The Gates of Our Lady of Guadalupe (Part 1)

By Christopher Zoukis

There are eight gates, each weighing approximately 700 pounds.  For three-quarters of a century – from 1922 until 1997 – these gold colored gates surrounded the shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe at St. Vibiana’s Cathedral in Los Angeles. 

Traditionally, gates symbolize the threshold of an entrance into a new life and communication between one world and another world.  Gates represent the protective, sheltering aspect of the Great Mother.  In Christianity, the Virgin Mary is the Gate of Heaven.  Passage through the gate, especially for those in spiritual poverty, leads to rekindled spiritual understanding.  Proverbs 8:3 associates the gate with mystical wisdom. 

The eight gates at St. Vibiana’s stood before a shrine commemorating the Virgin of Guadalupe, who, in 1531 appeared to Juan Diego on Tepeyac Hill in Mexico.  Her appearance served as a bridge between the old Aztec world and the new world of the conquering Spanish conquistadors.  The miraculous manifestation of the Virgin’s image imprinted on a peasant’s cape[1] was reported to the Vatican.  The Vatican accepted the occurrence as a bona fide miracle, and a sanctuary was erected on the spot in 1533.  In 1695, construction   on a new sanctuary began, followed by the modern Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in 1976.  Tantamount to the Shroud of Turin, Our Lady of Guadalupe’s shrine remains second in visitors only to the Vatican.  Pilgrims come from all over the world to kneel before the shrine.  Her image, according to the Boston Globe, “May be the most venerated picture in the world.”  She is the benefactor and symbol of Mexico.

St. Vibiana’s Cathedral in Los Angeles was built in 1876.  The cathedral’s architecture exudes the Spanish Baroque style.  Upon completion, in tribute to Our Lady of Guadalupe, a shrine was placed in the cathedral, and the eight gates added later.  The eight gates represent the superiority of old school master craftsmanship, being hand forged and fitted, rather than welded.  Even utilizing modern fabrication techniques, the cost of duplicating the eight gates would exceed $300,000.  Not only are the eight gates true works of art, they also contain a vicarious element to anyone who beholds them.  This vicarious element is a precious prize, pregnant with mysterious symbolism.  The eight gates project an efficacious immediacy, that is, everything the Virgin Mary intended for her faithful – the mystical phenomenon of a bridge from the present physical/spiritual reality to another reality, the reality of compassion, healing, and charity, which are necessary and certain. 

When a pilgrim approaches the gates, the mystical phenomenon of Our Lady of Guadalupe is translated into mental and physical existence.  Existence becomes the steady succession of this marvelous reality, which reflects the activity of the universe.  Irregularities and absurdities cease to exist.  Virtue is the order of the day.  The gates denote the point of alliance between intellect and faith, science and religion.  In this fashion, in this faded age – made opaque by pervasive arrogance, fiscal crises, moribund schools, collapsing social structures and dependence on hypertechnology – something wonderful occurs.  Individuals develop into the fullness of humanity. 

Ecclesiastic and scientific researchers have analyzed the mysteries associated with Our Lady of Guadalupe at great length.  After performing their analyses, the religious and secular authorities concluded the phenomenon was not a hoax.  In 1666, the Catholic Church executed a formal inquiry into the validity of the miraculous appearance.  The inquiry authenticated the miracle – the Virgin Mary had appeared four times to Juan Diego.  Later, in 1956, the Catholic Church engaged two ophthalmologists to examine Mary’s eyes, based on the claim that tiny figures were reflected in her eyes.  The ophthalmologists magnified Mary’s eyes 2500x.  They reported observing both Aztec and Franciscan figures in the irises of the image’s eyes.  Scrutinized once more in 1977, using infrared photography and digital enhancement techniques, investigators determined that the image was devoid of any type of sketching or drawn outline, which would permit a human artist to create such a painting.  And the method used to generate the image could not be identified.  Most notably, in 1981, Philip Callahan subjected the image to a three-hour infrared examination.  He reported that the entire painting looked as if it had been accomplished by a single brush stroke.

On August 7, 2009, Dr. Aldofo Orozco, an acclaimed physicist, speaking at the International Marian Congress on Our Lady of Guadalupe, told the audience that there was no rational, scientific explanation for the image’s perpetuation and preservation.  For 478 years the image has remained in pristine condition, despite time and circumstances.  Dr. Orozco stated, “All the cloths similar to the Tilma that have been placed in the salty and humid environment around the Basilica have lasted no more than ten years.” 

According to Dr. Orozco, a painted copy of the image, made in 1789, testified to the miraculous preservation of the Tilma.  “This painting was made with the best techniques of the time, the copy was beautiful and made with a fabric very similar to that of the Tilma.  Also, the image was protected with a glass since it was first placed there.”  After eight years, the painted copy was almost completely disintegrated. 

By comparison, “the original Tilma was exposed for approximately 116 years without any kind of protection, receiving all the infrared and ultraviolet radiation from the tens of thousands of candles near it and exposed to the humid and salty air around the temple.  One of the most bizarre characteristics of the cloth is that the back side is rough and coarse, but the front side is ‘as soft as the most pure silk,’ as noted by painters and scientists in 1666, and confirmed one century later by the Mexican painter, Miguel Cabrera.”


[1] The peasant’s cape is designated ayate or tilma.