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Art & Architecture: Shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe

Our Lady of Guadalupe is the patroness of the Americas and is a traditional and powerful symbol for Mexicans and Mexican-Americans. The shrine, designed by artist Lalo Garcia, on the north Plaza wall of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels represents the appearance of Mary, Jesus's mother, to Saint Juan Diego near Mexico City in 1531.

The Apparitions

Mary appeared at Tepeyac, a hill northwest of Mexico City as a young, pregnant, Spanish-Indian woman wearing an Aztec maternity sash. She identified herself to the 57 year old peasant and widower, Juan Diego, as the "Mother of the True God," and gave him a message of love, compassion, protection and help.


Mary's request to Juan that a church be built in her name was rejected by a skeptical Bishop Juan de Zumarraga. Mary again appeared and guided Juan, speaking to him in Aztec Nahuatl. At her instruction he collected roses in the cold of December. Later, in front of the Bishop, he opened his tilma (cape), a poor quality cactus cloth, and roses poured out. Much to both the surprise of Juan and the Bishop, Mary's image was imprinted on his simple robe.

Blessed Juan Diego

Juan Diego was declared "Blessed" by Pope John Paul II in 1990 at the Vatican and was canonized on July 31, 2002. Both the beatification and canonization ceremonies took place at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. The Pope praised Juan Diego for his simple faith and pictured him (who said to the Blessed Mother, "I am nobody. I am a small rope, a tiny ladder, the tail end, a leaf.") as a model of humility for all of us. Diego is the first saint from Central America and the first Native American saint of the Americas.

The Mural and Shrine

The shrine has two, mosaic-style images, one facing the Hollywood Freeway (101) and the other facing the Plaza. Garcia chose talavera (Mexican tile) because of its look, feel and durability and because of the tradition it has for the past one hundred years in Mexico.

Garcia used local soil from Puebla, Mexico, the birthplace of talavera, to make the clay for the mural and shrine. It was painstakingly molded, shaped and cut by local artisans to his exact specifications. Each talavera was placed into a kiln oven for twelve hours, removed, glazed and hand painted with a color palette of paints derived from various minerals found near Puebla, then again placed in the kiln for another twelve hours. "I wanted to make the tile from Mexican soil, Mexican clay, labored over by Mexican hands," he says.

The twelve foot replica that faces the freeway is of the original, centuries old image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, as it has been enshrined at the Basilica of Tepeyac in Mexico City. Three panels forming a triptych shrine face the main Plaza.

"My dearest and youngest son," as the Blessed Mother called Juan Diego, is on the left side of Our Lady of Guadalupe. He is kneeling, inviting us to speak with Mary and reminding us of the relationship he had with her during the apparitions. The image of an eagle appears near his shoulder and represents Juan Diego's Nahuatl name, "Cuauhtla Toatzin," which translates to, "He who speaks like an eagle."

In the center panel is the stylized tilma with the digital image of the Blessed Mother. The last time a photographer was allowed to photograph the original image at the Basilica in Mexico City was in the early 1960s. Not until the early 1990s was a photographer allowed to create an identical digital image.


The digital image was blessed by Pope John Paul II and toured different parishes throughout Los Angeles for three years before being installed at the Cathedral. Many people in Los Angeles have touched it. "The real value of the digital image is the value the people have given to it," says Garcia.

Mary's cape is held by two angels, one Aztec, one Spanish, to remind us of the encounter of the Indian and the European and the birth of the mestizo, the Mexican. The angels also continue to remind us that the Blessed Mother descended from the heavens.

The third panel is a collage of the Angelenos, faces from united, but multiethnic groups, including a special needs child with Down's Syndrome, that make up Los Angeles. Therefore, in the shrine, Our Lady is portrayed with her favorite son, Juan Diego, but also with all the children of the world.

The words printed on the third panel refer to the statement made by Pope Benedict XIV in 1754 when a copy of the miraculous picture was first shown to him, "Non fecit talliter omni nationi" ("He hath not dealt so with any other nation,") applying to the Mexican people this verse from Psalm 147:20.

The verse referred to Our Lady of Guadalupe's protection over New Spain and today extends to the diversity of all peoples in America. This saying encompasses the honor that those born in North America have felt because of this manifestation of preference. Historically this helps to explain why the phrase spread so rapidly and why today it is still embraced in representations of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

The Candle Stands

The two candle stands on each side of the shrine an are decorated with Aztec motifs symbolizing strength and belief. They can hold 200 candles each. The design is sculpted in a bas-relief on traditional Mexican stone.

History Behind Our Lady of Guadalupe

Historically, Our Lady of Guadalupe plays an important role in the beginning of the Mexican people. She appeared to Juan Diego twelve years after the Spanish conquest by Hernando Cortez in 1519. By this time the Spanish Creoles and Indians had intermingled. They were a mixture, a new product of America, the Mexican. The Aztecs, however, were orphans in faith because all their temples had been destroyed. They had no will to live.

Our Lady's appearance gave them hope and guidance. Diego recognized Guadalupe as the Mother of God through the symbolism and colors on her tilma. For example, the four-petal flower on her tunic was interpreted by the Aztecs to represent Nahui Ollin. The hieroglyphic of Nahui Ollin symbolizes "four movement" and is directly related to the crosssticks of the new fire used in the ceremony at the end of the Aztec fifty-two-year cycle. Because the flower can be seen on the womb of the Virgin, it helped the indigenous people to understand that the Blessed Mother was carrying a new life.

The Creoles also saw symbolism used when they were in Spain. They recognized Extremadura, a statue that looked like Our Lady of Guadalupe, from the southwestern Spanish town of Medellin where Cortez was born. Everything in the image has meaning to be studied, the stars, embroidery, rays, moon and angel.

In 1810 the Mexican father of independence, Catholic priest, Miguel Hildalgo y Costilla, used the Guadalupe image as a banner of the revolutionary forces, as did the priest José Ma. Morelos y Pavon during the battles. One hundred years later during the Mexican Revolution, the peasant Emiliano Zapata used the Guadalupe flag. More recently Cesar Chavez and the farm workers used the image in their protest for human rights. Guadalupe has been a power for goodness for the Mexican people.

Installation of the Shrine

Artist Lalo Garcia considers that finding the installer of the Our Lady of Guadalupe shrine was verification that "the hand of God is working." As he looked for a male model with Spanish roots for one of the angel's faces, he met the young man's father, who owns a tile company in San Fernando, California.

The man had traveled to Spain to meet with architect Rafael Moneo to see if he could do work for the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, to contribute his time and talents, "Even if it was a bathroom for which I would donate my tile and, naturally, install it." His request got lost in the confusion of the mammoth Cathedral construction.

The man became excited when Garcia told him he was designing the shrine and exclaimed, "You know, for two years I've been trying to do something for this Cathedral, and now you come in." So he asked, "Do you have anybody who is willing to install the murals?"

When Garcia said he had someone in mind, the man said, "Well, tell them 'no' because I am going to do this myself."


The man is in his 50s and has been working with tile since the age of nine in Spain, and now he has installed the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the Cathedral Plaza. His son is the Spanish angel. The man is thrilled.

There are many qualified installers, "but to find somebody that would do it with the love that this man has, that, I think," says Garcia, "was a miracle in itself."

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