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Background Image

Our Lady of Guadalupe

The arrival in Mexico of Hernan Cortez and his soldiers won Mexico for Spain. The appearance a few short years later of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Tepeyac Hill won it for Christ.


Cy Kellett:
Hello, and welcome again to Catholic Answers Focus. I am your host, Cy Kellett, and we are very grateful that you’re here with us. In honor of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, we consider the real story of how the gospel of Jesus Christ reached the Americas and took root across Mexico. We’ll do our best not to get bogged down in the myths and anxieties of the modern, and may I say somewhat judgmental mind, and try to seek the truth of what happened in Mexico nearly 500 years ago.

To help us do that, we welcome the President of Catholic Answers, a lifelong student of military history, now focuses on wider areas of history, and this is a particular area of interest, Chris Check. Hi, Chris.

Christopher Check:
Cy, thanks for having me back so soon. I guess I didn’t really offend anybody the last, or we didn’t hear about it, the last time I was on.

Cy Kellett:
Or Darren didn’t tell us, because we talked about the Pilgrims the last time.

Christopher Check:
We did.

Cy Kellett:
And about religion in America.

Christopher Check:
I actually got a nice note from a very sweet lady who is a school teacher in Okinawa, Japan, because she took exception to something I said along the lines of third graders don’t get the real story. And she teaches third grade to-

Cy Kellett:
Military children?

Christopher Check:
Yes, exactly, the children of Marines. And she took a photograph of a timeline that she had on her classroom wall showing basically the Catholic migration beginning in 1492 to the New World.

Cy Kellett:
Good for her.

Christopher Check:
Yeah, I know, it was wonderful. And she said, “There is one classroom of third graders who are getting the facts.” And I said, “Praise God.”

Cy Kellett:
You don’t happen to remember her name?

Christopher Check:
Oh my goodness.

Cy Kellett:
It’s all right.

Christopher Check:
It’s an Irish last name.

Cy Kellett:
Oh, Sheila. So her first name is Sheila, then. And her last name is …

Christopher Check:
No Maureen. No, it’s Irish, I’m sorry. Now, I know she’s going to be listening to this and be like, “Oh, you didn’t remember me.” No, but she and her husband have been, he was a retired Marine, and she stayed there, and she’s been teaching on the island. They’ve lived there for 27 years.

Cy Kellett:
That is cool. Well, you’ve got to go all the way to Japan to get the real American history apparently.

Christopher Check:
Well, 1000 miles south of Japan.

Cy Kellett:
Oh, in Okinawa.

Christopher Check:
Yeah.

Cy Kellett:
Yeah. Well, see, geography, also not my strong suit.

Christopher Check:
I spent some time in Okinawa in my youth.

Cy Kellett:
As a Marine.

Christopher Check:
Yes. It’s hot.

Cy Kellett:
I believe you. What do you do as a Marine there? Do you get to shoot anything?

Christopher Check:
Actually, as an artillery officer, it’s a lousy place to be.

Cy Kellett:
Because you can’t fire [crosstalk 00:02:43].

Christopher Check:
Yeah, the impact area is tiny, there’s a lot of government regulations. We would go to Mt. Fuji to shoot.

Cy Kellett:
Really?

Christopher Check:
Yeah, and to Korea, where there was a little more room.

Cy Kellett:
Ah. All right. Well, we’re talking about… Okay, so we were-

Christopher Check:
How are we going to segue here? Cortes did have cannons with him.

Cy Kellett:
That’s right, but not very good cannons.

Christopher Check:
No, poor ones.

Cy Kellett:
Second-rate cannons, exactly. So let’s go back there. If we say, I would argue that there’s a great deal of this undertaking that is a noble undertaking, so I’m going to start not with Cortes, not with Our Lady of Guadalupe, but with us. Are we able anymore to appreciate noble undertakings? It seems to me that we have a great unfamiliarity with the kind of nobility that existed then.

Christopher Check:
Yeah, we live in an age that does not produce men like Hernan Cortes or Christopher Columbus, for that matter. And so it’s hard for us to marvel at what they did and to wonder, what GK Chesterton calls the gift of wonder. To wonder at what they did. I suppose the closest thing in the imaginations of listeners, and the experience of listeners would be something like the American space program, which has a kind of heroic quality to it. But nonetheless, fueled by taxpayer dollars, part of an international game of one-upsmanship and then backed, of course, by the top scientists of the day.

Christopher Check:
When you set that alongside of what men like Columbus did, or Cortes, and the courage in the face of uncertainty, and then the motives that drove these men. And to be sure, because this is one of the objections, the Conquistadors were driven by lust for power, lust for gold, plain old ordinary lust. And all those things are true, by the way.

Christopher Check:
But funded by a crown, determined to bring the cross to the New World, and in their hearts, determined to be part, to be instrumental in bringing the cross to the New World. And when we say New World what we really, to put our imaginations in the place of a Spaniard in the 15th and 16th century, we’re talking about doubling the size of the world.

Cy Kellett:
Yeah. Right.

Christopher Check:
It kind of gives you chills to think about what these guys did in the face of so much uncertainty. And in the case of Cortes, his expedition to Mexico, he largely funds himself.

Cy Kellett:
And so what is it? There must be something in the Spanish character that can tell us about the motives of this time. The Spanish having, as I’ve learned from you, waged the longest war in history.

Christopher Check:
Sure. The real Reconquista.

Cy Kellett:
Right. To return Spain to Christian control, having been invaded by Muslim invaders in the seventh century? Is that right, or eighth century?

Christopher Check:
Eighth century. Yep, yep.

Cy Kellett:
So, hundreds of years of combat for Christ, really, I suppose is, that’s how they thought of it. And so-

Christopher Check:
Certainly they did and Spain, the identity of Spain is forged in this seventh century war. So the Muslims make their way all the way, or the Saracens, whatever you want to call them, all the way across the Pyrenees, the Battle of Tours, somebody listening is going to know the dates. 732? Anyway, Charles Martel, or as I like to call him, Charlie Hammer turns them back and then, or arrests their spread, their invasion of Europe. But then it is the people of the Iberian Peninsula.

And what we’re talking about here is this mix of Romans and Visigoths and other barbarian tribes fighting their way inch-by-inch, yard-by-yard down the Iberian Peninsula until 1492 when the great Catholic monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, conquer the Moorish kingdom of Granada. We associate 1492, of course, with Columbus’s first voyage, but Catholic Europe is made whole in 1492 with the conquest of Grenada, and so there’s no understanding the Spanish character apart from seven centuries of fighting the enemies of Jesus Christ.

And so, when we see the Conquistadores, and we see Cortes, and we see what a bellicose man he was, to be sure. Very devout, great devotion to Our Lady, but obviously a fighter. He is coming from this culture that is seven centuries old. We have nothing like that in our experience. I mean, seven centuries from now, if we’re still in existence, our culture will have been one of being, well, we looked at screens.

Cy Kellett:
Right, right. So it was possible for a man like Cortes then, not just possible but probably indeed was the fact, from Cortes and men like him of the time to have both great devotion to God and a great kind of worldliness. Like you said, they’re fighters. They mean to win the world, both for their own profit and for Christ at the same time.

Christopher Check:
Yeah, I think you described it perfectly, Cy. And that may be offensive to pious Catholic sensibilities. It might be offensive to secular sensibilities. But the fact is, he was a human person, and human persons are complex. But the thing to know is, he is a mix, he is a product of this mix of devotion, Catholic militancy, and then of course a tremendous sense of adventure. And Spain, you know the greatest empire. The sun doesn’t set on the Spanish empire. Of course, turns out to be true. And why? Because these guys were men of adventure.

Cy Kellett:
Right. Okay, so he’s in Cuba. He doesn’t get a long with the governor of Cuba.

Christopher Check:
Velasquez. Yeah, I don’t remember his first name. But yeah, the short version is, Cuba’s too small for the two of them.

Cy Kellett:
Yeah, well, it was almost too small for Velasquez himself.

Christopher Check:
Well, yeah, no, he’s-

Cy Kellett:
He’s a big man.

Christopher Check:
He was a man of some girth.

Cy Kellett:
Girth, yes. Okay, so he says, “I’m going to Mexico.”

Christopher Check:
He does. Well, originally Velasquez commissions him to do this and then withdraws the commission. But of course, Cortes is, “I’m going to go anyway.” And he actually leaves under the dead of night. He raids the stores. And yes, he makes his way to Mexico with, I don’t now recall the exact numbers, but we’re talking maybe 500 soldiers, maybe half as many or fewer sailors, some camp followers, and some crummy cannons.

Cy Kellett:
And he’s got a priest who can speak one of the languages. Is that right?

Christopher Check:
Well, he brings a Latinist with him, of course, because they tend to be good with languages. But when he gets over to the Yucatan Peninsula, he finds a priest who had been there from some earlier expedition, who had been now in the care, or prisonership of one of these native Yucatan tribes, and so had some command of the various languages of the natives, of what we now call Mexico. All of whom are now in the thrall of, or most of them, of the Aztecs.

Cy Kellett:
Aztecs. Who call themselves something else.

Christopher Check:
Mexica probably.

Cy Kellett:
Oh, yeah.

Christopher Check:
Aztec is a word that historians have assigned to the greatest empire of Meso America. The word Aztec derives from Aztlan, which is the mythical island, or maybe it existed, we don’t know, maybe somewhere in northern Mexico or in the southwestern United States, but anyway, from which these people came. What we do know is that there was a vast migration from this region, the anthropological record shows, down to the central valley or the central basin. Fertile, much more fertile region of Mexico, where now Mexico City is formally Tenochtitlan.

Cy Kellett:
And the person who is really devoted to the myth of the widespread gentility of the New World, the peacefulness, the nobility of the inhabitants of this New World, has to ignore the existence of the Aztecs.

Christopher Check:
Yeah, and it’s a powerful effort that you have to get through North-

Cy Kellett:
Yeah, like you really got to look past some stuff.

Christopher Check:
No, it’s true. And in fact, it’s funny here in San Diego where SDSU-

Cy Kellett:
Yeah, they’re called the Aztecs.

Christopher Check:
And you wonder how many people who are cheering these Aztecs… Because these were perhaps the most brutal people in the history of peoples.

Cy Kellett:
History of people. Yeah, they are certainly are a contender. Maybe, in the course of a year, maybe they engaged in some human sacrifice.

Christopher Check:
Forty thousand, perhaps.

Cy Kellett:
Forty thousand a year.

Christopher Check:
Perhaps. Yeah. And there is one record. Now the doubters will say, “Okay, well that’s a Spanish account,” or a Spanish account of something that happened in 1487, I think is the date. So before the Spanish were there, but then they would have been retold. But there really isn’t reason to doubt this, especially now, as they continue to do excavations under where the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe is now in the region. And they’re finding tens of thousands of skulls. Adults, babies, everything in between.

Christopher Check:
There’s one account of maybe 80,000 over the course of about four days. Something like that. So these people, the Carthaginians are the other great civilization of human sacrifice. They’re totally bush-league compared to the Aztecs.

Cy Kellett:
And so they’re a menace to everyone around them.

Christopher Check:
They are. And then this is an important part of the Cortes story, because the narrative to which you’re referring, the Spanish came, and there was this sort of bucolic, civilized land where a beautiful stone architecture, paved roads, a floating city.

Cy Kellett:
Yeah, it was.

Christopher Check:
And parts of it were, in fact, floating. Yeah, that is true. And it was beautifully paved. And in some ways people today might argue that the Aztecs were more civilized than the Spanish. They bathed probably more frequently. They had steam baths. So their sense of hygiene was probably higher than that of the Spanish. They had no wheel. They had no arch. So some of their architecture, I think the value of it is overstated. And certainly no dome, nothing like that.

Cy Kellett:
No metallurgy.

Christopher Check:
Yes.

Cy Kellett:
That struck me.

Christopher Check:
They did. All of their weapons were made basically of obsidian, and so volcanic glass, and then attached to clubs, and that sort of thing. And the purpose, by the way, of Aztec weapon or Aztec warfare was not to kill in battle, it was to maim. So a blow to the Achilles tendon, or something like that. Maim the victim, so that he could be brought back and have his heart ripped out while still beating, held up before the crowd, up on the stone altars of the Aztec pyramids.

Cy Kellett:
So this kind of-

Christopher Check:
And all this is supported by the archeological record.

Cy Kellett:
Right, there’s no question about this. We’re not badmouthing the Aztecs. They really did those things.

Christopher Check:
No, I think we kind of are.

Cy Kellett:
Well, I mean, to tell the truth about them is to badmouth them.

Christopher Check:
Yeah, yeah.

Cy Kellett:
But another thing people should know about the Aztecs is, this is not a religious tradition that goes back millennia or something like that. It’s a fairly recent invention by the time the Spanish get there.

Christopher Check:
It’s true. And there is a grand vizier… Oh, my goodness. I’ll think of his name after we finish this interview. Who kind of is the architect of a lot of this. And human sacrifice and cannibalism is not uncommon in many of the North and South American native tribes. It’s just not. But this level of human sacrifice is introduced sometime probably in the middle of the fifteenth century. The Aztecs don’t have a written record, in the sense that western Europe does. Very skilled astronomers, by the way. But there are pictographs, and some of them from the pre-Columbian period survive. And the Spanish are there, it was Cortes lands in 1519, on mainland Mexico. So they are there within a generation or two of memory of this shift in growth in the Aztec empire. And they subjugate all the various peoples around them.

Cy Kellett:
And that leads to a great strength for Cortes, because he allies himself with the people who have been subjected to this vicious Aztec regime.

Christopher Check:
Yeah, it’s critical to the Cortes story. The other tribes of Mexico welcome Cortes. And they’re happy to sign up with his plan to vanquish the Aztecs.

Cy Kellett:
Is it true that the Spaniards were seen in some religious context, maybe even as a god that had been prophesied, or something like that?

Christopher Check:
Yes, that is definitely true. Now exactly how that finds expression. There’s some debate about whether he is a god, whether Cortes is a god or a messenger of one. But there’s an excellent book that I would recommend to anybody listening called Cortes and Montezuma. And the author’s name is Collis, I think. And we can put it up on the webpage. And you see this sort of melancholic fatalism in the behavior of Cortes.

Cy Kellett:
Excuse me.

Christopher Check:
Of Montezuma, right, thank you. And so Cortes is making his way towards Tenochtitlan, and Cortes is sending a message, “Oh, you don’t need to come. You don’t need to come.” And he is divining, and these are people who very much operate based on the portents that the priests are divining, whether it’s signs in the sky, or entrails of animals, or whatever it is. A thousand different things. And he’s saying, “Oh, you don’t need to come.” But at the same time, he’s seeing, he is quite likely seeing that this is a foretold demise of his empire.

Cy Kellett:
So Cortes takes him prisoner.

Christopher Check:
He does. He gets to Tenochtitlan and befriends Montezuma and then eventually, yes, does take, occupies the palace and takes him prisoner.

Cy Kellett:
And here we have to go back to the governor of Cuba, because things might have gone very differently in the history of Mexico had not the governor of Cuba decided he didn’t like what Cortes was up to.

Christopher Check:
It’s true. So Cortes is behaving as something of a political renegade. And when he gets to Mexico, he declares himself the ruler of Mexico, answerable only to Charles the Fifth, the Holy Roman Emperor at the time. And so, Velasquez becomes jealous of his success, which has been considerable. And he sends an army after Cortes.

So Cortes has occupied, and to a degree pacified, I won’t say conquered, Tenochtitlan. And Bernal Diaz, the man who accompanies Cortes on his mission. Well, and there are many, but the man who has written the first-hand account, The Conquest and Discovery of New Spain. Or anyway, Bernal Diaz, every boy and girl listening to this podcast, but it’s a book for boys, needs to read this. It’s like the Odyssey, you can’t put it down.

Anyway, but he describes, they’re up there in the, if you will, the Holy of Holies, in the top of these pyramids, and the wall’s caked with dried blood.

Cy Kellett:
Human blood.

Christopher Check:
Yeah, exactly. So you can imagine. You’ve got 500 Spaniards maybe in this city of, I don’t know, three quarters of a million, something like that. And they are, so it’s a little bit tense, but they’ve worked things out with Montezuma. But now Velasquez is sending an army after.

Cy Kellett:
After Cortes.

Christopher Check:
After Cortes. And so Cortes is forced to leave a small garrison, a few soldiers, couple hundred perhaps, in Tenochtitlan, and he goes out to meet Velasquez’s army. And then Cortes has a subaltern, I can’t remember his name, who’s not the leader that Cortes is, and something of a hot head, and he executes a number of Aztec principals, priests and princes or something, and then inspires a riot.

So while Cortes is out and defeating, by means of a night attack, the army of Velasquez, and then winning these Spanish soldiers over to his side. Cortes was a master or rhetoric, and he always mixed it in with, “You’re going to be very rich, and we’re all going to do this in the service of Our Lady.” And it was sort of this perfect blend of faith and wealth. And there’s people like that today. Not as great as Cortes. But in any case, he gets back, and he finds Tenochtitlan in a complete mess.

Cy Kellett:
And then the battle-

Christopher Check:
Yeah, La Noche Triste, the Night of Sorrows, they have to fight their way out of the city. And Tenochtitlan, anybody who takes a look, you can see images of it, or imaginations or archeological renderings, it is linked to the mainland by about four or five causeways. So in and out, it’s not an easy matter for a large army. And most of these causeways, the Aztecs have blocked, and so they’ve got to kind of fight their way off the island. And they lose quite a few along the way. And then there’s another final battle where Cortes or probably one of his lieutenants, it depends on which account you want to follow, defeats the Aztec general, and the Aztecs retreat.

But Cortes, his army is a mess. So he goes 70 miles back west to regroup. And he builds half a dozen or a dozen ships. And everyone will remember from when he first lands in Yucatan that he burns the ships. He doesn’t really burn them. He scuttles them to tell the sailors there’s no going back. But he had kept all the rigging, all the block, all the tackle. So now his men start felling trees and shaping into, ships probably overstates it, large amphibious boats, if you will. And they take them overland in pieces, and then they assemble them on the edge of the lake. And then there’s an amphibious assault, and it’s the last and final battle.

Cy Kellett:
Amazing story.

Christopher Check:
Like I say, it’s like the Odyssey, or it’s like the Aeneid. But it’s a true story. I think the Odyssey and the Aeneid might as well be true, too. But they’re certainly full of truth, like Tolkien’s stories are. But this is an event in modern history.

Cy Kellett:
Right, right. Okay, so at the same time, of course, the Protestant Reformation is getting started in Europe.

Christopher Check:
And this is an important thing that I think really needs underscoring inside, because as Henry VIII… No, Martin Luther 1517-

Cy Kellett:
Martin, right.

Christopher Check:
And then we’ve got 1524, I think, or thereabouts. Anyway, in the mid-20s, Henry divorces Catherine, marries Anne Boleyn, or [inaudible 00:23:59]. So yes, as Europe is throwing off the care of the church, the care of Our Lady, here in the New World-

Cy Kellett:
It’s just started.

Christopher Check:
Seeds are being planted.

Cy Kellett:
Yeah.

Christopher Check:
It makes your hair stand up.

Cy Kellett:
It does, because it’s the exact same moment. It’s not… One doesn’t follow… The very moment that it’s all coming to a terrible end in so much of Europe, it’s beginning in Mexico. Which, if I believe you have pointed out, shortly will become the most Catholic country in the world, most devoutly Catholic country in the world, and then will persist in that for hundreds of years.

Christopher Check:
Yeah, probably three, three and a half centuries. And I think this is a very important point. And I am a amateur student of Mexican history. I find the place absolutely fascinating. But it does seem to me to be singled out in a, divinely singled out in a way that no nation in history ever has been. And I don’t even know what it means, and there will be people listening, there certainly will be Protestant Evangelicals listening to this, well, I hope there are, thinking, “Oh, no. You’ve got that wrong. That’s the United States of America. We’re the shining city”… Like we talked about in our last episode. But Mexico, even the story of Joan of Arc, which is very dear to me.

Cy Kellett:
Me too, Chris. Nobody… Oh, no. I shouldn’t say nobody. Far too few people understand the importance of Joan of Arc and just how astonishing her story is.

Christopher Check:
Well, by the way, she preserves France from the Reformation.

Cy Kellett:
Right. And by extension Spain, as well.

Christopher Check:
Yeah. No, you’re absolutely right. But in any case, even the story of Joan of Arc is not, as unusual and mystifying as that is, is not of the same level, in my imagination of now what follows course.

Cy Kellett:
Well, do you want to say anything about the 12 poor men?

Christopher Check:
Sure. Well, so very quickly Cortes the conqueror becomes Cortes the very competent administrator. And as he had, in fact, said to the Aztecs, “Our emperor in Europe will send men, better men than we are,” he said. And by that he meant, of course, more Christian men, who will come and tell you about our Lord Jesus Christ, and tell you the true faith. Because what you’ve been doing here, with the sacrificing of human beings and worshiping the devil basically is wrong.

And so 12 Franciscans come, and they get the nickname… They’re Belgian and Spanish, I think, or maybe they’re all Belgian. I can’t recall. But anyway, Franciscans. And they come, and they walk, right? As Franciscans do, right? As Junipero Serra would do centuries later.

Cy Kellett:
Never rode on an animal. Always walked.

Christopher Check:
Well, it’s-

Cy Kellett:
[inaudible 00:26:55] poverty.

Christopher Check:
Of course when St. Francis wrote that rule, he was talking about little Italian towns that were-

Cy Kellett:
Not America.

Christopher Check:
Ten kilometers apart or whatever. But in any case, yes. And Cortes is distracted, down deeper into South America by an errant general. The men that are left in place, politically in charge, are unscrupulous. They mistreat the native population. The Franciscans stand up for them. Charles the Fifth has to intervene. We’re going very fast here. There’s a message that’s sent back to Charles hidden in a barrel of oil, right?

Cy Kellett:
Oh, is that what it was? Oil?

Christopher Check:
Yeah, yeah. Hidden in a bacon slab. I mean, the story, it keeps getting great, or better and better. And Cortes eventually returns. But the Franciscans slowly go about the job of bringing the faith to-

Cy Kellett:
One thing, well, you did go quickly, but I don’t want to gloss. There were Spanish who were extremely abusive to the Mexicans.

Christopher Check:
Oh, it was horrible slavery, facial branding. Horrible abuse of the native population. Has to be said. It’s true.

Cy Kellett:
Right. But not these Franciscan priests.

Christopher Check:
No. No, no. And eventually, so Charles appoints a bishop. His name is, somebody’s going to correct me, Zumarraga or Zumarga. He actually is the first man who will see the image on Juan Diego’s tilma. And he becomes the bishop of New Spain, but also Charles gives him a title, something like Protector of the Indians, or something like that.

Cy Kellett:
Right. And I want to get to that. People, I think another thing is, the dynamics of Europe are not always considered. Europeans were not a homogenous group. The Spanish were not a homogenous group. There was a great deal of debate and struggle over how the Indians should be treated. There are good guys and bad guys in this story.

Christopher Check:
Oh, to be sure.

Cy Kellett:
And so it’s not right to say that the Spanish were all good guys or all bad guys.

Christopher Check:
No, but even going back to Ferdinand and Isabella, they make it very clear that there is to be no slavery. But I mean, it’s one thing to issue an order, and then another thing to have it carried out. Especially crossing a [inaudible 00:29:12].

Cy Kellett:
Right, right.

Christopher Check:
Here at Catholic Answers I give orders all the time.

Cy Kellett:
We always do. We snap to it as soon as you say something. I want to ask you about, then, how did Our Lady of… Okay, so clearly evangelization is having some effect, because this gentleman, Juan Diego, is going to his catechism classes.

Christopher Check:
Yeah, he’s a neophyte or a recently baptized Christian.

Cy Kellett:
But it’s not waves of conversions to the Catholic faith.

Christopher Check:
No.

Cy Kellett:
This is notable, too. They’re not forcing anyone to become Catholic. But this is something people should know. There’s no sword tip, “You’re all Catholic now.” They rely on convincing people.

Christopher Check:
Yes. Yes. And so they’re explaining the gospel. They’re giving people rudimentary catechism. They’re baptizing. They’re introducing the sacraments. And they’re converting native temples. You know, as Cortes is making his way, we’re going back a little bit, as Cortes is making his way from the coast to Tenochtitlan, when he conquers a native people, he just leaves a little statue of Our Lady in the temple. It’s like, “Our Lady will look after this.”

Cy Kellett:
Oh, wow.

Christopher Check:
So they’re, the same way the church converts pagan Rome in kind of the same way. And much of that I think is very much revealed in the image of Our Lady, because she’s standing there, and I know I’m getting ahead, she’s standing there in front of the sun. And the sun god, Huitzilopochtli, or however you say it there. So she’s replacing him, or she’s standing in front of him. And she’s bringing the Divine into the world who is greater than the Aztec sun god.

Cy Kellett:
Right. And he was the god that demanded all this cutting out of people’s hearts and all that.

Christopher Check:
Sure, sure, sure. Yeah.

Cy Kellett:
So she replaces him. And this is all clear… This is not ancient history to these native folks, these Indian people back then.

Christopher Check:
Well, Juan Diego would have been alive in that 1487 consecration, if you will, of the Grand Pyramid in Tenochtitlan. He would have been a boy or a young man. Yeah, so he’s on his way to catechism. And I think this story is known, but it’s so, like all stories surrounding Our Lady, it’s so charming.

Cy Kellett:
Yes, right.

Christopher Check:
It’s touching. It’s romantic. It’s like at Cana, where Our Lord says to Our Lady, “No, it’s not time yet.” And she doesn’t even answer the question. No, she just turns, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Cy Kellett:
“Do whatever he tells you.”

Christopher Check:
That’s so beautiful. And then, of course, Our Lord, I tell my boys Our Lord makes wine after people had been drinking for a while. But anyway, this is a similar kind of charm. She’s so gentle. The maternal solicitude. Juan Diego is on his way to catechism. He hears music. Important, by the way, because now they’ve detected a musical score in the tilma.

Cy Kellett:
Oh, really?

Christopher Check:
Yeah. You can hear it online. Anyway, he hears music. The beautiful Lady appears to him. She explains to Juan Diego who she is. Go to the bishop. Juan Diego says, “Like Our Lady,” right, when the angel appears. Are you sure you-

Cy Kellett:
Yeah, me?

Christopher Check:
Right, right. Yeah.

Cy Kellett:
But he does.

Christopher Check:
Yeah, exactly. And he imitates Our Lady in that regard, too. It’s his fiat. He goes to, he takes a little bit longer. [inaudible 00:32:51] a little quicker. Zumarraga is a little impatient at first. He has to make a couple, “[inaudible 00:32:59] Our Lady.” Says, “Go back.”

Cy Kellett:
Yeah. And he’s got to take care of a sick uncle for a while.

Christopher Check:
Right. He avoids the hill, because he’s going to look for a priest for his uncle, Juan Bernardino, who is dying. And so he avoids the hill. And Our Lady comes down the hill to find him. “Juan Diego, where are you going? You told me that you would meet me here.”

Cy Kellett:
That is such a magnificent part of the story.

Christopher Check:
Well, it is, because, of course, Our Lady does this to all, I know to me.

Cy Kellett:
Yes, I agree. Right.

Christopher Check:
And I’m sure to, all the time. “Okay, Chris, seriously?”

Cy Kellett:
“You said you were… All right, I’ll come to you.”

Christopher Check:
Right, right. And then she jerks his collar a little bit in the most tender way. It’s important that the, because of course we’ve just celebrated the magnificent Feast of Immaculate Conception. The first day, December ninth, when Our Lady appears to Juan Diego, is the Feast of the Conception of Mary. They would have called it then in the Spanish empire. So that feast, Immaculate Conception, finds its origins, probably going back to the seventh century, if not before, in the eastern calendars. It’s brought over to the west on December 9. It gets moved to the eighth eventually, so that it is exactly nine months from the Nativity of the Virgin, September eighth. But it’s originally celebrated on the ninth.

Cy Kellett:
I see.

Christopher Check:
So anyway, and I just, I don’t know why this year, of course, I’ve been reading more about the story lately, but this year, it just really struck me. And we recently put an image about two or three months ago of Our Lady of Guadalupe in our dining room. For citizens of the Americas, you have these two feasts that are intimately bound. Immaculate Conception, of course, patroness of the United States, is Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. And then patroness of the Americas, Our Lady of Guadalupe, right, and the day she appears, December ninth, the first day she appears to Juan Diego, is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in the Spanish calendar at that time.

Cy Kellett:
And then, so the bishop doesn’t immediately believe him. Which is, which seems perfectly reasonable.

Christopher Check:
Oh, yeah. Who can blame him?

Cy Kellett:
Oh, really? The Mother of God appeared-

Christopher Check:
This beautiful lady appeared to me. And she wants you to go build a church.

Cy Kellett:
So he’s got this thing that he’s wearing.

Christopher Check:
So Zumarraga, he makes a second visit. And Zumarraga asks him some questions. And by the way, Zumarraga’s gate keepers, they’re not going to let him in. They [inaudible 00:36:05] don’t talk to the bishop. It’s like the gatekeepers of chanceries today.

Cy Kellett:
Right.

Christopher Check:
And we’ll probably get a phone call about that. Anyway, so Zumarraga asks him the question. There’s probably something here, ask her for a sign. And then he does. And she says, “You will have your sign.”

Cy Kellett:
And then he picks the flowers. He carries them-

Christopher Check:
By the way, we’re talking about the dead of winter, or early winter, December 12, right?

Cy Kellett:
It’s not just roses. It’s a variety of flowers.

Christopher Check:
And not native to the region.

Cy Kellett:
Right.

Christopher Check:
Including like a Castilian roses or something, a Spanish rose.

Cy Kellett:
Right.

Christopher Check:
And pretty infertile, crummy soil.

Cy Kellett:
So, but Juan Diego gathers them up, but he doesn’t arrange the flowers. I love this part, too.

Christopher Check:
And in fact I owe this to Warren Carroll. Everybody should read Warren Carroll’s little book, God rest his soul, founder of Christendom College, on the conquest of Mexico, and on Cortes, and Our Lady of Guadalupe. And he describes this image where Our Lady takes the flowers and arranges them in Juan Diego’s tilma. And Carroll compares it to a mom sort of fixing the tie and adjusting the blazer buttons of a little boy about to go to his first communion or something like that. So there’s this beautifully charming maternal moment. And so Juan Diego goes off to, back to Zumarraga with his, what he thinks are the miracle, right?

Cy Kellett:
My flowers.

Christopher Check:
Like these flowers, right. Yeah, these magnificent flowers and the sign. And again, the guards give him trouble. They try to grab the flowers. But when they do, they appear only as images on the tilma. Zumarraga lets him in. And then, of course, he reveals, and then there’s this miraculous image of Our Lady. And Zumarraga and everybody there, they fall on their knees. They see, okay, something pretty extraordinary has happened here.

Cy Kellett:
Yeah. This miraculous image. Do we have any other record anywhere of art directly given to us by the Divine?

Christopher Check:
No.

Cy Kellett:
So this is a unique event in human history.

Christopher Check:
There’s an icon in Rome. The tradition is that St. Luke painted it.

Cy Kellett:
Oh, right.

Christopher Check:
Something like that.

Cy Kellett:
But even this is far beyond that.

Christopher Check:
Yeah.

Cy Kellett:
And it’s now the most represented-

Christopher Check:
Well, I guess you might say the Shroud could be-

Cy Kellett:
Oh, that’s a good one.

Christopher Check:
Potentially an example of that. But certainly of Our Lady, painted by God.

Cy Kellett:
It’s been reproduced more than any other image of any woman in history. And certainly any other image of Mary.

Christopher Check:
That I did not know, but I have no difficult believing it.

Cy Kellett:
I mean, because it’s everywhere.

Christopher Check:
Yeah.

Cy Kellett:
Our Lady of… Well, I guess maybe in the Americas. I don’t know if it’s in Asia or where else.

Christopher Check:
Well, it is the most visited shrine, most visited pilgrimage site. Something like 20,000 a year. And then Lourdes, Fatima, Rome are in the single digits. No, not 20,000. Excuse me. Twenty million.

Cy Kellett:
Yeah, 20 million, yeah, right.

Christopher Check:
Right. And then maybe Fatima seven million.

Cy Kellett:
St. Peter’s is fewer than 20 million.

Christopher Check:
Oh, wait, I don’t even think it’s in the double digits.

Cy Kellett:
Yeah. So what do you make of those who say this is a myth. It didn’t happen.

Christopher Check:
Well, yeah, the thing is, Cy, that no matter how much scientific evidence you show the doubters, they’re going to doubt. I was thinking about this at lunch today. There’s that Eucharistic Miracle at Lanciano.

Cy Kellett:
Lanciano, yeah.

Christopher Check:
Which is, I mean, it’s very clearly been demonstrated to be a piece of human flesh. And by the way, heart, cardial flesh. And they’ve blood typed it, I think, and it’s AB, the universal donor. And all these things. And you still have your skeptics.

The same thing with the Shroud or something. So it almost doesn’t matter how much evidence the science piles up. But the more they look into this Shroud, excuse me, into the tilma, into the miraculous image on the tilma, it keeps revealing things.

Cy Kellett:
You know, it does have human painting on it, but those are embellishments by later artists.

Christopher Check:
They are. That certainly is true, yeah. Yep. Well, just the fact that this thing is made of agave fiber, which makes for pretty crummy clothing, because it decays after about 10 years or so. And tests were done in the 18th century, I think, is the most famous one, where they made reproductions. And by the way, if you were to paint something… And by the way. I keep saying by the way. So the Spanish have come. So they have canvas.

Cy Kellett:
Yeah.

Christopher Check:
So if you’re going to paint something, you’re not going to paint it on a crudely woven piece of-

Cy Kellett:
Garment.

Christopher Check:
Agave cloth, right. But they’d made duplications of it on agave. These things decayed after a decade or less. So there’s no natural explanation why this thing, in all of its vibrancy, survives. The reflections that have been detected in the eyes. If the tilma is laid horizontally across a map of Mexico, the major glyphs, the large symbols discernible to the Aztecs, all line up with the major volcanoes of Mexico. The constellations on Our Lady’s mantel are the precise constellations of the sky at the moment on December 12th.

Cy Kellett:
Wow. Wow.

Christopher Check:
At that early morning moment. There’s a musical score in there. The eyes function three dimensionally, or they see three dimensionally, if you will, as normal human eyes do.

Cy Kellett:
She’s pregnant.

Christopher Check:
[Encita 00:42:10], that black band right above her womb indicates that she is pregnant. The tilt of her head. I think the thing, I’m not a geometer, I can’t describe it all, but the tilt of her head is exactly the axis of the tilt of the earth. And there’s a glyph, an Aztec glyph, right over her womb. And that glyph represents the Divine. So, I mean, as far as I know, the only image of Our Lady in which she appears pregnant. I’ve not found another one. Be happy to be corrected on that. But I mean, just so many things in there for the skeptic to believe or-

Cy Kellett:
[inaudible 00:42:54].

Christopher Check:
It’s just so magnificent. And what is mysterious to me, what I’m wondering about, and I don’t know the answer to this, and I leave it with the listeners to contemplate. Maybe it’s just too mysterious. But I don’t think the story’s over.

Cy Kellett:
There’s more to come.

Christopher Check:
I don’t think it’s… The thing is that the tilma’s so mysterious, and it keeps revealing things. And like I said, some time back there, there’s a special place that Mexico’s going to play in salvation history. I don’t know what it is.

Cy Kellett:
Well, tell us then, we only have a few more minutes, Chris, but the consequences, then, of this. What are the consequences of the appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and then the kind of, what happens around that every 10 years.

Christopher Check:
Well, just very briefly, nine million baptisms in the period of a generation. And if you want to make a comparison there, look at the Spanish and the Philippines, 200 years before they have as many baptisms as that. So it’s clearly a miraculous intervention.

Cy Kellett:
Yep. And the Philippines, by the way, those missionaries came from Mexico City.

Christopher Check:
Yeah.

Cy Kellett:
They were sent by the bishop of Mexico City. That’s… So, wow. An extraordinary, extraordinary tale.

Christopher Check:
It is. It’s a great adventure story. It’s a great love story.

Cy Kellett:
Right.

Christopher Check:
And it’s ours, you know. It belongs to Americans.

Cy Kellett:
And you know something, I wanted to get to this, and I forgot to, Chris, so I’m going to extend here for a minute. But the Spaniards were not… I don’t want to put, well, I’ll just say it bluntly. They weren’t racist in the way that the English were in America.

Christopher Check:
No.

Cy Kellett:
They were willing to marry the locals. They were willing to start families. As a matter of fact, that was really their policy.

Christopher Check:
Yes.

Cy Kellett:
Was to intermarry, and integrate, and become part of the people of Mexico.

Christopher Check:
Yeah, we talked about this a little bit when we talked about the Pilgrims. The difference between the British or English settlement of what is now the United States and the Spanish settlement of Mexico. The Spanish policy was convert and integrate. And integrate meaning intermarry. In fact, Cortes and his mistress. His mistress translator, you know, La Malinche, or however you say that. Malinche, something like that. They have the first mixed child.

Cy Kellett:
Oh, that’s right. You mentioned that to me. The first of so many.

Christopher Check:
European-American child.

Cy Kellett:
Right, right.

Christopher Check:
So that absolutely is the policy. And then, if you read Bishop Kelley’s book, Blood-Drenched Altars, you see that within a few generations the descendants of the Aztecs are occupying positions of government. So you ask about the consequence of this, of the Cortes-Guadalupe arc, if you will. Sure there’s the baptisms. Of course, that’s the central and very important central part of the story. But how does that manifest itself then culturally. You have descendants of Aztec’s teaching in Mexican, in the great universities of Mexico. You have them learning the tongue of Cicero, as Bishop Kelley says, and the philosophy of Aristotle, and painting like the masters of Europe, and composing music and building violins.

Cy Kellett:
It’s all colonialist oppression.

Christopher Check:
Oh, I know. They ground them under their heels.

Cy Kellett:
Well, and they didn’t just keep pushing them west, like we did here in America.

Christopher Check:
No, that’s, exactly. We call it Manifest Destiny up here, which means, keep pushing the brown people towards the Pacific Ocean.

Cy Kellett:
Yep.

Christopher Check:
Or then putting them on a train and sending them to Florida.

Cy Kellett:
Yep. Well, Chris Check, president of Catholic Answers, thanks for talking with us about Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Christopher Check:
What a great story. Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us.

Cy Kellett:
Amen. Amen. And recommend those books again. Two books that you had mentioned.

Christopher Check:
The first one is the first-hand account. The author’s name is Bernal Diaz, D-I-A-Z. You can get it from Penguin. Penguin is probably the best translation. The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico, or the Discovery and Conquest of New Spain. It just reads like a thriller. It reads like an epic thriller.

And then the other one, I think the author’s name is Colliss, C-O-L-E-S-S, or I-S-S. Anyway, it’s called Cortes and Montezuma. And that is, that’s a superb study of the personalities of these two really extraordinary men.

Cy Kellett:
Thanks to all our listeners for joining us for another episode of Catholic Answers Focus. We do this all the time. And if you’d like to get regular updates on Focus, just join the radio club. Go to Catholic.com/radioclub. And tell your friends. It’s a great deal. We give away free stuff, and we send you a newsletter each week to let you know what’s going on here at Catholic Answers Live and Catholic Answers Focus. We will see you next time, God willing, on Catholic Answers Focus.

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