Hers is as iconic an image as there is in local Catholicism: Hands steepled, a modest, downward gaze, clad in a pink robe and blue mantle covered with stars, bathed in light. Occasionally she is crowned.
She is the Virgin Mary as she appeared to a peasant nearly 600 years ago, Our Lady of Guadalupe. Her image has been seen and represented countless times over the centuries, in paintings, carvings and textiles. Museum exhibitions have been dedicated to her and her religious, historic and cultural importance. Her image can be seen in everything from priceless works of art to all manner of tchotchke. She was even spied in the bark of a tree in Central California. Millions of parishioners traverse the globe to commune and seek healing and comfort.
To the Diocese of Orange, Our Lady of Guadalupe is about much more than the iconic image. Her message resonates today as much as ever.
“As the patroness of the Americas and of the Diocese of Orange, places of immense cultural, ethnic, religious and economic diversity, she stands as an affirmation of our dignity as human persons and the responsibility we have to in turn, respect and honor one another,” said Father Christopher Smith, episcopal vicar of Christ Cathedral.
In 1895, Pope Leo XIII crowned her with a canonical coronation and Pope Pius II named her “Patroness of the Americas” in 1946, a title that was reiterated by Pope John Paul II in 1999. When the Diocese of Orange was created in 1976, Our Lady of Guadalupe was named its patroness.
Her roots run deep throughout the diocese and area.
“Devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe was brought to what is now Orange County by the priests who established Mission San Juan Capistrano in the 18th century,” Fr. Smith said. “Naming Our Lady of Guadalupe as the patroness of the newly established Diocese of Orange provided a powerful link to the beginnings of the Catholic Church in the county.”
Her importance will be underscored when Christ Cathedral opens in July, as it will be home to one of the most impressive mosaics of Our Lady of Guadalupe anywhere. The 10-by-7-foot commissioned tile mosaic on the entry wall will feature more than 55,000 tiles of gold and opaque glass.
Created by internationally renowned artist Valerio Lenarduzzi and his studio, it is the gift of Bill and Helen Close. It will include a portable 22-by-20-inch crown, made of gold leaf, and available to adorn Our Lady’s head for devotionals and on feast days.
There has been preliminary discussion about erecting a shrine in her honor in the Marian Court adjacent to the cathedral.
The diocese has three Our Lady of Guadalupe-named parishes and a school named in her honor in La Habra that has provided Catholic education for more than 50 years.
Each year, congregants across the Southland celebrate the days surrounding the December 12 feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe with colorful processions and vigils, homemade shrines and religious observances and Masses.
In 2016-17, Orange County played host to the first exhibition in the United States devoted to images of the Blessed Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexican colonial art, organized by the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana.
The appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe is well known in the Latin community, less so outside. It commemorates the encounters between Mary and Cuauhtlatoatzin native Juan Diego in Mexico in 1531, in which she asked that a church be built in her honor.
After Diego twice brought her message to the archbishop and was rebuffed, the Virgin Mary had Diego gather flowers in his cloak, or tilma. When the peasant returned to the bishop, a cascade of roses fell from his jacket and a mysterious image
of Our Lady was revealed in the garment.
It is that image that has been reproduced across the ages and is among the more recognizable in Latin and Church culture.
The cloak remains on display and in good condition at the basilica bearing her name in Mexico, considered the most important Catholic site in the Americas, and visited by millions each year.
The significance of the appearance to an indigenous peasant is also critical as it happened at a time of often brutal treatment of the population during colonization of Mexico by the Spanish.
“There is a message from Our Lady that has echoed through the Americas of her being present for the people,” said Fr. Juan J. Gonzalez, Marist pastor of Notre Dame des Victoires in San Francisco. “In post-conquest she comes to support and be with them in their time of tribulation and trials.”
Or, as Fr. Smith put it, “This connection and devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe continues to be an important part of 21st century Catholicism in the Diocese of Orange.”