This is not about my pilgrimage to Mexico, but it is about something I learned there about the miraculous tilma that rests high above the altar in the basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. 

Most things I was told on this trip about that tilma I already knew. I even freshened up on my facts before leaving, in preparation for seeing a real miracle for the first time with my own eyes. 

I thought I had all my ducks in a row: The tilma was made from cactus fibers, because that was the material available to poor indigenous people to keep the cold of December at bay. This same material should have disintegrated in 50-70 years, yet there it hangs over the altar, fully intact 491 years later.

But I was so gobsmacked to learn that elements of the tilma are in fact deteriorating that I found myself compelled to use the word gobsmacked.

I want so sincerely to believe that what I saw in that frame above the altar was in fact a miraculous image produced by a divine hand. I have the same inclination toward the Shroud of Turin, and the more I read, and the more exact the science becomes, the more the Shroud’s genuineness seems real. 

I do not know if the tilma has undergone such scientific scrutiny — and I also realize the Church does not require us to believe in any “approved” apparition — but Our Lady of Guadalupe does possess a lot of other bona fides toward authenticity. The constellations of the stars oriented just as they would have been on Dec. 12, 1531, the Aztec imagery blended with the Christian message of the theotokos, flowers found only in Spain and never in December anywhere.

So, what was wrong and what was deteriorating?  

The thing I learned about the tilma was that not long after St. Juan Diego revealed the image to his bishop, someone in authority within the Church decided the image needed more bling and so this remarkable fabric was “augmented” with some gold leaf painting. It is the gold leaf — the obvious work of man — that is now breaking down and flaking off the tilma.

Full story at Angelus News.