12 December 2005

Our Lady of Guadalupe

In 1993, on the hottest July day in years, Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School burned--from the top down. Beginning with the roof, floors crashed down upon each other until they reached the basement, 14 feet below ground level. The debris formed a mountain of rubble, in places more than 40 feet high.

Miraculously, no one was hurt. Almost as miraculously, most of our artwork was salvaged. Hand to hand, a human chain passed the pictures from one volunteer to another, in the dark, in the flames, in the drenching water and chemicals the fire department was using to quench the blaze.

This image of Our Lady of Guadalupe which now hangs in the Chapel of the Sacred Heart was so rescued. It was painted on oxhide in 1601, only 69 years after the apparitions, and fastened to its rosewood frame with an animal glue so strong that when conservators attempted to remove the portrait from its rosewood frame, they were unable to do so. It is an old artifact, 405 years old, if the date on the back is to believed, so its colors are muted. This, according to Ann Bigley Robertson, author of An Enduring Legacy, this gives the painting " . . . a very soft quality and emphasizes the mysterious origins of the image."

It is interesting that images of Our Lady of Guadalupe are instantly recognizable, yet many of them vary significantly in detail. One image that remains a favorite hung over the oval glass insert of the front door of a house rented by migrant workers in Mount Angel, Oregon. It was cotton and had been placed facing outward, so the first greeting to anyone who stopped by the walk was Mary. Her cloak was not blue, but scarlet; she was enthroned on the hands of a Mexican Indian, not by a cherub. Yet one is able to recognize her instantly, the Mother of God who is the Author of all life.
At Guadalupe Mary had promised Juan Diego that she would "demonstrate, manifest, . . . all my love, all my compassion, through the protection of my people." And so she has, and we offer her our gratitude, placing her image right up front, in a chapel in a Visitation monastery, on a door in the Willamette Valley.

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