Our Lady of Ocotlan
Our Lady of the burning ocote (pine ) Tlaxcala, Mexico
We had written our first book on Mother Mary and included what we believed to be the only apparition of Mary in Mexico. Little did we know, then, the treasure we would find, traveling to our cousins to the South. One of the greatest influences in our life, our mentor Annabel Joyce ( a convert to the Faith and a true lover of Mother Mary), first got us started by insisting we travel, and bring pilgrimages, to the Shrines of Mary in the world. Thus began our love affair with the Mother of God, our Mother Mary.
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Now, we had included a chapter on Our Lady of Guadalupe, in our book, but that was it, as far as Mexico was concerned. Even when Annabel twisted our arms to journey to Mexico City, and lead a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, our minds and hearts were closed to seeking and investigating other Shrines of Mother Mary in Mexico. Again, it would take another mentor to push and push, before we began a deeper Journey of Faith in Mary's Mexico.
I can remember the incident, as if it were yesterday. Monsignor Mistretta had heard of Our Lady of Ocotlan and the Grotto of San Miguel del Milagro, in the state of Tlaxcala, about seventy miles from Mexico City. And he wanted us to take a day away from our pilgrimage in Mexico City to visit these two Shrines. But, never venturing to a Shrine with pilgrims, before we had thoroughly investigated it for authenticity and etc., and being strict followers of an itinerary promised, we refused. Well, he went with a few pilgrims, by taxi, to Tlaxcala, and returned with a wealth of information on both Shrines. Needless to say, when we led a pilgrimage to Mexico, the following year, we included both Shrines and fell in love anew with Mother Mary and St. Michael the Archangel.
Our Lady came to Her children on Tepeyac Hill in Mexico in 1531, when She appeared to a humble convert - Juan Diego, now known as Saint Juan Diego having been canonized by Blessed Pope John Paul II July 2002. But She wasn't finished with Her children, Ten years later, in 1541, She appeared in the village of Tlaxcala, in the state of Tlaxcala.
Tlaxcala - a jewel in Mary's crown
Tlaxcala could well be known as the Goliath of its time- a warring nation that could not be suppressed by anyone; not by the Montezumas nor the Spaniards. And yet, the Lord would conquer their hearts and souls. They would become the first Christians in this land of many colors, and the first friends of Cortez. Cortez, knowing he could not conquer them, wisely made a treaty with the people of Tlaxcala. In the Church of St. Francis, the four senators of Tlaxcala were baptized, with Cortez as their godfather. But God was not finished, yet. He had captured the hearts of the senators and probably others in their class; but God wanted all the people, the simple believers who would never betray Him. And how would He bring this about? Just as He did on Tepeyac Hill a decade before - send His Mother, the Queen who captured the hearts of 8,000,000 natives, moving them to convert to the Faith in seven short years, bringing about an unheard of, unequaled conversion, to this day.
Mother Mary to the rescue!
Small Pox struck and it accomplished what no conqueror was able to bring about. Nine out of every ten members of a family were struck down by this deadly plague. Everyone was helpless! Their trusted medicine men were not familiar with this sickness that threatened to annihilate 90% of the population, consequently they were helpless to stem the whirlwind kiss of death that was striking everyone in its path. The natives plunged their feverish bodies into the rivers, believing the water could heal them. Their loved ones flocked to the Rio Zahuapan, which was popularly believed to possess curative powers to heal skin diseases.
Juan Diego Bernardino enters the picture. This is not the Juan Diego to whom Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared in 1531. Juan Diego Bernardino's family was stricken with small pox. Juan went to the friars of the Franciscan Convent in Tlaxcala and asked permission to go and fetch water from the Rio Zahuapan for his relatives in Xiloxostla. Having received his desired permission, he fetched a water jar and headed for the Rio. After he filled the jar with the alleged healing water, he rushed to his family in Xiloxostla, by way of Cerro de San Lorenzo. (St. Lawrence Mountain) Coming down from the mountain, he plodded through a thick forest filled with ocote trees, native to this area, when all of a sudden there before him was a beautiful, regal young Woman. Her bell-like voice spoke gently to him,
"May God preserve you, My son. Where are you bound for?"
Although She appeared to be of royal estate, Her kindly demeanor toward him loosened his tongue and he replied, "I am taking some healing water from the Rio to my very sick relatives, who are dying."
The Lady responded softly,
"Then follow Me. I will give you water to cure the disease. It will cure not only your family, but all who drink of it. My heart is ever ready to help those who are ill, for I cannot bear to see their misfortune."
He couldn't identify it, but suddenly it was as if someone lifted a great weight from his shoulders. His weary legs took on a new spring to them and he followed Her obediently; although he mumbled to himself, as he went along, he was sure he had never seen a body of any kind of water in the ocote forest. When they came to a break in the ravine, his Royal Personage pointed to a stream below, of clear sparkling water. Doing so, She directed him,
"Take as much as you wish of this water, and know that those who are touched by even the tiniest drop of this water will obtain, not merely relief from their illness, but perfect health."
Juan quickly emptied his jar of the water from the Rio Zahuapan and then filled the jar with water from the miraculous spring. Having done so, he anxiously turned to leave; but the beautiful Lady gestured for him to wait. She had a message for him to carry to the Friars of San Lorenzo:
"Tell the religious for Me that in this place they will find My image. It will not manifest My perfections, but through it I shall generously bestow favors and kindnesses. When they find the image, they are to place it in the Chapel of San Lorenzo."
Her words hauntingly accompanied him back to his village of Xiloxostla. The jar, which had formerly appeared almost too heavy to transport, now felt as light as a feather, or as if a host of Angels were helping him to bring this treasury of hope to his family and neighbors. His feet felt like they were flying. He was so excited! He burst into his little house, and lifted his relatives, one by one, so that they could drink of the water. As it has been told for generations, as soon as the water touched their lips, they were immediately healed.
Juan and his family rushed into the town square to share their good fortune and the story of the Lady, with all their friends and neighbors. This news of hope spread like wild fire and soon the streets were filled with the sick gathering to hear about the apparition of Zoapiltzin ("The Lady Woman"). They flocked to Juan's modest house, and Juan told the story over and over again, as he shared the miraculous water with all who came, which included almost every household, as every family was affected by the plague. Because there were so many crying out for help, Juan had to guardedly allot precious drops of the miraculous water to those in need. But again, as with his family, everyone who had a drop of the water, was immediately healed and returned to perfect health. Soon the plague became a bad dream, for through the Lady and Her water the village and the villagers were now safe.
The pressing demands of the sick kept him busy late into the night, and so Juan was not able to visit the convent of the Friars in San Lorenzo until the next day. Dawn came and with it, his special mission. Once again, Our Lady would use a humble Indian to bring her message to the world. The Friars listened attentively, but using much discretion, they told Juan to be about his business and they would meditate on all he said. They called him in again and again; but Juan repeated his story without any embellishment or omission.
The consistency of Juan's reporting of the events so impressed the Friars, they decided to call a Chapter Meeting. By the end of the meeting, it was decided they would go and investigate. The plan was they would wait until dark, so as to not arouse suspicion among the Indians. Then they would send Juan to the stream and they would stealthily follow him, unobserved.
But as quiet as they endeavored to be, one by one, villagers were awakened; and before you know it, the Friars had a crowd following them, anxious to see what the Friars were up to. Their paramount fear was that since they were attempting to slip out of town, in the cover of night, they might be leaving them for good, as no one ventured out after dark.
At last, the bizarre group of bedfellows approached the eastern slope of the Cerro de San Lorenzo, and what did they see? All the trees in the woods were ablaze, especially the largest one, the fire dancing up the sides of the tree like huge tongues of flame sweeping over it. But what the spectators found strange was that only the huge tree was completely enveloped by flames, and not any of the smaller trees. As night was quickly robbing them of light, they marked the spot where the large ocote was burning, and headed for home.
The next day, after Mass, more villagers joined the Franciscans and headed for the forest. Arriving at the spot, where they had marked the largest ocote, what they discovered would further astound them. The fire was no longer raging! It had extinguished itself! The only evidence which remained were some scorched branches. This only proved to amaze them further, as the ocote is a pine which once lit, ignites totally and burns to the ground. Another strange occurrence was that rather than the smaller trees being consumed by fire, as would generally be the case in such a fire, it was the large ocote, which showed the devastating work of the fire.
As God would have it, one of the villagers thought to bring an ax. The Custodian of the Friars told him to chop down the large ocote tree. After much painstaking toil and effort, the trunk of the tree was severed and the tree fell to the ground. Doing so, the trunk came apart. There, before their very eyes, inside the fallen tree trunk, was the image of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, affirming what Juan Diego had told the Friars.
This obviously a gift from Heaven from the Son, through the Mother, to Their children, the Custodian of the Shrine of San Lorenzo ordered the statue be carried in procession to the Chapel of San Lorenzo. To promote the solemnity of the occasion, the custodian directed all the Indians from the village to break off branches from the ocote trees and process with the image of Our Lady, along with the Friars, singing hymns to Her and Her Son, and reciting prayers in praise and honor of this generous God, Who would grant them this miraculous image as their own, to love and venerate.
When the procession arrived uphill, at the Shrine of San Lorenzo, the Custodian ordered the statue of San Lorenzo, who was in the alcove above the main Altar, removed and placed in a side Altar. The natives gave Her a royal welcome, bedecking the Altar with ocote branches and gleaming candles in thanksgiving of favors received.
But as always, there was a skeptic who could not accept the miraculous appearance of the image of the Mother of God. The Indian sacristan rejected the supernatural circumstances surrounding the statue's arrival and was more than upset that his patron Saint - San Lorenzo - had been dispossessed from his place of honor, only to be replaced by this new image. Mumbling under his breath at the fickle faithlessness of the Indians, he would wait until nightfall and then remove the newcomer and reinstate his San Lorenzo to his rightful place.
Night came and, making sure all the Indians had retired, the sacristan went about executing his plan: He removed the image of Our Lady and replaced it with the image of San Lorenzo. Satisfied he had completed what he felt was his appointed task and responsibility to the Saint, he locked up the Chapel and went home to enjoy a peaceful sleep.
Whistling happily, the next morning he tripped up the hill to the Chapel and unlocked the front door. To his utter consternation, the image of Our Lady, the Mother of God, was back in the alcove, above the Altar, and the image of San Lorenzo in an alcove on a side Altar. Judging someone had slept in the Chapel and made the exchange during the night, he waited until evening and restored the image of San Lorenzo to the main Altar, only this time guardedly carrying the image of Our Lady to his home.
Satisfied he had at last outsmarted the culprit, he returned to the Chapel the next morning, only to once again find Our Lady's image in the alcove above the main Altar. Now he was really upset! But possessing the holy stubbornness of the Mexican people, and not to be undone by any thief in the night, he devised another plan: He would wait till evening, only this time he would lock Our Lady's image in a box, which usually housed the ornaments of the Chapel. He closed it, covered it with his serape and decided to sleep on top of the box. His adversary would not outsmart him this time. But sadly, the next day, the box was empty and Our Lady had been reinstated in the alcove over the main Altar.
Finally convinced it was miraculous, and it was the wish of the Lord that this image of His Mother be placed in an alcove of honor, above the Altar of Sacrifice, he ran to the Friars and the Custodian and confessed what he had done, not so much out of fear what they would do, but fear of retribution from Above!
Till today, more than four hundred and sixty-two years later, the image of Our Lady is still being venerated by the faithful of Tlaxcala, and those pilgrims, like yourself who read about Her. She originally was known as "Nuestra Señora de Ocotlatía," which translates into Our Lady of the Burning Ocote. She is now known as Our Lady of Ocotlan, in commemoration of the ocote wood, from which the image of Our Lady was made, and in remembrance of the place where the image was miraculously found.
The image of Our Lady seems to be carved of one piece of wood, standing a little less than five feet tall. The image appears to be pressing slightly toward you, beckoning you to come to Her that She might embrace you, lead you to Her Son. As we know Our Lady never aged, this image once again depicts Her as a young girl with delicate features. As in Her earthly life, and eternal life, the image shows the Mother of God in an attitude of prayer, Her delicate hands clasped together, reverently.
In 1746, The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Ocotlan was raised to that of the Liberian Basilica of Saint Mary Major. At that time, pilgrims reverently visiting the Sanctuary were granted the Indulgences, Privileges and Apostolic Indults which might be gained by visiting the Basilica of Saint Mary Major in Rome (under the same conditions, Go to Confession, received Holy Communion within eight days and pray the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the Glory be for the Pope's intentions).
Nine years later, in 1755, Our Lady of Ocotlan was declared Patroness of Tlaxcala. The Feast Day of the Apparition of Our Lady of Ocotlan is celebrated on Quinquagesima Sunday, (the first Sunday before Lent) falling mostly in February.
In 1906, the Holy See raised the Sanctuary of Ocotlan to the status of a collegiate church, with its own chapter of canons; at that time granting permission to the Sanctuary for the liturgical crowning of the image of Our Lady of Ocotlan.
In sleepy Mexico, a land of contrasts, of the holiest and the most unsavory, there lies a strain of holiness and dedication unsurpassed anywhere. Here in a very charming little village, remotely hidden away, lies the secret of the Mexican heart. When you witness the faithful going up to the Altar, on their knees, in supplication, your heart jumps a beat and you know you are in the company of people who have faith! These simple people are true believers, who come and pray at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Ocotlan, with ultimate faith, believing the Father desires to grant them miracles through the intercession of Mother Mary and Her Son.
When you feel a stirring in your heart, a longing to draw closer to your Mother, come with us and allow us to introduce you to this image of Our Lady that stole our hearts.Browse Our Collection about Our Lady of Ocotlan
About the Authors:
Bob and Penny Lord are renowned Catholic authors of many best selling books about the Catholic Faith. They are hosts on EWTN Global Television and have written over 25 books. They are best known as the authors of “Miracles of the Eucharist books.” They have been dubbed, “Experts on the Saints.”