Our Lady of Guadalupe for atheists

By Tom Quiner

275px-Virgen_de_guadalupe1I love the mysteriousness of Catholicism.

God has revealed inexplicable wonders to man down through the ages. It seems at times, though, as if it is only the Catholics paying attention.

I say this as a convert to the faith, and as one with a healthy appreciation for Protestantism and other belief systems.

In one sense, Catholicism is the most explainable religion in history. It doesn’t change. We believe the same things today as we did 2000 years ago. It is codified in the Catholic Catechism.

Do you want to know what the Church believes about sin, the soul, or salvation?

It’s in the Catechism.

Do you want to why the Church believes Christ is physically present in the Eucharist?

It is explained in the Catechism.

Our beliefs are not swayed by the fads of the age. However, they grow through revelation.

I sit at the edge of my seat at Mass when the priest proclaims, “let us proclaim the mystery of our faith.”

As a Catholic, my mind is open to new mysteries, such as the mysterious wonders of “Our Lady of Guadalupe,” whereas it would have been closed to Her message in my protestant days.

For the record, I don’t begrudge anyone casting a skeptical eye toward our Blessed Mother, because it took me a long time to come around. I have discovered that She is very patient, because all she wants is to bring us to Her Son.

She is all about love and mercy.

This brings me to the title of this essay. I have many friends who are agnostic or even atheistic. The agnostic at least leaves the door open to the possibility of Mystery. The atheist doesn’t.

I’d like to present a fascinating mystery for my readers who are atheists.

The day was December 9th, 1531. It was the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in the Spanish Empire.

A peasant by the name of Juan Diego was walking and encountered the vision of a teenage girl bathed in light.

She asked the peasant to have a church built on this site in her name.

Who was she? Juan Diego determined that it was the Virgin Mary, the Mother of Jesus, the Son of God.

Juan took the message to the Bishop who asked for a miraculous sign that would prove her identity.

When Juan returned to the hillside to convey the request, Mary told him to gather roses that would be found at the top of the hill.

In December? Roses in December? But Juan found Castilian roses growing, which are not native to Mexico. And he found them in a spot that was normally barren.

He took them to Mary who placed them in the peasant’s tilma cloak. (Tilma is a flimsy fiber made from the cactus plant.)

So the miraculous sign was the roses, right? The bishop was going to be amazed when he saw a mound of roses this time of year in a peasant’s cloak. Right?

As the saying goes, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Juan Diego opened his cloak before the bishop.

The roses tumbled to the ground.

What the bishop saw astounded. Imprinted on the cloak, against which the roses had been pressed, was a startling image that is now known as “Our Lady of Guadalupe,” which you can see above.

‘What a nice little folk tale’ is what you may be thinking. And I would agree if that was all there was to the story.

Let us set aside the many miracles attributed to this mysterious icon. Let us just reflect on a few scientific observations.

Tilma is a material that has a shelf life of about 30 to 40 years. The tilma bearing the image of “Our Lady” is still intact and in good condition today, 481 years later. A scientist who analyzed the material, Dr. Adolfo Orozco, offers no explanation as to the super durability of this particular tilma.

The tilma received no protection for the first 116 years of its existence, which subjected it to UV rays that break down the material over time. It was also subjected to the relentless kisses and tears of the faithful who were allowed to press their face to the icon in those early decades of its existence.

Another scientist, Dr. Aste Tonsmann, a civil engineer with a doctorate from Cornell University, was allowed to use new, sophisticated digital imagery on the eyes of the icon.

He magnified the eyes 2500 times and made a startling discovery. There is a reflection embedded in the irises of the eyes of Mary of thirteen people who were allegedly present when Juan Diego opened his tilma and let the roses fall to the ground.

These images are undetectable without very modern scientific instruments. They would have been impossible for an artist of the 16th century to have created them.

In 1938, another scientist tried to figure out how the icon was painted. Richard Kuhn, the 1938 Nobel Prize winner in chemistry, discovered that the image wasn’t made with natural animal or mineral colorings.

There were no synthetic colorings in 1531. He can’t explain how the image was created.

Even more, there are no brush or sketch marks present.

Now, take a look at the stars on Mary’s mantle. Another scientist analyzed their placement back in 1981 at

The stars on Mary's mantle align with constellations seen from the Mexican sky in 1531.

The stars on Mary’s mantle align with constellations seen from the Mexican sky in 1531.

the Observatory Laplace Mexico City.

Dr. Hernández Illescas, a medical doctor and amateur astronomer working with Fr. Mario Rojas, performed an astronomical study of this star pattern.

They discovered the stars weren’t randomly placed. Rather, they are precisely aligned to create a stellar replication of constellations seen in a Mexican sky in the winter-morning solstice of December 12th, 1531, Saturday, at 10:26 AM.

Interesting, isn’t it?

Science raises more questions than it answers.

How come the fabric survives?

Don’t know.

How in the world was the thing painted?

Don’t know.

How could an artist have painted microscopic reflections in the irises of Mary’s eyes?

He couldn’t, it is impossible.

How could a dumb peasant have done any of this along with accurately depicting the constellations?

Maybe he didn’t.

Maybe it is just another mystery of our faith.


  1. kurtedjohn on December 12, 2012 at 7:22 pm

    To some extent, people see what they want to see. Just look at the stars on Mary’s mantle. To me, they mostly look like a fairly plain square pattern. I found an article that talked about the 13 people embedded in the iris of Mary and showed some magnified images. It reminded me of what we see when we look for shapes in clouds. How were the cloak and the imprint created? Maybe the Bishop staged the whole thing because he needed to show the people a miracle. I could speculate of each point, but the bottom line is that I don’t believe is was a supernatural event. I believe it was more likely a fraud. Kurt Johnson

    • Brian D on December 16, 2012 at 1:32 pm

      To claim that it is a fraud would require a scientific explanation of each point, or at least an explanation as to how the bishop created something that has so far been without explanation. I think the one claiming fraud has the onus of proof.

      • kurtedjohn on December 16, 2012 at 4:20 pm

        I have no proof. But, the cloak exists. So, it was created by God or by a person. Since there is no proof that God exists, it was probably made by person. Maybe the peasant fooled the Bishop. Maybe the Bishop perpetrated a fraud. I would say that the onus is on the one claiming that the imprint on the cloak was created by a supernatural being.

  2. Embattled Farmers on December 12, 2012 at 9:57 pm

    It was the Blessed Mother who brought me to the Church, slowly and patiently. You came from being a Protestant, I came from being a Jew!

    • quinersdiner on December 12, 2012 at 10:05 pm

      That is amazing. Your journey sounds more interesting than mine. I came from the Episcopal church, which liturgically wasn’t a far cry from Catholicism. I hope you write on this. It sounds like a great conversion story.

      • Embattled Farmers on December 12, 2012 at 11:47 pm

        I did an interview that was on Catholic radio, and one weekend I spoke at all the Masses about my conversion.

  3. Michael on December 15, 2012 at 5:18 pm

    As another convert (atheist to Evangelical to Catholic) all I can says is thanks (and that I’m gonna re-post at my humble lil’ blog).

    Just before I entered the Church, my own mother died after a long illness and a longer troubled life.
    At the time I saw this image of Our Lady at mass, and in my heart I could almost hear our Lord saying “your mother was suffering, so I took her with me, but I give you mine”.

    • quinersdiner on December 15, 2012 at 5:25 pm

      Beautiful! Thanks for writing.

  4. kurtedjohn on December 16, 2012 at 4:16 pm

    I have no proof. But, the cloak exists. So, it was created by God or by a person. Since there is no proof that God exists, it was probably made by person. Maybe the peasant fooled the Bishop. Maybe the Bishop perpetrated a fraud. I would say that the onus is on the one claiming that the imprint on the cloak was created by a supernatural being.

    • AndersB on December 18, 2012 at 9:49 am

      But these questions have been answered. There is no dye on the tilma. There is no reason that it should have lasted this long. Scientifically, we should be able to find SOME dye on the tilma, and we should be able to see SOME workmanship as well. netiher is present. No sketch-marks, no paint. How would a bishop imprint the image with no paint, and even if he could, how could he ensure the preservation of a fabric that should only last 40 years – not for 50 years, but for nearly 500! On top of that, the tilma has survived bombings at the shrine in Mexico City. OLOG came out unscathed, while the building around her was in pieces!

      • quinersdiner on December 18, 2012 at 10:53 am

        You state it very well. Who knows, maybe there are rational, scientific reasons that explain these things. Science, though, can’t seem to come up with these reasons. That leaves us with rational, spiritual reasons.

  5. Sean Gilinger on December 31, 2012 at 11:29 am

    Faith is the existence of God! Believers can see God because they are simply that, believers. Though God doesn’t need proof (He want’s us to choose Him), He has given it. Indeed science and Religion mash in society but the Saints and Christ himself. loved science. The very reason for strife in the world is due to the many apparitions of Our Blessed Lady that people do not heed to. Imagine yourself saying the Rosary, Mary wins hearts that way.

    • quinersdiner on December 31, 2012 at 11:35 am

      Thanks for weighing in on what is a fascinating and inspiring topic.

  6. David Paul Laflamme Fontes on September 26, 2013 at 5:57 am

    Our material world is a dimension. The vastness of our universe is unfathomable. So are the dimensions with-in this universe. We cannot see other dimensions, ………”yet”. In time, we, the human race will. The digital age of still & motion picture digital cameras has detected orbs, moving shadows, and the etc’s.. . It will be “just matter of time”(J.A.M.O.T.) before we actually detect other dimensions which are “other realities”. Human nature, like with “doubting Thomas”, has to see, touch, feel in order to believe. I myself have been that way. Soon enough through technology, see the other dimension/realities. I sense the “Trinity” is very real. Of course, I am an aging baby boomer, and my wisdom has been upgraded because of age. I now can say with certainty. God is very real and has also created many realities. Do you know what helped me? Daily prayer. JUST DO IT! Then wait what will happen with-in you and your mind, heart & spirits eye(s). Complete amazement & wonderment. I(t takes time. TRY IT!

    • quinersdiner on September 26, 2013 at 7:10 am

      Thanks for sharing your perspective.