The True Story of Juan Diego & the Conversion of Mexico — Guest Post by Ianto Watt

The True Story of Juan Diego & the Conversion of Mexico — Guest Post by Ianto Watt

I have a problem. Two, actually. The first is numeric. The second, chronologic. Both relate to an epochal series of historic events occurring nearly 500 years ago, in Mesoamerica. My problems are in understanding the usual narrative.

The story of the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe to the Nahuat Indian named Juan Diego. The result of the apparition reportedly directly led to the conversion of about 10 million of Juan’s fellow Mesoamericans. Conversions that resulted not from war or coercion, but from a joyous embrace of the message conveyed visually by the image left on the tilma of Juan Diego. A garment-canvas that has lasted, inexplicably, until today. Just as the conversions have lasted until today.

Am I questioning either the image, or the conversions? No, not at all. I’m just confounded by the numbers and the timing. Something else is missing. Or it was, until I just finished reading Guadalupe and the Flower World Prophecy.

Let me set up the problems, as I see them. First, context. Cortez arrives in 1519. By 1521 he has defeated Montezuma’s 20-million strong empire with only 500 men (and some Indian allies). That in itself is an imponderable.

From 1521 to 1531, the 60 monks sent to New Spain have been banging their heads against the wall of Indian indifference to their message. Not surprising, given again the numerical disparities between the two sides. Think of the logistics needed for the effort.

First, you must build your own base, physically. Then you must learn the language. Only then can you begin the real task of persuasion. But the harvest was poor. Very few, apart from Juan Diego and a few others, accepted the Christian message. Again, not surprising. Especially since, even if the Spaniards had wanted to use coercive measures to achieve numeric goals, they hadn’t the manpower to do it.

Then the image miraculously appears. And the conversions gushed forth. That’s the story we know. Ten million in just a few years. Over half the population of Mesoamerica (after the disease exchange between Spanish and Indian worlds).

Here’s my problem: very few of those 10 million converts had ever seen the miraculous image on Juan Diego’s cloak. The conversions didn’t happen by seeing something. They happened by hearing something. And it wasn’t the Gospel (as spoken by the monks) they heard. No, it was the Gospel as told in their own poem-songs they heard. A story woven into Mesoamerican culture for nearly 1,000 years BC (Before Cortez, that is). They’d heard this story before.

What was this story they’d heard? Or rather, heard again? It was the story of the mythic Singer, in his Flower Song, sung by the Nahua for many centuries before. A story of wanting to find a way into the Flower World Paradise. The place of the after-world. A place of indescribable Beauty, filled with the most gorgeous, iridescent and aromatic flowers, and filled with equally beautiful birds who sang the most incredible symphony that was echoed by the Flower Mountain, where all of this was to be found. A place of everlasting peace and contentment. The Singer of the Flower Song was in quest of this place.

The Singer wanted to find this place, spoken of for a millennium in the other Flower Songs of the Mesoamerican world. And he wanted it not just for himself. He wanted to gather these Beautiful (and thus obviously Good) flowers so that he could bring them back down the Flower Mountain, and give them to the Princes and the people, so that they too could share in this Paradise. But even as he thinks he has found the Flower Mountain, led by the radiant Hummingbird, before he can gather the flowers, the vision vanishes. And the Singer is crushed, as he realizes that it’s not that the Mountain and its redemptive flowers don’t exist. No, the problem is that the Singer is unworthy of this quest. He has failed, and wailed his lament.

Here’s the first part of my problem. The image on Juan Diego’s tilma couldn’t be the source of the incredible gusher of conversions directly, because Indians who hadn’t seen it were coming from hundreds of miles away to plead for Baptism, overwhelming the Monks. The Monks hadn’t gone out seeking the Indians, it happened the other way around—without seeing the tilma! And quite often, without hearing the Gospel preached by the Monks. But the Indians had heard something, that’s for sure. They’d heard the story of their own Flower Song, sung by the New Singer. Juan Diego. But they didn’t hear it from his own lips.

No, they heard it in the New Flower Songs. The songs that recounted Juan Diego’s own words when he was swept into the Flower World in his encounter with Our Lady, on Tepeyac Hill. The New Flower Mountain. Where Juan Diego finds, as Our Lady (the true Hummingbird) has told him he will find them. And that he is to gather these radiant, glistening and gorgeous aromatic flowers (Castilian roses, blooming in December, in Mexico?). And then take them to the Bishop (Prince) and the people, so that they will know true Beauty (and thus Goodness and Truth) because now they can become worthy of entering the Flower World paradise. Through the Baptism and sacraments brought by the Monks. Thus, Juan Diego fulfils the failed quest of the mythic Indian Singer. And thus bring Hope to the enslaved people of the New World.

The people responded in droves. They didn’t need to see the image, for they already believed when they heard the news of the Flower Song of Juan Diego’s quest. Songs brought to all parts of the Empire, on the runner-paths that connected all parts of the Mesoamerican Empire. Keep in mind, Montezuma was informed of Cortez’ landing (near Vera Cruz, on the Gulf) within two days’ time. The Empire was vast, but efficient. And powerful. And rich. But spiritually, it was impoverished. Why? Because the ruling elites had twisted the pagan religion of the Mayan world to believe that the little people were not worthy to enter the Flower World. Unless they died in battle (serving the rulers) or as temple sacrifices (serving the Aztec priesthood).

Pretty much par for the course among pagan religions. They’re all just McMoloch franchise outlets. Same great menu—sacrificial BBQ, with different local sauces. Same great price—everlasting death. But now there was a New Song racing along the runner-paths, telling everyone that the New Singer, who has embraced the Spaniard’s God of Near and Far (as the Nahua called Him in their Flower Songs), had found the way to the Flower Mountain. And he had brought back the precious Flowers that would enrapture all who see and possess them, now and forever.

This was the story that resulted in thousands upon thousands of Indians pouring out of their hinterlands, from many hundreds of miles around Mexico City. They came begging for what they would not accept for free during the prior 10 years of Spanish effort. The Spanish descriptions of this outpouring of pious demand is overwhelming, akin to drinking from a firehose.

Why have we not heard of this before? Why has it all been attributed to the image on the tilma of Juan Diego? Simple. The image was meant for the rest us, over the intervening 500 years. But the Flower Song was meant for the people of Mesoamerica at that time. Truth be told, the existence of the Flower Song tradition was only recently discovered by us ‘moderns’ in 1992 by anthropologist Jane Hill. She found traces of all this among the legends of the Indians of the American Southwest. She then further discovered its widespread existence throughout Mesoamerica, where it originated in ancient time.

We haven’t heard any of this. Why? Because we can’t speak Nahuatl. Because the Nahuat culture was artistically oriented, with meaning expressed aurally in song, and dance. Not expressed textually, or scholastically. The Spanish and Indian ships had passed each other in the decade-long night of cultural difference, neither side realizing they both wanted (and sang of) the same thing.

We never knew the first Singer, so we couldn’t recognize when he sang again. But this time, sung not as a myth but rather as truth, by a Baptised Indian. One who was deemed worthy to enter the Flower World Paradise and bring back the good news to his people. And yes, surely, the runner-paths were ablaze with the additional news of a magical image on the New Singer’s cloak. But that fact simply amplified the real news—that a true Indian, who knew the original Flower Songs (and what they meant, theologically, to the Indian world) found his way to Flower Mountain, through Baptism. It was, as Casey said, Déjà vu, all over again.

Listen to Juan Diego’s own words, as he does what Our Lady commands him to do, as he rises above the crest of Tepeyac Hill, to the new Flower Mountain. Here Juan gazes upon the true glistening and iridescent Flower World, hears the beautiful avian symphony, and breathes in the paradisal scent of those heavenly Flowers;

Where am I? Where do I find myself? Is it possible I am in the place our ancient ancestors, our grandparents, told about, in the land of the Flowers, in the land of corn, of our flesh, of our sustenance, possibly in the land of Heaven? By any chance am I worthy of what I hear?

Well then, Amigos, what are the lessons here? Pretty simple to me. First, are we looking for the Flower Mountain? Second, are we worthy of it?


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  1. Hagfish Bagpipe

    Looking for the Flower Mountain? No sir, looking for Doom, not finding much in your interesting tale. Are we worthy of it? No sir, we are bloated retards worthy of Doom. We need a miracle and here you are with tales of miracles. Two points for a timely message. Does this mean you’ve exhausted Russia and are now going off on a tear about Mexico? That could be interesting.

  2. McChuck

    Man does not life by bread alone. Hope exists to outshine Doom and make life worth living.

  3. When you get the time, you should also look into the British Druids. From what little I know of their religion, they were apparently also set up to see the fulfilment of their religious quest in Jesus Christ. In fact, this theme repeats itself several times over. I think the people in South America also had a religion that was set up to see a fulfilment in Christ. You might even postulate that God pulled the threads of religion and prophecy such that Christ isn’t just a fulfilment of Jewish prophecies, but a fulfilment of all sorts of religions. He’s certainly in a position to do so.

  4. Cary D Cotterman

    Mythology is fun.

  5. Gunther Heinz

    The US Army converted indians using the 45/70 cartridge.

  6. Patrick Matthews

    I believe all “non-decadent” religions of the world culminate in Christ. The religion of the Garden took root and flowered in Egypt, then spread far and wide. (There may have been other vectors too.). Dr. Alice Linsley is doing amazing work on this subject, check it out at her blog Just Genesis:
    She has a new book with comprehensive information as well.

  7. imnobody00

    I live in Central America and I know the great veneration that our Lady of Guadalupe receives. I enjoyed a lot your post. Thank you for sharing.

  8. Fr. John Rickert

    See also “A Maya Grammar” by Alfred Tozzer. The ancient Mayan prophecy of Chilam Bilal said that the heralds of the true God would be bearded white men bringing the cross.

  9. OK, nice hypothesis, so how did they do the Philippines? Practically 80% Roman Catholic and good chunk of the remainder are some kind of Christian. By and large they take it pretty seriously too, I’ve been in shopping malls where you have to stop what you’re doing and listen to prayer.

  10. C-Marie

    I just read EWTN’s writing on Our Lady of Guadalupe and came away with the same sense that Mother Mary would not ask that a Church be built in her honor, but perhaps a church be built in her Son’s honor, nor would she tout herself as “perfect”, but that God’s mighty graces filled her. She was a humble Jewish maiden prior to becoming the mother of God’s only begotten Son. Once she was His mother at Jesus’ conception, Mother Mary became the humble mother of Christ and the humble wife of Saint Joseph at God’s behest, at His command.

    Also, Mother Mary, herself, she would speak of God our Father and of His loving us, and of His great desire for all of us to receive His fathering of us: and of us each going to Him in His Son’s Name, Jesus Christ, with our petitions just as Jesus said for us to do during the Last Supper in the Gospel of John 16: 25-28 as:

    “25 These things I have spoken to you in proverbs. The hour cometh when I will no longer speak to you in proverbs, but will shew you plainly of the Father. 26 In that day, you shall ask in my name: and I say not to you that I will ask the Father for you. 27 For the Father himself loveth you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came out from God. 28 I came forth from the Father and am come into the world: again I leave the world and I go to the Father.” John 16: 25-28.

    God bless, C-Marie

  11. C-Marie

    And, Mother Mary’s Magnificat from Luke Chapter One in which she gives all praise and honor and glory to God and none to herself.

    44 For behold as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.

    45 And blessed art thou that hast believed, because those things shall be accomplished that were spoken to thee by the Lord.

    46 And Mary said: My soul doth magnify the Lord.

    47 And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

    48 Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid; for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

    49 Because he that is mighty, hath done great things to me; and holy is his name.

    50 And his mercy is from generation unto generations, to them that fear him.

    51 He hath shewed might in his arm: he hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.

    52 He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble.

    53 He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.

    54 He hath received Israel his servant, being mindful of his mercy:

    55 As he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed for ever.

    56 And Mary abode with her about three months; and she returned to her own house. ” Luke 1: 44-56.

    God bless, C-Marie

  12. re: “Mythology is fun.”

    Perhaps it is Children’s stories, like Grimm’s Fairy Tales to which you refer? Juan Diego was real … you should test those waters; I would also recommend looking into “The Miracle of the Sun” which happened in 1917 … work events back from that with the three children to 1916 in Fatima, Portugal.

  13. Phileas_Frogg

    The Lord hath accounted for and prepared all nations to receive His Gospel, though it is beyond our reckoning to see clearly (almost as if through a glass darkly, no?)

    I had no knowledge of this story, but it makes perfect sense that God had prepared the Nahuat with the tale of the Flower Song, as he prepared my own Germanic ancestors with the tale of Odin hanging himself from Yggdrasil. I wouldn’t be surprised to find an America equivalent of the defeat of the Serpent by the Son of the All-Father (Ra defeating Apophis, Zeus conquering Typhon, Rama defeating Ravana in party by firing poison snakes back at the Rakshasa, etc)

    I wonder at the character of the various peoples and the sort of story God used to prepare them for the message of His Son; I firmly believe such stories reveal the character of these people, and their destinies, God appeals to us in the language we understand after all.

  14. C-Marie

    Actually. God prepared each person to receive His Son and His message, by placing in each of our hearts the desire to worship. His Son, Jesus Christ, alone, fully fulfills that desire.

    God bless C-Marie

  15. Phileas_Frogg


    Oh, I agree whole-heartedly, but I also believe that God has done so in history as well, unto entire peoples and nations. I don’t doubt for a moment that God has taken every measure to ensure our salvation for, in the words of Venerable Fulton Sheen, “It is not man who is on the quest for God. It is God who is on the quest for Man.”

    That the desire for God rests in our hearts personally is certainly so; that the anticipation of that desire’s fulfillment has been instructed within the prophecies and tales of the nations is, in my experience and estimation, also certain.

    Pax vobiscum Sister,

  16. C-Marie

    Hi, By “each person”, I did and do mean, every person who has ever been created. Just this Sunday at Mass,
    an experience Cyrus had with God …. so, every person …. how He is responded to, is each person’s decision.
    God bless, C-Marie

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