Origin Of Virgin's Image
Remains A Mystery

By Michelle Ray Ortiz
Associated Press

An ornate golden frame surrounds the rustic fabric made of cactus fiber.

The cloth holds the revered image of the Virgin Mary said to have been created miraculously on the cloak of an Aztec peasant in1531.

As with the face said to be that of Christ on the Shroud ofTurin, testing has been unable to explain the origin of the full-color image on the "tilma.''

Scientific testing has not found any trace of brush strokes to indicate the figure is a painting, as skeptics claim. An infrared examination done by U.S. researchers in 1979 showed no underlying preliminary drawings or layers of protective varnish.

Dr. Juan Homero Hernandez, co-author of studies on the image, says the stars on the cloak correspond to northern and southern constellations as they appeared on Dec. 12, 1531, the date of the apparition. The golden outline of flowers on Mary's robe correspond to Aztec symbols pointing out key geographic features in central Mexico.

A figure appearing at the foot of the Virgin Mary may symbolize Juan Diego, Hernandez says. The figure's wings are similar to eagle feathers, and Juan Diego's name before his conversion to Catholocism was Cuauhtlatoa, meaning "eagle that speaks."

Believers say the present state of the tilma cannot be explained since the cactus fiber should have rotted after 20 years. Pollution, soot from candles and handling by devotees' hands early in the cloak's history have not darkened the image or caused its colors to fade, they say.

In 1791, a worker cleaning the frame spilled nitric acid across the cloth, leaving behind only a watermark.

In 1921, an anti-religious group hid a bomb in a flower vase at the foot of the image. It exploded during a Mass, damaging the altar but leaving the frame and cloth unharmed.

Today, the cloth is protected by bulletproof glass.


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