These items— a door sign and a candle— depict the Image of Gaudalupe, a sixteenth-century portrait of the Virgin Mary. Its Mexico City shrine is second only to the Vatican in popularity among Catholics.
A pious legend claims that in 1531— some years after the Spanish defeated the Aztec Empire— a peasant named Juan Diego was visited by the Virgin who said she wanted a shrine built in her honor. As a sign to a skeptical bishop she caused her image to be miraculously imprinted on the inside of Diego's cloak.
Today the Image is widely venerated and is reproduced everywhere— even being a popular tattoo subject. Writers who believe in the Image's authenticity admit that some of the picture is painted but insist that those areas are later additions, the original being "not made with hands." In fact close-up photographs reveal that the weave is obscured and that cracking and flaking occur along a seam that runs through the "original" areas. Infrared photos reveal that the hands have been modified.
As early as 1556, when a formal investigation of the cloth was held, one Franciscan tesified that the image had been "painted yesteryear by an Indian." Another priest testified that the picture "was a painting that the Indian painter Marcos had done" (a probable reference to the Aztec painter Marcos Cipac). (For a discussion see Skeptical Inquirer Spring 1985, pp. 243-255.)
In 1996 the abbot of the basilica of Guadalupe (where the image is enshrined) created a furor by conceding that the whole story was a myth. He said that Juan Diego was fictitious, "a symbol, not a reality." Subsequently, the Roman Catholic Church announced his departure as head of the basilica but gave no explanation. (See Skeptical Inquirer, January/February 1997, p. 9.)
(The sign pictured here reads: "This House Is Catholic. No Propaganda Is Accepted from Protestant or Other Sects. Long Live Christ the King! Long Live the Virgin of Guadalupe, Mother of God!")