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History and Meaning of the Apparition

Author: Manuela Testoni
Translated and adapted by: Jordan Aumann, OP
Copyright: 2001
First Printed: 09-13-2001

The historical figure of Juan Diego, the chosen ambassador of the Blessed Virgin, has been neglected for far too long. Besides bringing the reader up-to-date regarding studies, ancient and new, made about Juan Diego, including all the historical testimony regarding the apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe from the beginning of the 16th century to today, the biographical material found in this book reveals why, when Pope John Paul II conferred the title of Blessed on Juan Diego in May 1990, he proclaimed him patron, not only of the indigenous people of Mexico but of the poor of the world everywhere. “Information on Juan Diego in this book is far more detailed than usually available in discussions of the apparitions, exploring his personal faith and humanity, and bringing the events to a far more human and much less mythical level. The book’s Conclusion offers well-drawn applications to evangelization today, while citing the mystery of the Church’s unique gift: its ability to bring Christ to all cultures.” --Crux of the News

About the Author: Manuela Testoni, born in Milan, Italy in 1957, entered the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Marcellina in 1979. Having obtained a laureate in modern letters at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart and a diploma in religious science, she taught for several years in various Italian colleges. Since 1993 she has lived in Mexico where she came into contact with the fascinating events of Guadalupe which she then made the object of further specific studies. This book is the fruit of that scholarly undertaking.

Book: 174 pages
ISBN-10: 0-8189-0897-1
ISBN-13: 978-0-8189-0897-2
Prod. Code: 0897-1


The author has done excellent scholarly work on the apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the "Queen of the Americas." I am particularly impressed by the depth of her knowledge of historical documents on the subject. It is also of special importance that Manuela Testoni presented views of not only those who believe that the apparition was a historical fact, but those who do not as well. I have only reservations about the author's repeated argument that the truth behind the apparitions can only be attained by "objective" historical findings. Being an experimental scientist, I do not agree that any branch of a science, especially a historical one, can deliver objective truth. Whether we like it or not, an inescapable conclusion is that scientific ideas are constructs of our minds, and that they become objective reality after we all agree on them. I am fully aware that this kind of philosophy may lead to a very dangerous concept of relativism, but only when we reject the notion that Truth is attainable only by Revelation.
          The concept of Absolute Truth is particularly relevant to the proper understanding of the book under review. My impression is that Manuela Testoni is torn between the will to become a scholar accepted and recognized by her peers, and a believer in Almighty God. As to the turth behind the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe, this dichotomy led the author to assume a middle ground position. I understand that she might have been impressed by the well documented fact that only 7 percent of leading American scientists (members of the US National Academy of Science) believe in a personal God. Yet none of them has ever disclosed what it is that they know, that the believer scientists do not. It is therefore obvious, and it is unfortunate that it is not for Manuela Testoni, that "truth" delivered by scientists is determined by their personal system of belief. Thus, is the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe real or not?
          The answer to this question can, in my opinion, be only found outside of a scientific realm. First of all, as accurately described by the author, unknown type of pigments, remarkable and unprecedented resistance of the image to fading and destruction by time and various noxious agents, should be sufficient proof for the supernatural origin of the image of Our Lady on the tilma. In addition, and perhaps even more importantly, we have to remember that amongst all the approved apparitions of Our Lady, in no case has a permanent material record ever been made for humanity. The only other instance in which there is a similar inexplicable image of Our Lady is that in Czestochowa, known otherwise as the Black Madonna, that appeared in Poland over a half century ago. Although this image was not accompanied by a physical apparition of Our Lady, it is associated with innumerable miraculous healings, conversions and signs of her love and protection of Poland. Despite the lack of any historical accounts on the origin of the Black Madonna image and the means by which it arrived at Jasna Gora, its presence is considered by the believers as a supernatural sign from God.
          However, for those who are still looking for a scientific proof of the authenticity of the apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe I bring to their attention a very important fact only briefly mentioned by Manuela Testoni in a description of a picture of Juan Diego presenting to the bishop flowers that he gathered at the command of the Madonna of Tepeyac. The author says: "The scene, painted by Manuel Cabrera towards the middle of the 1700's is extraordinarily similar to that reflected in the eyes of the image, discovered by means of electronic instruments at the beginning of the 1980's." It is unfortunate that the author did not devote more space for this so important phenomenon described in detail in the book by Francis Johnston that is, curiously enough, listed in the Bibliography of Testoni's book under the heading "English-language Studies" (p.110). According to Johnston, starting from as early as 1929 a series of observations were made showing a scene reflected in the eyes of Our Lady depicting Juan Diego presenting roses to Bishop Zumarraga. In 1956 Dr. Lavoignet undertook examination of these reflections using an ophtalmoscope and concluded that Our Lady's eyes on the tilma behaved as if they were alive. Dr. C. Wahlig and his wife Isabelle, an optician, continued scientific investigations of the reflections in the eyes of the image on the tilma and concluded that "the sacred image is truly a portrait from heaven." It remains a mystery for me why Manuela Testoni decided not to include these so important findings in her book. Should she do it, it might bring her, and other skeptical readers, from the position of uncertainty to that of a firm believer that the event of 1531 at Tepeyac was a real albeit supernatural phenomenon. --Boguslaw Lipinski, Ph.D., Harvard School of Medicine, Boston, MA in Fellowship of Catholic Scholars, Spring 2005


"This is an excellent summary of what we now know historically about the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the man to whom it was revealed, Blessed Juan Diego. The controversy over the historical authenticity of the apparition is well reviewed, with due emphasis on the most important source document, the Nican Mopohua, the earliest copy of which was discovered by Jesuit Father F.J. Burrus in the New York Public Library. Also stressed is the important newly discovered document, Codex "1548", with sketches of Blessed Juan Diego and the Virgin. This is the subject of a separate appendix. After centuries of debate, the historical authenticity of this world-famous apparition, beloved of Catholics in Mexico, may now be said without hesitation to be solidly proven. This fine book puts into perspective the sometimes rather raucous dispute over how poor Blessed [Saint as of July 31, 2002] Juan Diego was. It is well illustrated and belongs in every Catholic library." --Warren H. Carroll in Catholic Library World, June 2002


"Given the busyness of the month of December, with the priority of Advent and the preparations for Christmas, it is easy and even understandable to slight the celebration of the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in non-Hispanic parishes. Yet there is much to be gained by greater attention to this special feast honoring the Patroness of the Americas. Our Lady of Guadalupe: History and Meaning of the Apparitions is an excellent book by a Mexican sister, Manuela Testoni. Last December, it helped me to have a much better appreciation for the historical and cultural context of the apparitions of the Blessed Mother to Juan Diego in 1531, and provided a number of leads for preaching on the feastday. It also encouraged me to tell her story to good effect on the following Sunday. As the author explains, barely ten years after the arrival of the Spaniards and the fall of the Aztec Empire, God came very close to an oppressed people through his mother. Two races began to be fused with brilliant images and maternal tenderness. The universal mother began to bring conqueror and conquered into one People of God. Sister Testoni calls this contact 'evangelization by means of words, symbols and miracles.' Our Lady of Guadalupe incontrovertibly is at the very center of Mexican popular religiosity. The descriptions of the crowds of people and their affection, beauty and devotion on December 12 at her Basilica in Mexico City proves this. Another value of the book is the attention to St. Juan Diego. Already known before the apparitions as a good man hungry for more religious knowledge, later on he lived for 17 years in a hut near the shrine, serving as the sacristan, praying and doing penance. He edified visitors by his humility and helped to introduce them to the Lady who came to meet him. Sister Testoni's book is a serious work that examines the reactions of the clergy through the written sources, and records the various opinions about the famous tilma, the article of clothing that is imprinted in a miraculous way with the image of the Lady. This image has been reproduced in thousands of churches, millions of homes and is a part of everyday life in Mexican art and neighborhoods. Yet we have to admit that many Anglos actually have little knowledge of our Blessed Mother under her title of Our Lady of Guadalupe. This part of our American Church's history and spirituality needs more attention from the pulpit, especially in displaying a banner or painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and telling the story of her apparitions to Juan Diego. Since more and more Mexican and Latin American people are living and working in almost every part of our country, more of us priests need to increase our knowledge and grow in our love for Our Lady of Guadalupe, for their benefit, and ours as well." --Msgr. William Belford in "Priestalk," The Priest, April 2002


"Our Lady of Guadalupe Revisited: A well-written, carefully researched new book will be an important addition to parish libraries and any collection of Marian literature. Title: Our Lady of Guadalupe (History and Meaning of the Apparitions), by Manuela Testoni (Mexican-based, Italian-born educator and member of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Marcellina), translated and adapted by Fr. Jordan Aumann, OP. The author offers 4 chapters: "Historical Context, Guadalupe, Juan Diego, and Continuity of the Tradition" -- each providing content written in an objective tone while based in faith, always in touch with the history and culture of the times, as well as of today. Among its contributions: Information on Juan Diego is far more detailed than usually available in discussions of the apparitions, exploring his personal faith and humanity, and bringing the events to a far more human and much less mythical level. The book's "Conclusion" offers well-drawn applications to evangelization today, while citing the mystery of the Church's unique gifts, its ability to bring Christ to all cultures. Also provided: Appendices (including the very earliest accounts of the Apparitions), Bibliography, Glossary, and Index. With color photos and maps." --Crux of the News, December 17, 2001


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