He Keeps One Eye to the Heavens
How Fr. Anthony's Love for Stargazing and Love for Our Lady Have Merged
Our Lady left her image imprinted on this tilma, which attracts hundreds of thousands of pilgrims each year to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, the second most visited Roman Catholic shrine in the world.
By Felix Carroll (Dec 12, 2011)
This article was first posted in 2009, on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
We've gone from lightness to darkness, indoors to outdoors, comfort to coldness. It's a wintry December evening. The earth is an ice cube. A first-quarter moon, with the dull light of nearly dead batteries, hangs low on the horizon, and it's on the move, tipping as if to inspect a stand of maple trees in the distance that, in silhouette, raise their bare arms in surrender.
It's really, really dark out. You have to feel your way with footsteps placed gingerly. We're on the south lawn of the Marians' monastery in Stockbridge, Mass. Above the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy, Jupiter, Venus, and the all-star cast of constellations twinkle with a million mysteries.
Father Anthony, part-time hobbyist astronomer, unfolds his tripod and sets up his telescope.
"It's a beautiful night," he says, his words instantly translated into cold puffs of vapor.
It's Dec. 5. It's that time of year when Fr. Anthony can't quite get his mind off the night sky. Why? Because the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe is on Dec. 12, and Fr. Anthony's devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe and his love of stargazing, once separate and distinct, have merged in recent years for reasons nothing short of remarkable.
He has studied the miraculous image known worldwide as the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. He's read books about. He's befriended Guadalupano scholars. And, indeed, to this day, researchers continue to decode its many layers of imagery — layers that rely on numerical symbolism, that point to the Book of Revelation, and yes, by means of the night sky, tell a story of salvation.
But first, a little history.
The Image As the Aztecs Saw it
Our Lady appeared in 1531 to a poor peasant named Juan Diego at Tepeyac, a hill northwest of what is now Mexico City. As proof of her appearance, she left an image of herself imprinted on Juan Diego's tilma, a garment made of cactus cloth.
Many miracles have been associated with the image. Among the first is that it is believed to have led to the conversion of millions of indigenous people, most notably the Aztecs. Until Our Lady's apparitions, the Spanish missionaries who first came to what is now known as Mexico had little success in conversions. Then, after the apparitions, with the help of Juan Diego and his tilma, miracles began to happen. Within a short period of time, 6 million natives had been baptized as Christians.
"It's important to see this image as the Aztecs saw it," says Fr. Anthony. "There was something about the image that spoke to the indigenous people, particularly the Aztecs, who had an elaborate symbol-based language system."
The image shows Our Lady looking downward with an expression of motherly tenderness. But to the Aztecs, the image exploded with meaning and pointed to the end of their civilization as they knew it.
"At the time," says Fr. Anthony, "the Aztecs, though sophisticated in many ways, were brutal and paganistic. They believed their 'good' gods had to be kept strong to keep away the 'bad' gods. They kept them strong by offering human sacrifices."
Among the first things the Aztecs would notice about the image of Our Lady is that her dress, its color and style, indicates she is royalty — a queen. The rope around her waist would have been recognized as a maternity belt. "The position of the belt indicates that she is close to coming to term," says Fr. Anthony. "The apparition happened on Dec. 12; Dec. 25 is the Nativity of Jesus Christ, so she was close to giving birth."
The Aztecs would also have taken note of the flowers on her dress. The four-petal flower over her womb is what's called the nahui ollin. "It is the most sacred flower in Aztec culture," says Fr. Anthony. "It represents life, divinity, all that is beautiful and good in life.
"So she is pregnant, and they'd recognize that the child in her womb represents divinity, as the new king of the Aztecs," Fr. Anthony continues. "They'd also recognized him as divine because of the nahui ollin but also human, because he is born by Our Lady's womb, so we have the Incarnation of the Son of God.
"The Aztecs would have also noticed that Our Lady is blocking the sun — their sun god, Huitzilopochtli ," says Fr. Anthony. "She's blocking out the sun god to show that she is more powerful. They also worshipped the moon god, Metztli. She's stepping on a crescent moon — their moon god — and showing that she is greater than their moon god.
"The other thing they noticed in the Blessed Virgin Mary is that she is a not a god herself because she is praying," says Fr. Anthony.
Our Lady also appeared to Juan Diego's uncle, Juan Bernardino, who reported that Our Lady identified herself as "Guadalupe." Father Anthony said that many researchers believe that "Guadalupe" is a corrupted translation of the native Nahuatl name "Coatlaxopeuh," which means "Who Crushes the Serpent." Interestingly, another primary Aztec god was the "Feathered Serpent God," named Quetzalcoatl . "So, for the Aztecs, Mary may have been understood as the one who crushes the Feathered Serpent God," says Fr. Anthony.
The image includes a male figure at the bottom who appears to be carrying Our Lady. For Christians, the most likely identity of the figure is St. Michael the Archangel. The Aztecs , on the other hand, would have noticed the figure has eagle feathers. Interestingly, when the Aztecs would win a battle, the general would mark the great victory by processing with eagle feathers on his armor and carrying the Aztec princess.
"So here in this image is the warrior carrying Our Lady in a great victory procession for all to see," says Fr. Anthony. "But of course it's a different kind of victory because she is being carried through the heavens, so it means it's an even greater victory than anyone could imagine."
Maybe the angel figure represents Michael the Archangel, or maybe it represents Juan Diego himself — or both — says Fr. Anthony. In any case, in the native tongue, Juan Diego's name was Cuauhtatoatzin, which means "Talking Eagle." So Juan Diego himself may have been the Talking Eagle who is holding up Our Lady for all to see.
Looking to the Sky
Now to the stars.
"The Aztecs were master astronomers for the time," says Fr. Anthony. "They would understand the imagery on the tilma, which shows recognizable constellations on her clothing."
Modern researchers say the star alignments on the tilma match exactly the night sky as it was on Dec. 12, 1531. Furthermore, Fr. Anthony points to a study by Catholic apologist Dr. Robert Sungenis, who in 2007 published a research paper called "New Discoveries of the Constellations on the Tilma of Our Lady of Guadalupe." In his research, Dr. Sungenis extended out the constellations on the tilma to include a fuller picture of the night sky on Dec. 12, 1531. By superimposing the night sky over Our Lady's image a miraculous story unfolds.
For instance, the Corona Borealis, a small constellation in the northern sky whose Latin name means "northern crown," is located on Mary's head — a crown representing Mary as the queen. The constellation Virgo, Latin for Virgin, is located on her heart.
Over her womb is the constellation Leo. "Leo represents the lion, and Jesus was called the 'Lion of the tribe of Judah,' in Revelation 5:5 to symbolize His victory over sin," says Fr. Anthony. "The star Regulus, meaning royalty, is Leo's brightest star and symbolizes Christ's kingship."
The constellation Orion is located where the Aztec warrior (or St. Michael or Juan Diego) is located. Orion represents the hunter. The hunter is pointing his bow at the constellation Taurus, the bull with the two horns. "There you have a battle between the warrior, or St. Michael, and the beast," says Fr. Anthony.
Dr. Sungenis planetary overlay includes 21 constellations. Seven are on Mary's left side; seven are on her right; and seven are on her dress in the middle. "So, there's three sets of seven. There's a lot of Christian symbolism to this," says Fr. Anthony. "Seven is the number of perfection and three is the number of the trinity."
Much more numerical symbolism can be drawn from the image, but what most impresses Fr. Anthony is how Dr. Sungenis writes of how, when taken together, the 21 constellations implied in the tilma reflect imagery used in Revelation 12.
Indeed, just to review, Revelation 12:1-2 describes how "a great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of 12 stars. She was with child." Sound familiar?
Revelation 12 goes on to portray the power of evil, represented by a dragon, in opposition to God and His people. First the dragon pursues the pregnant woman, but her Son is saved and "caught up to God and His throne" (Rev 12:5). Then Michael and his angels cast the dragon and his angels out of heaven. After this, the dragon tries to attack the Child by attacking members of His Church. A second beast arises from the land, symbolizing the Antichrist, which leads people astray. The dragon continues to wage war against the rest of the women's offspring, "those who keep God's commandments and bear witness to Jesus" (Rev 12:17).
Now let's consider all that in light of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the research done by Dr. Sungenis.
"In the original Greek mythology, there are good constellations and bad constellations," says Fr. Anthony. "You'll notice, the good constellations stay close to Our Lady, stay close to her heart. All the bad constellations are attacking ."
The bad ones are the constellations Hydra, the serpent; Drago, the dragon; and Scorpios, the stringing scorpion. Hydra appears just below Virgo. "It's as if Hydra is waiting to devour the Child to whom Our Lady will give birth," notes Fr. Anthony. "And the serpent is sweeping his tail, whipping out stars. As it says in Revelation, the beast's 'tail swept away a third of the stars in the sky and hurled them down to earth'" (Rev 12:4).
The constellation Draco is situated directly in front of Our Lady's face. It's as if the dragon and Our Lady are confronting one another. The constellation Scorpios is situated such that its seems to be attacking her heart with its stinging tail.
Dr. Sungenis notes other constellations in the image that represent significant aspects of the Christian Gospel:
Ursa Major (the Great Bear) represents the work of Satan through man (Dn 7:5; Ap 13:2), while Lupus, the wolf, represents Satan's attack on the Church (Jn 10:12). Bootes, the herdsman, represents the shepherds of the Gospel (Rm 10:15), while Canes represents the shepherd's staff and his authority over the Church (1 Tm 3:1). Libra represents God's justice through the Gospel (Ps 37:28) and the Southern Cross, of course, represents the cross of Christ. Ophiuchus, the serpent-holder, represents the Virgin's strength and power from heaven to crush the devil (Gn 3:15). Lynx represents the power of spiritual vision to discern the Gospel given by the Holy Spirit (Mt 13:15-16).
Centaurus (half man, half animal) represents the wicked on Earth (Rm 1:23), while Auriga, the goat, represents those who have been damned (Mt 25:33). The three constellations at her feet, Orion, the hunter; his dog, Canis Minor, and Taurus, the bull, represent man and the animal world on Earth that is now in a life and death struggle for salvation against the Devil (Gn 1:20-31; Rm 8:19-22; 1Pt 5:8).
"This is all amazing," says Fr. Anthony. "It's all there! It's all on the tilma: the story of salvation!"
Pointing to the Heavens
Father Anthony positions his telescope to check out the pockmarked face of the moon. But, clearly, his mind remains focused on the edifying image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
"It blows me away when I see the symbolism and how this image wasn't just for 1531 — that it's for 2008, too," he says. "If the reason for the image was just to convert the people of Meso-America in the 1500s, then why is the image still around today? It was made of low-quality fiber that should have disintegrated hundreds of years ago. Why hasn't the image disintegrated? Why do we keep discovering all these new things about it?"
Twinkling like votive candles, a million stars drape across the cold December night. For Fr. Anthony, they all serve as a reminder of one absolute truth: We have a Creator who, in the most generous act of Divine Mercy, gave us Mary Immaculate who calls us to conversion, who leads us to her Son, who brings us to salvation.
"But we're under attack, constantly," says Fr. Anthony. "Our Lady of Guadalupe reminds us of that."
He's squinting into the telescope's lens. He's pointing to the heavens.
"Oh, there's the Corona Borealis," he says. "See the little crown? Awesome, just awesome."