A pilgrimage is more than just a trip to a place of religious interest. It is a physical journey that coincides with a spiritual journey to deeper union, surrender, and trust in God.
In July 2018, I had the privilege of making a pilgrimage to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, Mexico. I was on my way home from the Holy Land, and through Divine Providence, the most reasonable flight had a layover in Mexico City. I decided to extend my layover and stay for 48 hours. While I have traveled to many Catholic pilgrimage locations throughout the world, there is something very special about the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Listen to these words that she spoke to Juan Diego of December 9, 1531:
Juanito, the humblest of my children, know and understand that I am the ever virgin Mary, Mother of the true God through whom all things live. It is my ardent desire that a church be erected here so that in it I can show and bestow my love, compassion, help, and protection to all who inhabit this land and to those others who love me, that they might call upon me and confide in me.
Places Matter to Catholics
Places are important, especially to Catholics. We can kneel at the spot where Mary gave her fiat in Nazareth, touch the place where Jesus was born in Bethlehem, swim in the Sea of Galilee, stand at the foot of the Cross on Calvary, go to Mass in the empty tomb in Jerusalem, pray at the tombs of our favorite Saints, venerate first, second, and third class relics, and walk the Camino in Spain.
When Mary appeared to Juan Diego, she requested a Church to be built. She wanted there to be a place in the New World where she could pour out her generous love. She desired for there to be a place where we could bring our intentions to her.
Her final words to Juan Diego on December 12, 1531 are so beautiful:
Listen and understand, my humblest son. There is nothing to frighten and distress you. Do not let your heart be troubled, and let nothing upset you. Is it not I, your Mother, who is here? Are you not under my protection? Are you not, fortunately, in my care?
Mary wants to protect us. She is here for us. She cares for us.
The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe
Today, the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City receives around 20 million visitors every year, many who have traveled for days on foot. Traveling by foot to Catholic shrines adds an Incarnational dimension to our journey to union with God. Inside the shrine, the sacraments of Confession and Eucharist and the celebration of liturgy are moments of incredible grace. At the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, there are over 30 Masses throughout the day. There are also several priests hearing confessions (in multiple languages) every day of the year from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
What to Expect
The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe is located six miles from Mexico City International Airport. I felt safe in the neighborhood, but watch out for pickpockets, especially if you take the subway or bus. Uber is another safe option for getting there. Mexico City is ranked number one in the world for traffic congestion, so give yourself extra travel time.
A friend described the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe as “Catholic Disney Land.” It’s not quite that big, but there’s a lot to see! The tilma is displayed above the main altar in the Basilica of Santa María de Guadalupe. But I would also recommend visiting the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, Chapel of Saint Joseph, Guadalupana Crypt, Chapel of San Miguel (where the Virgin of Guadalupe first met Juan Diego and gave him the Castilian roses), Parish of Santa María de Guadalupe, Capilla del Pocito, Baptistry, Chapel of Blessings, Crypt in Mariana Square, San Juan Sanctuary, the Carillon, Museum, Library, and Historical Archives. There are free tours available every day, but I preferred walking around at my own pace.
Get Your Souvenirs Blessed!
Don’t be surprised by all the vendors selling gadgets and gizmos aplenty. Maybe you’ll want to put on a sombrero and take a photo riding a fake donkey. Apparently, these photos are very popular, because there are photographers around every corner.
Religious souvenirs are a beautiful way to remember and renew your encounter with God during the pilgrimage. Many people purchase images of Our Lady of Guadalupe and have the priest bless the image with Holy Water after the Mass.
Acts of Devotion
There are roses everywhere! In the little marketplace near the entrance, there are several florists who arrange and sell roses to bring to Our Lady.
Pilgrims often make their pilgrimage by moving forward on their knees across the piazza all the way up to the communion rail in the sanctuary of the Church. The devotion of the pilgrims is so beautiful!
The tilma is about 5.5 x 3.5 feet tall and it is framed in bullet proof glass. It is visible from the sanctuary of the Basilica, but you can get closer by walking down to the crypt. There are four moving walkways where pilgrims pass beneath the image. There wasn’t a line when I was there, so I may have passed back and forth a few dozen times!
This is a place of incredible celebration: baptisms, quinceañeras, wedding anniversaries, family reunions. Mary brings everyone together here under her starry mantle of protection. And so many people wear the miraculous image on their clothing. My favorite was the little two-year-old girl wearing a tilma dress with the image on the front.
In the seven years after the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe, nine million conversions took place in Mexico. Conversions and healing are still happening there today. Today, you can submit your prayer requests directly to the Basilica here.
Tidbits about the Tilma
- The image of Mary has no brush strokes nor animal or mineral elements in the pigment.
- The tilma maintains a constant temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, the same as that of a living person.
- When viewed under magnification, Mary’s eyes contain the image of 13 individuals in the scene of Juan Diego unfurling the tilma before the archbishop.
- In 1785, a worker accidentally spilled strong nitric acid solvent onto a large portion of the image itself. The image should have deteriorated immediately, but instead it self-restored over the next 30 days.
- On November 14, 1921, an fanatic offered a large bouquet of roses under the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe and camouflaged 29 sticks of dynamite inside. The explosion crumbled a marble rail, twisted a brass crucifix and shattered windows nearby. Miraculously, the image of Our Lady was unharmed.
- The stars on Our Lady’s mantle are in the exact position as the stars before dawn on the morning of December 12, 1531.
- The black ribbon around Mary’s waist shows that she is expecting a child. When scientists placed a stethoscope below the black band at the waist of Our Lady, they heard rhythmic repeating heartbeats at 115 beats per minute. The same as that of a baby in womb.
Want to Learn More about Our Lady of Guadalupe?
Here are a few resources to help you learn more about Our Lady of Guadalupe:
- The Lady of Guadalupe by Tomie dePaola
- The Beautiful Lady: Our Lady of Guadalupe by Pat Mora
- Our Lady of Guadalupe: Mother of the Civilization of Love First by Carl Anderson and Eduardo Chavez
- A Handbook on Guadalupe by Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate
- Guadalupe Mysteries: Deciphering the Code by Grzegorz Gorny and Janusz Rosikon
- Movie: Guadalupe: The Miracle and the Message, narrated by Jim Caviezel
Do you have a devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe? Have you ever visited the shrine? How are you celebrating her feast day?The Feast and Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe #BISblog // Click To Tweet
Rose Coleman is a regular contributor to the BIS blog and a devotion writer. She is a contemplative in action who delights in all things beautiful. Her adventurous heart has traveled many places—from circumnavigating the globe on a ship during college to some years in the convent as a religious sister. Exuberant from her childhood, she is an elementary school teacher who learns so much from her students. You can find out more about her here.