Juan Diego is a name that resonates with millions of Catholics around the world, especially in Latin America. He is the first indigenous saint of the Americas, and the recipient of the miraculous apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe in 1531. But how did Juan Diego die, and what was his cause of death? In this article, we will explore the life and legacy of this humble and devout man, and the impact of his visions on the history and culture of Mexico and beyond.
Early Life and Conversion
Juan Diego was born in 1474 in Cuauhtitlan, a town in the Aztec Empire (now part of Mexico). His original name was Cuauhtlatoatzin, which means “the talking eagle” in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs. He belonged to the Chichimec people, a nomadic and warlike group that had settled in the central valley of Mexico. He was married to a woman named María Lucía, and they lived a simple and peaceful life as farmers and weavers.
Juan Diego and his wife were among the first to be baptized by the Franciscan missionaries who arrived in Mexico in 1524, after the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs. They adopted the Christian names of Juan Diego and María Lucía, and became devout Catholics. They attended Mass regularly, learned the catechism, and practiced charity and prayer. They also endured persecution and discrimination from some of the Spanish colonizers and the native nobility, who looked down on them as inferior and ignorant.
Juan Diego’s wife died in 1529, leaving him a widower. He moved to Tolpetlac, a nearby village, where he lived with his uncle, Juan Bernardino, who was also a Christian convert. Juan Diego continued to work as a farmer and a weaver, and to attend Mass and catechism classes in the Franciscan church of Tlatelolco, about 15 kilometers (9 miles) away from his home.
The Apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe
On December 9, 1531, Juan Diego was on his way to Tlatelolco for his usual morning Mass, when he heard a sweet and melodious voice calling his name from the top of a hill called Tepeyac. He climbed the hill and saw a beautiful lady, dressed in a blue mantle with stars, and a rose-colored tunic. She spoke to him in Nahuatl, and identified herself as the Virgin Mary, the mother of God. She asked him to go to the bishop of Mexico, Juan de Zumárraga, and tell him to build a church on the hill, where she would show her love and compassion to all the people.
Juan Diego obeyed the lady and went to see the bishop, but he was not received well. The bishop doubted his story and asked for a sign to prove the authenticity of the apparition. Juan Diego returned to the hill and reported the bishop’s request to the lady, who told him to come back the next day, and she would give him the sign.
The next day, December 10, Juan Diego was delayed by his uncle, who had fallen ill and was dying. He asked Juan Diego to go to Tlatelolco and fetch a priest to hear his confession and give him the last rites. Juan Diego agreed, but decided to take a different route to avoid the hill and the lady, fearing that she would detain him and prevent him from fulfilling his duty to his uncle.
However, the lady appeared to him again, this time on a lower slope of the hill, and asked him where he was going. Juan Diego explained his situation, and the lady assured him that his uncle was already cured, and that he should not worry about anything. She told him to go to the top of the hill and pick some roses that he would find there, and bring them to her. Juan Diego was surprised, since it was winter and roses did not grow in that season or place. He obeyed, and found a profusion of fragrant and beautiful roses on the barren hill. He gathered them in his tilma, a coarse cloak made of cactus fibers, and brought them to the lady. She arranged them with her own hands, and told him to take them to the bishop as the sign he had asked for. She also told him not to open his tilma or show the roses to anyone else until he reached the bishop’s presence.
Juan Diego went to the bishop’s palace, and after waiting for a long time, he was finally admitted. He told the bishop what the lady had said, and opened his tilma to show him the roses. To his and everyone else’s astonishment, not only did the roses fall to the floor, but also a miraculous image of the lady appeared on the tilma, exactly as Juan Diego had seen her on the hill. The bishop and his assistants fell to their knees and venerated the image, and the bishop asked Juan Diego to tell him everything about the apparitions. He also asked him to show him where the lady wanted the church to be built, and he agreed to do so.
The next day, December 12, Juan Diego took the bishop and some of his companions to the hill of Tepeyac, and showed them the spot where the lady had appeared. He also visited his uncle, Juan Bernardino, who confirmed that he had been healed by the lady, who had also appeared to him and told him her name: “the ever-virgin Holy Mary of Guadalupe”. The bishop ordered the construction of a chapel on the hill, and entrusted Juan Diego with the care of the image and the devotion of the people. He also gave him a new name: Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, meaning “the talking eagle who is the servant of the one who is the mother of God”.
The Legacy of Juan Diego
Juan Diego lived for 17 more years after the apparitions, until his death in 1548. He spent his days in prayer and penance, and in attending to the pilgrims who came to venerate the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. He also witnessed many miracles and conversions that took place through the intercession of the lady. He was buried in the chapel that he had helped to build, and his tilma with the image was preserved and displayed there.
The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe became a powerful symbol of the faith and identity of the Mexican people, and a catalyst for the evangelization of the Americas. Millions of indigenous people embraced Christianity, seeing in the image a sign of God’s love and respect for their culture and dignity. The image also inspired many movements for social justice and liberation, such as the Mexican War of Independence and the Cristero War. The image is revered by Catholics and non-Catholics alike, and is considered a national treasure and a patroness of Mexico and the Americas.
Juan Diego was beatified in 1990 and canonized in 2002 by Pope John Paul II, who traveled to Mexico City to preside over the ceremonies. He is the first Catholic saint indigenous to the Americas, and a model of humility, obedience, and trust in God. His feast day is celebrated on December 9, the anniversary of the first apparition. His tilma with the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is still intact and displayed in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which is one of the world’s major Christian pilgrimage destinations, receiving 22 million visitors in 2010.
Juan Diego cause of death is not known for certain, but it is likely that he died of natural causes, at the age of 73 or 74. He was a simple and devout man, who received a great grace from God: to see and hear the Virgin Mary, and to be the instrument of her message and miracle. He faithfully fulfilled his mission, and left a lasting legacy for the Church and the world. He is a saint for our times, who reminds us of the power of God’s love and the dignity of every human person.