In danger of dying the very same,
On whom a plague with peril fell.

Because of kinly concern,
Juan Diego did not return
The coming day, Eleven,
To see the Lady of Heaven.

A doctor brought relief
But late, and time grew brief,
And while he yet drew breath,
He was at the point of death...

That night he asked Juan to make,
A journey early for his sake,
To bring a priest, to him confess
Before his body, his soul egress.

Part III
Gathering Flowers

'Twas early the twelfth day,
Ere dawn had lit the east,
That Juan was on his way,
Gone to get a priest.

Nearing the road that ran aside
The little hill upon the west,
The path he normally plied
He felt by duty pressed...

He thought in such a vein:
If I go upon this path,
The Lady may me detain
With the bishop's sign she hath.

To hasten on for his uncle's sake
Before death did them divide,
Another path he then did take,
Up and across to the other side.

He hurried before his kin deceased,
And went around the hill to the east,
And this, he thought a way,
To avoid the Lady and delay.

But she was descending the hill,
Afacing where she had appeared
And had manifest her will
From the side of the slope she neared:

"What is the matter, my little son?"
She inquired of him, her "little one";
She asked "Where goest thou?"
And were he, a little troubled now?

He bowed and greeted her
In words that seemed too light;
Then of heavier things that were,
He spoke his uncle's plight.

He spoke the reason for hurry
And said he'd return the morrow...
But she said he'd no cause for worry,
Nor for fright upon his part;
Fear no sickness nor sorrow,
No longer be troubled of heart.

"Is this not your mother here next to you?"
"Am I not your health?" she asked him too;
Are you not safe in my loving embrace?
Are you sheltered not in this place,
In the shadow of my love?
"What else hast thou need of?"

Let naught afflict you more,
Not even the sickness of thy kin,
Thy uncle's life isn't o'er,
He's cured the moment we're in.

And when he heard
Her consoling word,
He became content,
And to the sign, he bent.

She bid him climb the rise
To where they met before,
There'd be flowers for his eyes,
And for him a little chore:

Gather the flowers with care
And put them together there,
And bring and show them to me
These things she did decree.

He climbed the hill atop,
And roses did behold...
But out of season the crop,
A time of frost and cold.

The varied amount surprised his sight,
Their fragrance unloose in the world;
And from the dew, during the night,
The roses were preciously pearled.

He set to gathering them,
The roses a-jeweled in gem,
And put them in the cloak he wore,
Of yarns his wife had gathered before.

In this place of stones he knew,
No flowers among them grew:
It was the abode of thorn and mesquite
And cactus and thistle the eye to meet;
And herbs and grasses beside,
Oft did there abide.

His harvest done and complete,
He hurried down his feet
To the one celestial there
And brought her flowers fair.

She took the bouquet brought,
The flowers he'd gone and sought,
She took the roses in her holy hands,
And put them back on tilma strands
Upon the woven warp and woof,
   She placed the bishop's sign and proof!

These roses to the bishop take,
And tell him in my name,
These various flowers are to make,
Him understand my aim,
Fulfill he must the very same.

"You are my ambassador"
And worthy of confiding trust;
She also said something more,
Something to avoid he must:

Do not unfold your outer wear
Nor reveal what it contains,
Until you reach the bishop there,
His presence yours attains.

Tell everyone with care,
Of the hill and flowers there,
"All you saw and marveled at,"
So my wish, he'll help in that.

Her instructions said,
He set forth to go,
Along the way that led,
Straight to Mejico.

Part IV
The Wondrous Image

Although the garment, enwrapped,
And hid the flowers from sight,
Not all the floral was trapped,
A portion of it took flight...

Some escaped from his attire,
From out, his outer clothes,
As he breathed, he did inspire
       The aroma from off the rose.

He delighted in fragrant scent,
Adrift in the air, as he went...

The flowers he closely held,
Within the tilma, corralled;
He kept the blossoms all,
        From slipping forth to fall.

Juan Diego felt content,
Sure this time, of good event.

But his optimism was unmet,
For ahead was trouble yet;
For at the bishop's palace,
He'd be treated callous...

For some stept out,
And hindered what he was about;
And his presence, refused to tell it,
To him, the Franciscan prelate...

And hearing him, they pretended not,
And seeing him, they befriended not...
Perhaps they felt by him annoyed,
Or what the spies had said, destroyed.

He stayed a-standing in his stead,
A length of time with lowered head,
And they did note, as he did tarry,
That something he seemed to carry.

They went to see what was inside,
The contents he felt he couldn't hide;
And fearing he might be bothered or hit,
He opened the tilma a tiny bit.

They saw the roses fresh with beauty,
And tried to grasp a precious booty...
Thrice they tried,
And thrice, they were denied.

When fingers on them did close,
No longer they saw a real rose,
But ones that seemed embroidered or sewn
Or painted upon the cloth, his own.

They went to tell the divine of it,
And of the poor Indian back;
The bishop saw the sign of it,
And admitted him of material lack.

Juan knelt as he knelt before,
And repeated her wish to fulfill,
All he'd seen and marvel more
Of the flowers upon the hill.

Exquisite they were to his eyes,
It seemed like Paradise...
He set to gathering, he did reveal
And took the Lady roses of Castile!

She took the flowers close and near,
And replaced them in my garment here;
She told me, these flowers bring to you;
She told me why, "and this I do."

The sign you asked, perceive in them,
To do her wish and truth to sight;
"Behold them here. Receive them..."
Juan Diego oped his mantle white...

And the roses fell onto the floor...
And then the eye saw even more!
As soon as they did fall and strew,
There suddenly appeared, something new!

An image! upon the Indian's cloak!
Of she! with whom he'd met and spoke;
Of the ever Virgin Mary, Saint,
The Mother of God, in heavenly paint!


She still appears on cloth today
Under the title Guadalupe;
She stands agowned in figured rose,
With hands afold in humble pose.

A Virgin clad in mantle blue
A garment in royal Aztec hue,
With golden trim and stellar fleck,
And a Cross beneath her neck.

She stands before the sun aburning,
Upon a crescent dark, upturning;
And a winged being with plumes is put,
Beneath the moon where rests her foot.

Perhaps this doth reveal a Grace,
That endows with life the human race,
As she steps upon the shadow of sin,
And crushes the serpent and woe we're in!

Girt with a sash of darkling violet,
The Mother of God...and ours yet!
John Riedell

1. According to Francis Johnston in The Wonder of Guadalupe, his pagan name was Cuauhtlatohuac. The historian Warren Carroll tells us it means "he who talks like an eagle." Cuauhtli means eagle in the Aztec language of Nahautl.  Another version in Enciclopedia Guadalupana says his Indian name was Cuauhtlatoatzin, meaning "the man who speaks like an eagle."   Its tzin ending is a suffix that indicates respect, affection and protection. 

2. Francis Johnston says Juan Diego has been incorrectly translated as John James. He writes that Diego is the Spanish form of the Latin Didacus.  It was popular, owing to a Spanish saint having this name, who was a lay brother of the Franciscan order in the Canary Islands (d. 1463).  

3. Original sin.

4. A reference to sanctifying grace, which is somehow a sharing in the life of God, a supernatural life, enabling one to go to heaven. We are born as human creatures with natural life, but at Baptism, this second form of life is bestowed upon us, elevating us to the level of an adopted child of God. The pinions mentioned in the following stanza, pertain to this grace, enabling Juan, "the eagled one afore," to fly up into the blue sky, a suggestion of heaven above.

5. Tenochtitlan: The Aztec capital built out in a lake and connected to the mainland by causeways. It's where Mexico City is today.

6. Tulpetlac: Where both Juan Diego and his uncle Juan Bernadino lived, according to the ancient Aztec account, the Nican Mohopua. It was north from the lake where Tenochtitlan was situated.

7. Juan's wife Maria Lucia. My wife and I were told, when we went to present-day Tulpetlac, that she was the one who wove Juan Diego's cloak. She died in 1529, two years before the famed apparitions.

8. Saturday is a day dedicated to honor the Blessed Virgin.

9. Tepeyac is the hill where Mary appeared to Juan Diego. It was near where the northern causeway reached the mainland. It has been referred to as a mountain but it's not that high. Its a good little hill. In the Nican Mohopua, it's also spelled Tepeyacac.

My wife Serafina Maria at the foot of the hill of  Tepeyac in 2013, 482 years later.  Photo by a photographer, stationed there, taking pictures of visitors.

10. Tonantzin means "our mother" in Aztec ("to" means our, "nantli" means mother [but the "tli" here drops out], and "tzin" is a suffix which conveys courtesy [see note 1]).  At Tepeyacac they had a temple dedicated to the mother of gods whom they call Tonantzin. 

11. The Spanish Conquistador Hernan Cortes conquered Tenochtitlan in August 1521, a decade and some months before the Guadalupan apparitions in December 1531. As mentioned in No. 10 above, the temple of this mother of false gods, once stood here (a hill not a mountain).  The visit there by Our Lady of Guadalupe brought truth into the picture, and replaced a false idea with a true one: Our Lady is the mother of the true God. 

12. Tloque Nahauque. An expression to designate God. Literally, according to the Diccionario de la Lengua Nahautl o Mexicana, it's "el que esta cerca de las cosas" in Spanish (He that is close to things). The writer Francis Johnston, in his book, The Wonder of Guadalupe, says it means "that of our immediate surroundings" or "who is by, or present, to all things."
     Tloque, by itself, is the plural of Nahuatl word "tloc" which means close.  Nahuac or nauac also mean close.  If the plural of nahuac follows suit with tloc, then Tloque Nahauque is "close, twice pluralized," perhaps to convey a strong sense of closeness.
     God is indeed close to us, for without Him, we would simply vanish into nothingness. He is the creator of all things from nothing and holds all creation in existence. Francis Johnston says the Aztec ruler of Texcoco (on the eastern shore of the lake that Tenochtitlan was in) built a tower having no idol,dedicated to the unknown god, creator of all, this according to one Ichtlixochitl, a descendant of the king. This divinity was called Tloque Nahauque, Who Mary identified as the true God.

13. When Mary asks to have a temple built for her, it is not a temple to worship her, but a temple where her Son can be worshiped in the Eucharist. She gathers people to her Son, for Him to help them.  She intercedes and prays for them as any mother would for her children.  Her intercession for others has Scriptural precedent  in John 2:3-10, when Jesus responded to her concern at the Wedding of Cana and performed the miracle of "water made wine."

14. The Franciscan Fray Juan Zumarraga

15. The famed image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

16. One may reasonably assume the winged being below the Blessed Virgin is an angel. However, I question that such is really the case. I believe it could be St. John the Evangelist, in whose Gospel (John 19:25-27), Jesus says to His mother Mary, "Woman, behold thy son," and to His disciple, "Behold thy mother."
     What happened upon and beneath the Cross, refers to a spiritual relationship, and that is re-expressed at Guadalupe. 
     St. John the Gospel writer is depicted as an eagle.
    The winged person in the image, is not holding Mary up, but holding up the ample cloth of her gown, apparently to reveal the foot of Mary upon the dark moon. This may tie into Genesis 3:15 and the prologue of the John's Gospel.

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