Fact or fiction? 9 Popular Myths about Our Lady of Guadalupe

The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, Mexico. | David Ramos/CNA

In the 500 years since Our Lady of Guadalupe — whose feast the Church celebrates Dec. 12 — appeared, the image of Our Lady has become the subject of several popular myths and legends, especially in Mexico, where she appeared. 

Father Eduardo Chávez was the postulator for Juan Diego’s canonization and is a renowned expert on the apparitions. He is also director of the Institute for Guadalupan Studies.

Speaking to ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, Chávez separated fact from fiction.

Is it true the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe has the same temperature as a human body?

“It’s logical that marble, stone, wood, and fabric have different temperatures,” he said. The image of the Virgin is formed on “a cloth made out of plant fibers, an agave called ‘ixotl.’ And it doesn’t have a temperature like a human being would have,” he said, dispelling a common rumor about the image.


Was the image painted or fabricated by human hands?

Chávez said the idea that the image was painted by human hands is “simply and plainly impossible,” because among other important details, St. Juan Diego’s tilma “doesn’t even have any brushstrokes on it.”

“It’s imprinted on there, it’s a print as such,” he noted.

Chávez also pointed to the miraculous nature of the image, asking: “How is it possible for it to have lasted despite the fact that acid was accidentally spilled on it in 1784? How is it possible that after a bomb was set off underneath it on Nov. 14, 1921, that nothing happened to it?”

Do the Virgin’s eyes move?

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The priest said that on social media “people are saying that if you shine a strong light, the eyes dilate and things like that. No such thing. They don’t move, they don’t dilate,” he said.

Chávez explained that “they’re misinterpreting something that an ophthalmologist, Enrique Graue, noted, namely that the eyes seem to be human, in the sense that they look like a photo of a human being, with the depth and reflection of a human eye.”

Does the Virgin of Guadalupe ‘float’ on the mantilla?

Chávez was blunt: “The image doesn’t float”; rather “it’s imprinted on the tilma.”

“Nor are there two or three images placed one on top of the other,” as some claim, he explained.


Is Our Lady of Guadalupe a Catholic adaptation of an Aztec goddess?

Some scholars have promoted the idea that the Virgin of Guadalupe is a Catholic adaptation of the Aztec goddess Coatlicue Tonantzin, who is a combination of a woman and serpents, and a symbol of fertility.

However, Chávez said that Our Lady of Guadalupe is not an adaptation of a goddess and has nothing to do with idolatry.

“She’s not called Coatlicue, which would be idolatry; she’s called Tonantzin, which isn’t any kind of idolatry but means ‘our venerable mother’ and, as the Indigenous affectionately say, ‘our dearest mother.’ It’s a title, it’s not idolatry.”

“The missionaries of the 16th century would never have made up a costume for a pagan goddess. That’s completely false,” he underscored.

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Is there music hidden in the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe?

Based on mathematical analysis, Mexican accountant Fernando Ojeda discovered music embedded in the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Chávez explained.

Viewing the flowers and stars in the image of the Virgin as if they were musical notes, Ojeda outlined and found a melody.

Chávez said that analysts repeated the experiment with copies of paintings from the 16th and 17th centuries, “where stars and flowers are placed at the painter’s discretion,” but the only thing they produced was “noise, not harmony.”

“Only with the original does a perfect harmony emerge, with a symphonic arrangement. It is true — music comes forth from the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe,” he affirmed.

Was there a light miraculously projected on the womb of the Virgin of Guadalupe?

For Chávez, “it’s hard to know if it was a miracle at that time because we don’t know if it was a ray of light that happened to hit upon one of the nearby metal objects, projecting a light on her womb.” 

“What we do know is that she is the defender of life,” he said, pointing to “the simple fact that she has a dark ribbon over the womb, which means she’s pregnant and that therefore Jesus Christ Our Lord is in her immaculate womb.”

Can words be seen on the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe?

Responding to those who say they can see the word “peace” on the image, Chávez said “I don’t see that anywhere.”

“She communicates with glyphs as the Indigenous did. And when it was by words she spoke in Náhuatl through Juan Diego who later translated,” he said. 

Did Bishop Juan de Zumárraga mistreat Juan Diego?

“The key, everything turns on the bishop,” Chávez said, since “although the Virgin of Guadalupe chose a layman, spoke to a layman, expressed her message to a layman,” the shrine she asked for “was not going to be done without the authority of the bishop.”

Chávez said it was instead the servants who treated St. Juan Diego badly when he went to see Bishop  Juan de Zumárraga. “It was the servants who left him outside,” he said.

The Franciscan bishop “never treated him badly, on the contrary; he treated him with affection” as well as with “a lot of respect and much dignity,” Chávez said.

This story was originally published by ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish-language news partner, and published on CNA on Dec. 12, 2019. It was updated Dec. 11, 2023.