Science Unravels the Secrets of Our Lady of Guadalupe

By Professor Philip Callahan
Emminent scientist, University of Florida, 1979
From "The Wonder of Guadalupe" by Francis Johnston

That beautiful cool day of 12 December 1531, Juan Diego, one of the early converts of Mexico, could not have dreamt that one day in the distant future he would be immortalized and elevated on the altar of the universal Church.

He was on the way to church that early morning when he heard again the sweet voice of the lovely Lady who materialized before his very eyes at the foot of Tepeyac Hill on the outskirts of Mexico City, a couple of days earlier.

The beautiful Lady repeated her wish to have a teocali (chapel) built where she appeared. Juan Diego told the lovely Lady that Bishop Juan Zumarraga demanded proof of the authenticity of the request. Our Lady obliged. At her instruction, Juan Diego gathered a bunch of Castilian roses which she herself arranged on his tilma (shawl). He was to give this to the bishop. Yes, Castilian roses unbelievably in bloom during winter time!

Juan Diego hurriedly went to the Bishop and as he was unfurling his tilma, lo and behold! The bishop and the other people present were greatly surprised to find not just fragrant roses tumbling from the tilma but also an image (143 centimeters high) of a beautiful young woman slightly dark in complexion.

That is the beautiful story of how the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe came to be. The image is surrounded by rays of the sun and under the Virgin’s feet there is a crescent moon and an angel lifting her up. She is wearing a green-and-blue mantle covered with golden stars and underneath is a pink tunic embroidered with budding flowers, outlined in gold. A dark purple belt is tied around the Virgin’s waist in a style similar to those worn by pregnant Aztec women.

The Blessed Mother asked Juan Diego to call her coatloxopeuh which in Nahuatl, the Aztec Indian language, means “one who crushes the serpent”. Historically, it was part of the Aztec culture at that time to offer annually at least 20,000 men, women and children to their gods as human sacrifice. With the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe to Juan Diego, millions were converted to Christianity, thus crushing the serpent of idolatry.

Juan Diego’s tilma was made of rough, resistant thread, a very coarse and completely unsuitable material for painting. Research and scientific tests have been made on the tilma since 1666 by painters, doctors, and scientists. Their findings revealed the following: the incredible characteristics of the image go above and beyond all scientific understanding; the image does not seem to have been painted by human hand; the colors appear to be “incorporated” into the fiber; and that the coloring used was neither animal nor mineral in origin. Furthermore, the shawl, made of that particular fiber, is the only one of its kind still in existence after 476 years.

Renzo Allegri, in his article in Messenger of Saint Anthony, disclosed that the most surprising phenomenon which has awakened scientific curiosity regarding the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe concerns what has been discovered in the pupil of the Blessed Mother’s eyes. In 1929, Alfonso Gonzales, a photographer of the Basilica of Guadalupe, after studying the negative of the image, found what seemed to be a clear image of a bearded man reflected in the right eye.

After more than twenty years, another photographer of the basilica, Carlos Chavez declared that he saw a human figure in the left eye as well as in the right eye of Our Lady of Guadalupe. From 1956 to 1958, Rafael Torija Lavoigner carried out five studies using magnifying lenses and ophthalmoscopes, and confirmed the presence of the human images in the Virgin’s eyes.

Such phenomena became even more sensational when Our Lady’s eyes were studied using more sophisticated technology linked to computers.

In 1979, Dr. Jose Aste Tousman, a brilliant civil and environmental engineer who specialized in computers in the United States, arrived in Mexico. He was one of the most qualified researchers on the eyes of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Allegri writes that the work carried out by Dr. Tousman in 23 years is incredible; he used the most up-to-date or sophisticated equipment, the likes of which are used by NASA to decipher photographs taken by satellites in space. Dr. Tousman enlarged the image of Our Lady Guadalupe's eyes up to 2,500 times their original size, using 25,000 illuminated paints per square millimeter.

After filtering and processing the digitized image, Dr. Tousman discovered an entire scene captured or photographed in Our Lady of Guadalupe's eyes. In the scene, there are about eleven people. There is a native Mexican seated with his legs crossed and long hair tied in ponytail. Next to him is an old man, quite bald, with a white beard, straight nose, bushy eyebrows and a tear rolling down his right cheek. This character has been identified as Bishop Juan Zumarraga. On his left is his translator, Juan Gonzales. There is a profile of an old man with a beard and moustache, with a large Roman nose, prominent cheekbones, sunken eyes and half-closed lips - apparently a native Indian - opening his shawl as he turns to face the old bald man. This appears to be Juan Diego, bringing the roses in his tilma to the bishop. There are also unidentified people consisting of a father, mother, grandparents, and three children.

The scene discovered in the enlarged eyes of the digitized image shows that, during that dramatic moment when Juan Diego unfurled his tilma to the Bishop and all who were present in the room saw Our Lady’s image painted there, the Mother of God was really present: like the most sophisticated of cameras, her eyes captured that scene and preserved it for generations to come. What is equally amazing is that, knowing the limits of science and technology at that time, she knew that this would be discovered only hundreds of years later, when the most sophisticated equipment had been invented by man.

What could have been the message of Our Lady of Guadalupe through these scientific discoveries? Dr. Aste Tousman comes up with these reflections. The presence of unidentified people could be an emphasis on the importance of the family and its values. Since both white men and Indians are found in the scene, the presence of mixed races could be an anti-racist warning and a call for the brotherhood of man. The discovery of the scene using modern equipment could be an invitation to make use of technology to spread the word of Christ.

Juan Diego has been canonized by Pope John Paul II in Mexico City. This humble, simple Indian could not have imagined that the lovely Lady of Guadalupe he conversed with in the hills of Tepayac would have more secrets unlocked, reserved for future generations. In his simplicity of mind, he could not have fathomed this. Suffice it to say that he obeyed her and loved her, and that she loved him for his simplicity and purity of heart.

It may seem strange for a scientist to say this but as far I am concerned, the original picture is miraculous. Studying the image was the most moving experience of my life. Just getting that close, I got the same strange feeling that others did who worked on the Shroud of Turin. I believe in logical explanations up to a point. But there is no logical explanation for life. You can break life down into atoms, but what comes after that? Even Einstein said God. 

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