The Aztecs had 18 festivities each year, one for each Aztec month, and in those festivities sacrifices were made. Each god required a different kind of victim: young women were drowned for Xilonen; children were sacrificed to Tláloc; Nahuatl-speaking prisoners to Huitzilopochtli, and a single Nahua would volunteer for Tezcatlipoca.
One contemporary report gives this description:
“They strike open the wretched Indian's chest with flint knives and hastily tear out the palpitating heart which, with the blood, they present to the idols . . . They cut off the arms, thighs and head, eating the arms and thighs at ceremonial banquets. The head they hang up on a beam, and the body is given to the beasts of prey.”
It was into this bloody culture of death that one Cuauhtlatoatzin was born, in 1474 in Cuauhtitlan, about 14 miles north of Tenochtitlan, which is present-day Mexico City. His given birth name could be translated as “One who talks like an eagle” or “eagle that talks,” but he took the name "Juan Diego" upon being converted to Christianity and baptized when he was about 50 years old, the Spanish having brought Christ to the New World a few years earlier.
In December 1531, Juan Diego was walking through the Tepayac hill country in central Mexico when he encountered a beautiful woman surrounded by a ball of light as bright as the sun. Speaking in his native tongue, the beautiful lady identified herself,
"My dear little son, I love you. I desire you to know who I am. I am the ever-virgin Mary, Mother of the true God who gives life and maintains its existence. He created all things. He is in all places. He is Lord of Heaven and Earth. I desire a church in this place where your people may experience my compassion. All those who sincerely ask my help in their work and in their sorrows will know my Mother's Heart in this place. Here I will see their tears; I will console them and they will be at peace. So run now to Tenochtitlan and tell the Bishop all that you have seen and heard."
Juan returned to the hill and found the Lady there waiting for him. Imploring her to send someone else, she responded,
"My little son, there are many I could send. But you are the one I have chosen."
"My little son, am I not your Mother? Do not fear. The Bishop shall have his sign. Come back to this place tomorrow. Only peace, my little son."
"Do not be distressed, my littlest son. Am I not here with you, I who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Your uncle will not die at this time. There is no reason for you to engage a priest, for his health is restored at this moment. He is quite well. Go to the top of the hill and cut the flowers that are growing there. Bring them then to me."
"My little son, this is the sign I am sending to the Bishop. Tell him that with this sign I request his greatest efforts to complete the church I desire in this place. Show these flowers to no one else but the Bishop. You are my trusted ambassador. This time the Bishop will believe all you tell him."
The next day, after showing the tilma at the Cathedral, Juan took the bishop to the spot where he first met Mary. He then returned to his village where he met his uncle who was completely cured. His uncle told him he had met a young woman, surrounded by a soft light, who told him that she had just sent his nephew to Tenochtitlan with a picture of herself. She told his uncle,
"Call me and call my image Santa Maria de Guadalupe."
Since the time the tilma was first impressed with a picture of the Mother of God, it has been subject to a variety of environmental hazards including smoke from fires and candles, water from floods and torrential downpours and, in 1921, a bomb which was planted by anti-clerical forces on an altar under it. There was also a cast-iron cross next to the tilma and when the bomb exploded, the cross was twisted out of shape, the marble altar rail was heavily damaged and the tilma was...untouched! Indeed, no one was injured in the Church despite the damage that occurred to a large part of the altar structure.
In 1977, the tilma was examined using infrared photography and digital enhancement techniques. Unlike any painting, the tilma shows no sketching or any sign of outline drawn to permit an artist to produce a painting. Further, the very method used to create the image is still unknown. The image is inexplicable in its longevity and method of production. It can be seen today in a large basilica built to house up to 10,000 worshipers. A list of miracles, cures and interventions are attributed to Our Lady of Guadalupe. Yearly, an estimated 10 million visit her Basilica, making it the most visited Catholic church in the world next to the Vatican.
Lord God, through St. Juan Diego you made known the love of Our Lady of Guadalupe toward your people. Grant by his intercession that we who follow the counsel of Mary, our Mother, may strive continually to do your will. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
See also, Vatican biography of St. Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin
Official Site for the Cause of St. Juan Diego
Basílica de Santa María de Guadalupe