Studying Juan Diego’s Tilma
I am a paleontologist at Cornell University, where I teach a course about determining the age, materials and place of origin of artworks. Three years ago, Dr. Gilberto Aguirre, a physician in San Antonio, Texas, invited me to join a team examining the tilma of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
He was interested in small images said to be found in the eyes of the icon and hoped I could comment on the age and composition of the fabric and pigments. I made two trips to Mexico City, did tests on fibers at Cornell and reported to Dr. Aguirre, the archbishop of Mexico City and his staff.
Various news reports had suggested that the tilma was a fake, that it was made in Europe and brought to Mexico by Franciscan priests or, perhaps, that it was painted in Mexico over the image of a dark-eyed Aztec goddess.
People who support the European origin theory argue that the tilma cannot be of local manufacture because it has lasted too long. Local cloth, made from woven cactus fibers, lasts for a few years, maybe a decade. The tilma has been displayed for hundreds of years. They argue the tilma must be woven from European linen or cotton.
Two fibers loaned to me for microscopic examination (and reportedly removed from the tilmas outer edge when it was stored during the Mexican Revolution) do not, it seems, come from native cactus plants.
I was also able to rule out cotton, wool and linen (fibers that might have been used in Europe). The tilma seems to be made from woven hemp, from a plant that is native to Mexico. This could explain the tilmas remarkable state of preservation. Hempen cloth can last hundreds of years. It is one of the strongest fibers known.
People who support the Aztec goddess theory argue that photographs taken in ultraviolet light show an underpainting or pentimento of a dark-eyed, somewhat frightening woman.
I pointed out to Church authorities that ultraviolet photography does not expose images beneath other images. Rather, ultraviolet light shows most clearly the application of paint on top of another image. Ultraviolet light shows where an original has been touched up, usually with a clear varnish. The dark-eyed maiden of the Aztec goddess theorists is simply the original image with large, circular patches of varnish added over the eyes. Conservators often use such patches to protect a surface. Ultraviolet photos could help modern conservators remove this added varnish layer.
To see if there is really an underpainting on the tilma, photographs need to be taken with light from the infrared part of the spectrum.
Theories about European origins and an Aztec goddess are simply incorrect. Simple scientific tests can rule these out.
I hope that future testing will be permitted. An examination using neutron-activation analysis and X-ray fluorescence could shed light on the pigments of the image, the history of the tilma and, importantly, could direct attempts to conserve and safeguard this image.
John J. Chiment teaches in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.
JUAN DIEGOS INTERCESSION MIRACLE SUMMARY
20 years before Juan Diegos Beatification, JJ was born. Dona Esperanzas unique son, who alone, with great efforts, a brave heart and a special faith in God and Virgin of Guadalupe, showed him a life of studies, work and knowledge of the Only Truly God.
JJ was educated in very good schools. His physical and intellectual developments were normal and start to bright between his partners. Only with common problems in many families.
3rd May 1990, in his third floor department in Mexico city, near 17:00 oclock, he falls from the balcony after fighting with his mother trying to stop him. He falls in concrete soil. Struk in his right orbit and chin without being stopped by anything, neither his own arms. Curious people were already in the street trying to help without success. Seeing the fall and stroke think he is dead but JJ, without loss conscience, stands up and seat down in the street. An ambulance is called and carries him to a very renown Hospital.
Immediately is transported to Radiology Section to make head and neck Computed Axial Tomography studies. Medical Director receives the young man, who is very agitated. The mother, very preoccupied, asks for prognostic. She is told her son is going to die soon and possible before will have four limbs paralysis. Director tells her, if she has faith, tries to ask God and Virgin of Guadalupe for a miracle. The mother answer I have already did it, asking Juan Diegos intercession to save JJ to die.
Imagenology studies shows an enormous skull basal fracture. Extended from right orbit and cheek till left ear. It passes over delicate neurologic, arteries and veins elements without produce any lesion. Inflammatory lesions and cerebral edema dues to hemorrhages are reported. Finally, he got his skull broken without other bones fractures.
In the Intensive Care Unit is attended by specialists who only give support measures. 6th May, only three days after, a decision is taken : do not start any measure to useless prolong patients life. Catheters and ventilators are retired and suddenly the young man awakes stands up from bead and start to have meals. Just at same moment in Our Lady Virgin of Guadalupe’s shrine, the Juan Diegos Beatification Celebration Ceremony is taking place. Lesions disappear spontaneously and JJ is recovered without problems added. 10th May, when in Mexico Mothers day is celebrated, he is sent to a normal Hospital room. Ten days after the traumatism he is sent home in excellent conditions without any complication.
All skull base, passing over a place named clivus and the hipophysis gland, important C. R. L. fistulae and hemorrhages, one in subaracnoidean space, were established as diagnosis. Is remarkable he did not die immediately, also he did not lose conscience, other fractures were not present, niether neurologic, endocrinologic or other invalidating lesions. Also the recovery was so rapid. Without complications or specific treatment.
A month after, tomodensitometries (ACT ) were normal. Continuously supervised, one more year do not present neurologic, endocrinous nor vascular problems and his emotional and intellectual status were satisfactory. Occasionally had little relapses because familiar problems, overlooked with psychiatric treatment. Another tomography one year after, shows a fracture already consolidated in a cervical vertebral structure called odontoides. This bone, with a minimum displacement, not as severe as in this case, injure rachidean bulb as a rule. In this place, autonomous functions as cardiac beats, breath and digestive functions are regulated.
He was working as bell boy and as chauffeur nearly five years. With his friends went to parties having a normal life. He continues under strict supervision and three year ago “Juan Diegos Scholarship is given him. He finishes studies as Computer Technique. Having very good notes, even the first place some months and his classmates and professors have very good opinions of his behavior. Last year went to United States and right now has a worthy work in a sales institution.
With so unusual evolution, an official Catholic Court was established in order to check the presence of a miracle. Constituted by outstanding Church personalities, as Father J. Milanese already dead, theologians as Mons. Jose Luis Guerrero and Father Victor Garcia Delgadillo, Luis Felipe García, Mons Enrique Salazar as Vicepostulador, and Father Antonio Moya from Opus Dei Prelature. All of them with specialization studies in Rome, Italy. As Notaries, Sor Nieves Rodríguez and Josefima Velázquez. Three physicians were included : Coordinated by D, J.H. Hernandez Illescas, all specialists and university professors. Sessions had place almost every week nearly four years. JJ, his mother and other witness were convoked to declare. They retell the facts, invocations to Juan Diego before the fall and the prodigious evolution.
Other Mexican doctors with very well known scientific quality and irreproachable professional and docent lines. Three neurosurgeons, two orthopedist, three psychiatrics, two internists, a general surgeon, one endocrinologist, one radiologist, one otorrinolaringologist and a forensic specialist. Between them stands out Dr. Horacio Martinez Romeros participation. He had between other international rewards, one Latin-American Neurosurgery Congress presidency. All doctors are distinguished university professors.
Dr. Javier Amaro, Forensic Medicine specialist working in General Justice Mexican Court, with thousands of autopsies experience, also concluded, having JJ those kind of injures presented, we are seeing an inconceivable case, because he is alive, without any kind of sequel and in perfect physical and mental conditions.
To prove it, an interview in video was made. Common questions were posed to JJ, as studies, hobbies, worries and wishes of future progress. JJ’s answers were very sensible. He shows visually his normal mind.
Since in this case is contributing force application, the opinion of two specialists in Dynamics was asked. Physic Blas Diaz Romero from La Salle University, and Ing. Hugo Acevedo. In separated calculations they determined the young man cervical vertebral spine, usually broken with a 35 kg application force, received more than one and a half tons !!!.
Thursday Saint 1994, in Mexico Metropolitan Cathedral, during the Benediction of the Saint Oil, the Mexican Copia Bella was placed in a box, sealed appropriately and sent to Rome, Italy. The Eternal City receives it. A new stage begins. Mons. P Molinari of Postulazione Generale Della Compagnia Di Gesu, edits a Positio and sends to Vatican Saints Congregation and supervises the Process evolution. Five Italian doctors are called, between them the eminent professor Da Rossa. Their unanimous opinion is it is a real miracle. Then the Theologiens revision comes. They approve the legality of Procedures.
In this moment His Eminency Norberto Cardinal Rivera, Mexico Prime Archbishop, takes very wisely, the Process Direction. With an old and important interest to work on Canonization. Even in his heraldic Coat of Arms we can see the Popocatepetl and Iztaccíhuatl volcanoes guarding Anahuac Valley, and the beautiful figures of Virgin of Guadalupe and Juan Diego!!!. Just as a premonition of love to them and his destiny to bring to a good end Juan Diegos Canonization Process. He designs as new Postulator Mons Oscar Barba who continues the procedure.
Very known problems begin and it was necessary to exaggerate historic, theological and technical aspects on Juan Diego and the miracle. Then appears the important aportations, in a book, of Mons Fidel Gonzalez, Eduardo Chavez and Jose Luis Guerrero, who actualize, make a revision and include new facts to avoid weaks and wrong voices of some people trying to delay canonization.
Mons. Chavez continues Juan Diego’s Process and from the beginning plays an extraordinary role. By means of conferences, writings, and meetings he seize the opportunity and, under His Eminence Norberto instructions and with Mons Diego Monroy, Dean of Virgin of Guadalupes shrine, with all his means and efforts promotes Canonization.
October 2001 Vatican Consistory is finished and His Saintly John Paul II proclaims and signs, the truth of Juan Diego´s Miracle in December 20th. Right now the entire world, especially Mexico and Latin-America are waiting with anxiety, the John Paul II’s illuminated intervention in order to officially canonizes Juan Diego. In accomplishment of Virginal promises, to follow countersign tasks Saint Mary of Guadalupe encomends him to continue being example of compromised laic, evangelizer and also to shine as paradigm of all world aborigines in this convulsed planet.
PRAISED BE GOD, BLESSED THE VIRGIN OF GUADALUPE AND THANK YOU JOHN PAUL II.
Cloth evaluation aside, a more basic question is how does one know this was “Our Lady of Guadalupe”?