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 By Georges Bordonove

This Saintly Girl did more to restore chivalry than King, Nobles and Knights!

 

Saint Joan of Arc is far more than a worthy subject for stained-glass windows, although that is how her biographers often portray her. Fortunately, we have the records of two judgments to set the record straight.

As is common with heroes deemed "larger than life," Joan is seen through the changing lens of the times. When France was in danger, most notably in 1815, 1870, and 1914, Joan was recalled as patroness of soldiers, and in 1940, she was enrolled in the Resistance to the Nazis.

Diverse political camps have laid claim to the legacy of this Catholic saint. Even the Russian communists tried to expropriate her achievements, casting Joan as a daughter of the people who rose against the cowardice and ineptitude of the nobles.

The English, whom Joan fought, did not forget her. Should you visit the cathedral at Reims, you will see a standard of Joan of Arc embroidered by ladies from the English aristocracy. Such homage should not be overlooked.

Joan, in fact, plays multiple roles. The maid of Domremy goes hand in hand with the liberator of Orleans and the prisoner of Rouen. Joan's struggles and eventual martyrdom remind us that she was a flesh-and-blood mortal who embraced life with enthusiasm — not some will-of-the-wisp lost in ethereal musings and mystic ecstasies.

The first judgment rendered against Joan in 1431 by Bishop Pierre Cauchon ended with her condemnation to death. It attests to Joan's keen mind, brave heart, and devout soul.

The second judgment took place in 1454-1455. It declared the former sentence null and void and began the process of Joan's rehabilitation. The judgment provides a wealth of information, as the Church questioned more than 100 persons in Domremy, Orleans, and Rouen. These included persons who had known Joan as a young girl, escorted her to Chinon, fought at her side, and finally those who judged and condemned her at Rouen. Coming from all walks of life, those interviewed included merchants, soldiers, village leaders, feudal lords, parish priests, and monks.

 

Maid of Domremy


St Joan's Birthplace, Domremy FranceThe house where Joan was born in 1412 still stands in the heart of the village of Domremy in the province of Lorraine. The village has changed little to this day. Her family's stone house was that of passably prosperous peasants — not quite a manor but more than a thatched hut. The Meuse River runs alongside the road, which, in turn, runs along the garden.

Jacques d'Arc, Joan's father, was village dean, acting as a sort of vice-mayor. The family owned about twenty hectares. Joan had three brothers and a sister. Her mother, Isabelle Romee, recounts: "I raised her in the fear of God and in accordance with the traditions of the Church following her state in life, which was to live in the pastures and work in the fields."

"It is from my mother that I learned the Our Father, Hail Mary, and the Creed," Joan is to tell her judges in Rouen.

The faith that animated Joan arose from her heart. Since literacy was the province of the clergy, Joan, as a peasant, could neither read nor write nor could most nobles.

In sum, Joan was quite normal, undistinguishable from her peers in dress or other visible manners. From childhood, her mother taught her the domestic skills needed to care for a family. As she grew older, Joan began to work in the fields, watching the family's sheep as they grazed in the village's common pasture.

With the other boys and girls of her age, she would eat shortcake under the "fairies' tree" on Sundays during "Laetare, Jerusalem" — a local custom with roots dating to the ancient Gauls. Joan cared for the sick and helped the poor "very gladly," offering them the few coins she had. She would even give them her bed — often sleeping in front of the fireplace.

A pious girl, Joan was faithful to her prayers and took flowers to Our Lady of Bermont, to whom she was particularly devoted. When the bell rang for the Angelus, she would stop her work and drop to her knees in prayer. Her sole desire was to live her faith in the simple life of her village, like those who had come before her.

 

Planting the seed

Young Joan hearing the voices"I was in my father's garden and was fasting," Joan recounts. "And a voice came from the right, towards the church." She was 13 at the time and quite afraid. Thenceforth, she would be visited by the voices and apparitions of Saints Michael, Catherine, and Margaret. Saint Michael was especially revered in Lorraine, and the statues of Saints Catherine and Margaret still grace the village church. These saints would inform Joan that God had entrusted her with saving the kingdom of France and seeing that its crown was bestowed on Charles VII, the "King of Bourges."

Joan's piety redoubled without causing her to lose balance. By then, she was considered "the most virtuous girl in town," as the parish priest would attest. What the good folks of Domremy — and even Joan's own mother — did not know, was that a germinating seed had been planted in the soil of her soul.

 

France under the English

A brief review of the prevailing political-military situation at that time is in order. The Hundred Years' War, begun in 1326, was entering its final phase. Following French defeats in Crecy, Poitiers, and Agincourt and the death of Charles VI, the English under King Henry VI increasingly dominated France.

Charles VII governed only the part of France south of the Loire River. Aquitaine was also under the English. The Duke of Bedford, the uncle of King Henry and his regent, controlled the north, including Paris and Rouen, and Philip the Good, Bedford's ally, ruled the Burgundian states, stretching from Bruges to beyond Dijon.

Bedford decided to render the final blow to France's hope for freedom. He laid siege to Orleans, which controlled the Loire. Despair and treason permeated Charles' court.

At this precise moment, Joan's voices became most insistent, urging her to save Orleans. At first, she excused herself as a poor and simple girl, only capable of spinning and unable to use either sword or lance. Her heavenly counselors persisted, however, and gradually her resistance gave way until it burst forth as from a  dam. When she decided to follow their course, Joan was eager to set out.

 

The virgin from Lorraine

Signature of Joan of ArcA commonly voiced prophecy held that France would be lost by a woman but saved by a virgin from Lorraine. The woman was France's queen, Isabelle of Bavaria. The virgin savior, the voices affirmed, was Joan, whom France's true sovereign, Christ the King, would arm with His strength.

We need not speculate about Joan's voices, as did her judges in Rouen. History demonstrates that Joan's mission was supernatural, for there is no other plausible explanation for its triumph.

We need to simply recall that Joan's crusade lasted but a year, followed by another year of imprisonment. Yet, in that brief span, against all odds, she freed France from its English occupiers.

Having accepted her mission, Joan had no doubt it would succeed. Still, she told no one — not even her mother. Her father, however, had dreamt of his daughter departing with soldiers and threatened to drown her to prevent such dishonor.

Thus, to leave Domremy safely, she was obliged to disguise her mission. She said she was going to help her uncle's wife, who was with child. The uncle escorted Joan to Vaucouleurs, the last bastion in Lorraine under Charles' control.

When Joan insisted that Captain Robert de Baudricourt take her to Chinon to save the king, he burst out laughing. He advised Joan's uncle to spank her soundly and return her to her parents.

Joan, however, stood her ground, gaining the sympathy of the people of Vaucouleurs, who began to believe in her mission. Among her new champions were two squires, John de Novelpont, and Bernard de Poulangy.

Church investigators record their dialogue thus:

"My friend, what dost thou here? Must then the king be chased from his kingdom and all of us become English?"

"I come here to talk to Robert de Baudricourt so that he either deigns take me, or have me taken, to the king," Joan replies. "There is no solution but through me. And even then I would much rather slip away to be with my poor mother, since this is not my state. But go I must, for such is the will of my Lord."

"But who is your lord?"

"The King of Heaven!"

 

Sign from God

At last, Baudricourt acceded to Joan's wishes, providing her with a sword and a small escort under Poulangy's command. They left Vaucouleurs on February 13, 1429. The odds were against them as they marched toward Chinon, for they had to cross more than 60 miles of enemy territory.

Nonetheless, Joan arrived at Chinon at noon, February 23. While she was welcomed by the people as an angel of salvation, Charles hesitated to receive her. His counselors advised the king that Joan was an ambitious adventuress, perhaps even a sorceress.

Orleans was already regarded as lost, and its inhabitants were negotiating a surrender to the English. France's coffers were empty, and with mercenaries going to the highest bidder, her army was in a sorry state.

On February 25, Charles received Joan at his château. Although the king disguised his rank, Joan, who had never seen him, found him among the lowliest members of his retinue and knelt before him.

"Gentle dauphin, my name is Joan the Virgin," she proclaimed, "The King of Heaven tells thee through me that thou shalt be crowned in the city of Reims and that thou shalt be the lieutenant of the King of Heaven, who is the true King of France."

Naturally, the earthly king required tangible proof. As Charles' mother had denied his legitimacy to appease the English, he was uncertain of his status. A few days earlier, he had begged God to grant him a sign of his legitimacy. It was this intimate prayer that Joan revealed to Charles when they spoke alone. The king had received the sign he sought.

The king then sent Joan to Poitiers to be examined by a commission of theologians. When they too demanded a sign, she replied, "In the name of God, I have not come to Poitiers to give signs. Take me to Orleans and I will show you the signs for which I have been sent."

  

Victory in Orleans

Joan at the seige of OrleansBy scrounging his last cents and going even deeper into debt, Charles managed to put together an army. He entrusted its command to the Duke of Alençon, whose lieutenants were scarcely altar boys. Somehow the army seemed transformed by Joan's presence: the soldiers stopped blaspheming, confessed their sins, and received Holy Communion. This alone was no small miracle.

Charles outfitted Joan with a suit of armor and a war horse. He provided her with an armed herald to act as her courier. For her standard, Joan had God the Creator emblazoned between two adoring angels bearing lilies. The standard bore the holy names of Jesus and Mary. There must be no doubt Who was leading France into battle.

On April 11, 1429, Joan departed for Orleans with the vanguard. Dunois, with his captains, came to greet her with what they deemed indispensable advice. "In God's name," Joan protested, "the Lord's counsel is better than thine. I bring thee better succor than any soldier could provide, the succor of the King of Heaven."

When a contrary wind kept supply barges from sailing forward, Joan dropped to her knees in prayer, and the wind shifted course, bringing badly needed food to the besieged city.

The English had surrounded Orleans with trenches and fortifications. Spurning the advice of her captains for the counsel of her voices, Joan decided to attack those redoubtable fortresses. In a few days she had conquered the most important strongholds and especially the Tourelles rampart, which guarded the sole bridge crossing the Loire.

On May 8, 1429, the English withdrew, and the siege of Orleans was lifted, just as Joan had foretold.

On June 12, Joan retook Jargeau; on June 15, Meungsur- Loire; and on June 17, Beaugency. In Patay, the English under General Talbot suffered a devastating defeat, losing 6,000 men.

Joan never boasted of a single victory, for she attributed each of them to God. Above all, she remained true to herself — the simple and pious maid of Domremy, to which she longed to return.

Joan's crusade lasted but a year, followed by another year of imprisonment. Yet, in that brief span, against all odds, she freed France from its English occupiers.

 

Coronation of Charles

In the wake of the stunning victory at Patay, the Duke of Alençon proposed to take advantage of the momentum to recapture Normandy, but Joan wanted to take Charles to Reims to fulfill her mission.

To reach Reims, they had to cross the territory of Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy.

Charles' small army left Gien on June 25, 1429. Fulfilling Joan's prediction, the Burgundian towns mysteriously opened their doors. The same took place in cities such as Troyes, Chalons-sur-Marne and, at last, Reims.

Charles VII is crowned in Reims.

Charles was anointed in the cathedral of Reims on July 17 with Joan and her standard not far from his side. When she knelt before her sovereign at the conclusion of his coronation, Joan rejoiced, "Gentle king, God's good pleasure, that I should lift the siege of Orleans, bring thee hither to this city of Reims to receive thy true and holy anointing, thus showing that thou art the true king to which the kingdom must belong, has now been fulfilled."

Joan now wished to liberate Paris as she had Orleans. The early signs were encouraging. Chateau-Thierry, Soissons, Creil, Pont-Saint-Maxence, Senlis, Beauvais, and Compiegne expelled the English garrisons and opened their doors to King Charles. The campaign was turning into a triumphal march, yet the king showed little interest in advancing on Paris. Unbeknownst to Joan, Charles was secretly negotiating a peace treaty with the treacherous Philip the Good.

 

Betrayed by the king

The king allowed Joan to advance as far as Saint Denis, where she was wounded in a failed attempt to take the St. Honore gate. Charles then ordered her to withdraw. To keep Joan busy and out of the way, the king next sent her to lay siege to some insignificant fortresses held by a rogue knight.

Joan of Arc MedalFinally, Charles ennobled Joan and presented her with a magnificent coat of arms, much as corporate executives give gold watches to employees whom they force to retire.

Joan, however, was not to be bribed into betraying the trust that God — and countless countrymen — had placed in her. Charles now sought to hand over Compiegne to Burgundy, but the village desired to remain French and cried out to the virgin from Loraine in its hour of need.

Joan came at once with a small band of brave souls and was captured by the Burgundians during a sortie on May 12, 1430. The English were ecstatic as Joan was delivered into their hands on November 21, 1430, for the royal ransom of 10,000 crowns and taken to Rouen under heavy guard.

 

Capture of the Maid at Compiegne

Christmas Eve found Joan in the hands of the Earl of Warwick, governor of Normandy. Joan, who once stood by her king in a magnificent cathedral, was now abandoned by him to a dank and dark cell. Her hands, once devoutly kissed by her countrymen, were bound in chains, as were her feet. At night, yet another chain fastened to a wooden beam kept her confined to bed.

The modest maiden was not afforded a moment's privacy. Vile men of the lowest sort watched her every movement. They assailed her virginal chastity with vulgar insults and might have violated her person save for the grace of God and the protection provided by her soldier's attire.

By far the worse deprivation that Joan suffered, however, was the denial of the consolations of Mass and Holy Communion.

  

Bishop or pawn?

Bedford was a crafty politician. He wished to discredit Joan in the eyes of her countrymen — not to transform her into a martyr. Bedford's plan was to have Joan condemned by an ecclesiastical court and thus turn the saint into a sorceress. To this end, he resorted to Bishop Pierre Cauchon, a traitorous Frenchman and counselor of King Henry.

Having been expelled from his own diocese held by the French, the bishop coveted the vacant see of Rouen, controlled by the English. Joan had braved enemy soldiers at the risk of her life, but now she faced a perfidious bishop with risks to her immortal soul. Her victories in Orleans and Patay were glorious indeed, but in Rouen, she would attain true grandeur.

Joan's trial began on January 9, 1431. Bishop Cauchon sought above all to provide his English patrons with a confession — however fraudulent and coerced — that Joan's voices were not real and that the angel who guided her was not God's champion, the archangel Michael, but His enemy, the fallen angel Lucifer.

Such a confession was crucial to Bedford's plot to discredit Charles, for were Joan to deny her voices, the English could spread the lie that Charles owed his crown to the devil, thus rendering it worthless.

Bedford and Bishop Cauchon had planned everything — except Joan's heroic resistance. They tried to trap her with duplicitous questions, to weary her spirits through unending examinations, but she parried every thrust, preceding each defense of truth with an assault on lies.

Thus Joan challenged Bishop Cauchon from the start of her mock trial, warning him:

"You say that you are my judge. Be very mindful of what you shall do, for I truly am an envoy of God and you are placing yourself in great danger. I warn you of this so that, if Our Lord punishes you, I will have done my duty of having cautioned you."

It was a warning the renegade bishop disregarded at grave peril to his own soul, as he desperately tried every possible trick, even sending a fake confessor into her cell.

The preliminary proceedings ended on March 17, 1431, with an act of 72 articles accusing Joan of bad faith. The trial resumed on March 27 with Joan affirming from the onset:

"I want to maintain the position I've always held during these proceedings. If I were judged and saw the executioner ready to light the fire, I would say and hold, even unto death, nothing different than I have so far."

 

"Let God be served first!"

Unable to force a confession, Bishop Cauchon now sought to catch Joan in a doctrinally damning error. She was, after all, a simple Christian who knew nothing about theology. She must stop claiming she was sent by God and submit the matter to the judgment of theologians who alone could discern the nature of her supposed voices.

Joan's death at the stakeThree times, Joan was warned about the difference between the Church Triumphant and the Church Militant, but when her tormentors demanded she submit, Joan replied, "Let God be served first!"

Cast as unwillingness to submit to the Church, Joan's resistance was the pretext needed to condemn her as a "heretic," and she was sentenced to death.

On May 24, 1431, she was brought to St. Ouen's cemetery. When Bishop Cauchon began to read her death sentence, Joan was overcome with the fear of dying, and she cried out that she would bow to the Church and recant.

The English were outraged at the thought that their prey might escape the stake, but their lackey Bishop Cauchon would not fail them. He had planned for this contingency and, while he modified Joan's sentence to life imprisonment, as the law demanded, he made certain the revised sentence could never be carried out.

Although the law also required that Joan be confined to an ecclesiastical prison, Bishop Cauchon returned her to the tower in Bouvreuil. Far worse, knowing the threats to her chastity that Joan had suffered there and the dangers to her person and virginity, the bishop decreed that Joan must no longer wear "man's clothing," thus denying her the protection of a military uniform.

Joan resumed feminine dress as Bishop Cauchon had ordered, but when guards threatened her with sexual assault, she was compelled to return to her soldierly garb — conveniently left in her cell. The trap was sprung. As Bishop Cauchon chortled to Warwick, "All is well, we caught her!"

Joan was condemned to death as a "relapsed heretic." On May 30, 1431, she was taken to Old Market Square, the place of her execution. Enveloped in flames, Joan cried out the name of Jesus six times before dying.

 

Out of the ashes

Warwick had Joan's noble heart, which had remained intact, dumped into the Seine along with her ashes lest they be venerated as relics, but her captors' dreams of victory disappeared as Joan's ashes did under the waters.

King Charles returned to the battlefield, capturing Normandy, Paris, Guyenne, and finally Bordeaux. Joan's sacrifice had instilled renewed courage.

When Charles entered Rouen, his first act was to convene an inquiry under papal writ to review Joan's trial. More than 100 surviving witnesses were questioned during the proceedings, which ended with her unjust condemnation being declared null and void.

In pages yellowed with age, the truth about this simple maid from Domremy, Joan's simple truth, shines forth. Like a beacon on the horizon in the darkest night, it reminds us that what we believed was lost can yet be found.

And I know that, deep in our countryside, where the real soul of France lies dormant, there remain those who believe with Joan that the King of Heaven is the true king of France.

 


This article is adapted from a lecture given in Paris on May 10, 2001, by Georges Bordonove, a distinguished historian and member of the Academie Française.

(Reprinted with permission from www.NOBILITY.org

Photo/Picture Attributions:
St Joan's Birthplace - Domrémy, France: Thiemo MD
Joan as a young girl hearing the voices: Paris
Signature of Joan: Gumruch
Joan at the siege of Orléans: Moroboshi
Jeanne d'Arc Medal:  Iron 45
Joan of Arc's death at the stake: Stilke Hermann Anton: Olpl

 

 

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DAILY QUOTE for December 14, 2017

Contemplation is nothing else than a secret, peaceful, and l...

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December 14

 

Contemplation is nothing else than a secret, peaceful, and loving 
infusion of God, which
if admitted,
will set the soul on fire with the Spirit of love.


St. John of the Cross


 BLASPHEMIES? Even at CHRISTMAS? NEVER!

SAINT OF THE DAY

St. John of the Cross

While assaulted with terrible temptations, he was also perse...

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St. John of the Cross

John’s father, Gonzalo de Yepes, was of a prominent family in Toledo, Spain. At his marriage to a poor girl, Catherine Alvarez, he was disinherited, and tried his hand at the silk-weaving trade. When Gonzalo died young, Catherine was left destitute with three young sons, John being the youngest.

Sent to a poor school in Medina, John found work at the city’s hospital, and there labored for seven years.

Already given to the practice of prayer, and to bodily austerities, he studied with the Jesuits. It was revealed to him that he was to serve God in an Order, the ancient perfection of which he would help to renew.

At twenty-one he took the Carmelite habit as John of St. Matthias. Though meaning to be a lay brother, he excelled in theology and was ordained in 1567. Early on, he obtained permission to follow the original Carmelite rule, without the mitigations allowed by various popes.

When St. Teresa of Avila, the great reformer of Carmel, met John in Medina-del-Campo, she knew he was the man for the reform of the male branch of the order.  Though John was small in stature, Teresa sensed his courage and commitment. With all the proper backing and credentials, she and John proceeded to found reformed branches of the Carmelite Order in Duruelo, Pastrana, Mancera and Alcalá. As a reformed Carmelite, John took the name of John of the Cross, indeed a prophetic title.

Around this time in his life, after tasting the joys of contemplation, John entered a period of aridity, scruples, and interior desolation. While assaulted with terrible temptations, he was also persecuted with calumnies. His book, Dark Night of the Soul is the child of these trials. But in the calm that followed the storm, St. John became a great mystic, writer, and is deemed one of the best poets that ever lived.

He later, along with St. Teresa, suffered much by confusions generated within their order, as a result of the reforms. He was imprisoned by his own brothers, as he was pressured to abandon the reform. He also suffered a severe beating at the hands of the Vicar General, which marks he bore until his death. After nine months of incarceration, he managed to escape, and fled to a reformed friary.

In 1579 he became head of the college at Baeza, and in 1581 was chosen prior at Granada. It is around this time that he began the writings on mystical theology that made him a Doctor of the Church.

But troubles within the order followed him. At one point he was stripped of all status and was sent to a remote friary. Another time there was a threat of expulsion of the holy reformer from the order. Ultimately, he died in a friary whose superior was hostile to him though, ultimately, repentant.

But John of the Cross had reached that level of sanctity where crosses were welcomed and gladly embraced in union with his crucified Lord. After suffering acutely for three months, he rendered his sterling soul to God on December 14, 1591.

WEEKLY STORY

The Miracle

On July 31, 2002 the Holy Father canonized Juan Diego, a hum...

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The Miracle

On July 31, 2002 the Holy Father canonized Juan Diego, a humble Indian to whom the Mother of God appeared in Mexico in 1531 and on whose cloak she left her image as Our Lady of Guadalupe. With this canonization, the Church has placed one more seal on the authenticity of the apparitions that changed the course of the history of Mexico and gave all the Americas a great patroness. Alongside our invoking the intercession of the Virgin of Guadalupe, we may now also say, “Saint Juan Diego, pray for us.” We dedicate the following article to him.

 

"Eagle that speaks"

In the year 1474, a boy was born in Aztec Mexico in the village of Cuautitlan, about seven miles from the capital of the Empire, then known as Tenochtitlan, today Mexico City.

He was named, Quauhtlatoatzin, or “Eagle that speaks.” His origin was humble and poor, yet this boy had been chosen by God to convey one of the greatest messages ever delivered to any nation.

Despite having reached the first degree of civilization with its cities and writing system, Mexico’s religion was satanically barbarous. In the words of one historian: “Nowhere else in human history has Satan so formalized and institutionalized his worship with so many of his own actual titles and symbols.” This was the old Empire of Mexico worshiping the “Lord of the Dark” and the “Stone Serpent,” requiring a quota of, at least, 50,000 human sacrifices each year.

When “Eagle that speaks” was thirteen years old, a sacrifice of no less than 80,000 victims was offered to inaugurate the greatest of all pyramids. As he witnessed these horrors, maybe the young boy sent up a prayer for the accomplishment of an old Mexican prophecy that, one day, a God who hated human sacrifice would reach Mexico. Oddly enough, this prophecy even specified the year and the date on which this God would arrive.

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Sails on the horizon

The year by the Christian calendar was 1519; the day was a Good Friday. Montezuma II, then Emperor, a superstitious man, was on high alert because that was also the date in the Mexican prophecy.

If any Aztecs scanned the horizons of Mexico on that Good Friday morning, they saw eleven ships bearing great white sails marked by a black cross heading for their shore.

Commanded by the thirty-three-year-old Spaniard Hernan Cortes, the fleet anchored. Soon, at the captain’s orders, a cross was planted in the sand.

Hernan Cortes and his six hundred warriors were descendants of men who had battled Muslims for eight hundred years to free their beloved Spain from the dominion of Islam. It took all that bravery seething in their veins to tackle the monumental task that lay ahead of them: namely, to snatch fifteen million people from the darkness and oppression of a satanic regime and introduce them to the sweet yoke of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Sinking his ships in a gesture of unparalleled bravery so as to spare his men the temptation to flee, Cortes set his face and his small army to conquer Mexico for the Faith. The next year saw a series of battles of biblical proportions, terrible defeats, renewed attacks, great feats of diplomacy resulting in solid alliances with certain native tribes, and daring coups. The odds were those of one against ten thousand but, like Emperor Constantine of old, Cortes launched his mission under the banner of the cross, telling his men: “Brothers and companions, let us follow the sign of the Cross with true faith and in it we shall conquer.”

At the end, Montezuma was dead, Mexico City had been conquered, a new government was established and churches began to rise in place of the old pagan temples.

Twelve Apostles

By this time, “Eagle that speaks” was a man entering middle age. He was married to a good woman and worked at farming, weaving mats, making furniture and anything else that would support them. He had an innate sweetness and compliant nature and a very humble disposition coupled with a quiet dignity.

One day, a few barefooted men in brown habits entered his village. They were Franciscans, a few from a group of twelve sent by Emperor Charles V of Spain for the evangelization of Mexico. These brave and zealous men had arrived in 1521, only two years after Cortes.

“Eagle that speaks” attentively listened to all they had to say and was soon bowing his head before one of them to receive the redeeming waters of Baptism. He was Christened Juan Diego. Baptized alongside him were his wife and uncle, who received the Christian names of Maria Lucia and Juan Bernardino. Juan Diego and his family were among the first natives to accept the Catholic Faith in Mexico. It was the year 1525.

After baptism, Juan Diego and Maria Lucia often continued to walk to Mass and instructions to the new church in Tlatelolco near Mexico City, about fifteen miles from their village.

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Tepeyac Hill

On December 9, 1531, which was then the feast of the Immaculate Conception, Juan Diego again made his way among cactus plants and mesquite bushes to the Church at Tlatelolco near Mexico City as was his custom. He now covered the distance alone since his good wife had died two years before. He must have missed her sorely for he had moved to Tepotzotlan to be with his uncle.

Nearing Mexico City, Juan Diego always passed a hill called Tepeyac. Its summit had been the site of a former temple to the pagan “Mother God.”

This morning as he neared Tepeyac, he suddenly stopped, hearing ineffable music that seemed to come from the top of the hill. Juan strained his bewildered eyes as he looked upward in hopes of discovering the source of so delightful a melody. It was then that he saw a dazzling cloud, emblazoned by a brilliant rainbow. Suddenly the melody ceased altogether and he heard the sweetest of all feminine voices calling his name in his native Nahuatl: “Juantzin…”

The voice used the diminutive of his name and it is impossible to convey what that meant as far as affectionate expression. Maybe, in our English it would be something like: “My dear little John.”

Without fear, Juan Diego clambered up the 130-foot-high summit and found himself facing a lady of dazzling beauty. Her garments shone like the sun and the light streaming from her person transformed all nature around her into a play of color as if seen through a stained glass window. Even the smallest leaves looked like sparkling emeralds and turquoises and the tiniest branches as if dipped in gold.

The lady motioned for Juan Diego to approach and as he did so, she spoke:

“Listen, my dearest little son, Juan, where are you going?”

“My lady, my queen, my little girl,” answered the happy Indian, “I am going to your little house in Mexico-Tlatelolco, to follow the things of God that are taught to us by those who are the images of Our Lord, our priests.”

“Know for certain, my little son,” said the lady, “that I am the perfect ever-virgin Holy Mary, Mother of the one true God…. I am your merciful mother, yours and of all the people who live united in this land, and of all mankind, of all those who love me, of those who cry to me, of those who seek me and of those who trust in me. Here I will hear their weeping, their sorrow and will remedy and nurse all their troubles, their miseries, their suffering.”

Then she went on to ask Juan Diego to go to the Bishop of Mexico, Don Juan de Zumarraga, to ask him to build her a house on the hill. She finished by thanking him for his trouble and promising to reward him abundantly.

After some difficulty, Juan Diego saw Bishop Zumarraga who listened to him attentively but did not take him very seriously. The bishop dismissed him kindly, promising to think about all he had said and to see him again.

Knowing he had not convinced the prelate, Juan Diego returned to Tepeyac Hill and found the Mother of God waiting for him. At her feet, he told her all about the interview and begged her to send someone of more renown, of a higher station in life, one who would be more readily believed.

Our Lady replied affectionately: “Listen, my little son, I have many servants, many messengers… but it is most necessary that you go personally to plead, and that, through you, my will be realized… So, go and tell him once more, that it is I, the ever-virgin Holy Mary, I who am the Mother of God, who sends you.”

On the next day, a Sunday, Juan Diego returned to the bishop’s house. After much difficulty with the servants, he was received. Juan Diego again delivered his message. Bishop Zumarraga questioned him closely and finished by asking for a sign.

“Señor Governador,” answered Juan Diego, “think about what the sign you ask for will be, because then I will go to ask for it of the Queen of Heaven who sent me.”

Once Juan Diego left, Bishop Zumarraga had him followed. But near Tepeyac, his followers lost sight of him. Quite upset, they returned to the Bishop convinced that the Indian was only making up stories. So it was decided that when he returned he would be punished.

Meanwhile Juan Diego was with the Virgin explaining to her the bishop’s request for a sign.

“That’s fine, my little son, return here tomorrow so you may take to the bishop the sign which he asks. With this he will believe you and no longer doubt this and no longer suspect you. And know well, my little son, that I will reward you all the trouble and fatigue that you have undertaken for me. Go now. I will be waiting for you tomorrow.”

Juan evades the Virgin

But the next day, Juan Diego did not return. His uncle had sickened and was dying, so Juan spent all of Monday with him. On Tuesday, before dawn, the good Indian made his way to Mexico City to call a priest to give his uncle the last rites. Passing Tepeyac hill, he thought of skirting it so the Lady would not see him and stop him.

As he did so, however, he saw her coming down the hill to meet him.

“What’s wrong, my little son? Where are you going?”

Bending low, Juan Diego greeted her and wished her a good morning as he explained his uncle’s predicament.

“Listen, and place it deeply in your heart, my littlest son,” spoke the Queen of Heaven. “What frightens and worries you is nothing. Do not let it disturb you. Do not fear this sickness, or any other sickness, or any sharp and hurtful thing. Am I not here, your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and my protection? Am I not the source of your joy? Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Do you need something more? Let nothing else worry you or disturb you; do not let your uncle’s illness upset you, because he will not die of it now. You may be certain that he is already well.”

Juan Diego, greatly comforted at these words, begged her, instead, to send him to the bishop with her sign. Then the Blessed Virgin told him to go to the top of the hill and gather the flowers he would find there.

Astonished at the beauty of the blooms miraculously growing in that spot, he gathered them all and returned to where the Lady awaited him. With feminine touch, she arranged them with her own hands inside his tilma, a cloak he wore to shield him from the cold, and bade him go to the bishop again.

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The miracle

The servants at the gates of the bishop’s residence would not listen to the poor Indian’s entreaties to see Don Zumarraga. Juan Diego, having no other recourse, waited patiently for a long time. Seeing him standing there holding something in his tilma, the doorkeeper and servants became curious and began to harass him so that he let them have a peek.

Great was their amazement at the sight of the exquisite flowers, their perfume, and the fact that this was not at all the season for these blooms. Three times they tried to grab a few out of Juan Diego’s tilma but, as they attempted to do so, the flowers became as if painted on the cloth, thus evading their grasp.

The servants then ran to tell the bishop what they had seen. Hearing this, Don Zumarraga realized that here was the sign he had requested and had Juan Diego brought in immediately.

As soon as he entered the bishop’s chamber, Juan Diego prostrated himself in his presence and related to him all that had happened and how he had found these beautiful flowers blooming out of season on top of the hill at the Lady’s command.

The humble Indian then held out his tilma and just as the flowers cascaded to the floor, before all present, O marvel, there appeared on the cloth an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary just as Juan Diego had seen her.

Weeping and falling to his knees, Don Zumarraga, asked the Mother of God’s forgiveness for not having immediately carried out her will.

Then, untying the tilma from around Juan Diego’s neck, Bishop Zumarraga had the miraculous icon placed in his private chapel. 

Guadalupenos

As Juan Diego returned home, he found his uncle cured and ecstatic with joy because the Lady of Tepeyac had also appeared to him. On delivering him of his illness, she had also revealed her name: “Coatlaxopeuh,” or “she who crushes the serpent.” It soon was to be understood as Guadalupe.

Meanwhile, as Bishop Zumarraga prayed fervently before the miraculous image of the resplendent Virgin of Guadalupe, his heart overflowed with gratitude as he remembered a prayer of some time before.

Two of the first Spanish governors appointed to Mexico were cruel to the Indians. Other Spaniards in authority also had more heart for gold than the welfare of the natives. He, Zumarraga, eventually had these men ousted but, meanwhile, the Indians threatened to revolt. The Indians also felt that they had lost their identity on accepting the religion of the Spaniards. Before, despite the horrors of paganism, they were Aztecs. But now, what were they?

In his affliction, Bishop Zumarraga had asked for a sign of the Mother of God that she would protect the new colony. He had asked for Castillian roses not native to Mexico. And Castillian roses were the very flowers that had cascaded onto the floor as Juan Diego opened his tilma! And then the Mystical Rose herself had left her wondrous portrait.

Our Lady, by appearing to an Indian in the turquoise robes of Aztec royalty with their own brown features, had sent the whole of Mexico the message: “I am your Queen, your Mother and you are my very own.” The natives now had a place and a name: the place was the very heart of God’s own Mother and the name, Guadalupenos.

A chapel was soon built on Tepeyac Hill, to be followed by a great basilica. Former Aztec Indians began to flock there by the thousands with the result that in seventeen years the number of baptisms had catapulted from two hundred thousand to nine million.

Juan Diego spent the rest of his life by his beloved Virgin. He died in 1548 venerated by his people for his untiring service and solid virtue. To this day the greatest blessing of Mexican parents on their children is: “May God make you like Juan Diego.”

By A. F. Phillips

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On July 31, 2002 the Holy Father canonized Juan Diego, a humble Indian to whom the Mother of God appeared in Mexico in 1531 

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