No it’s not a new apparition; it’s an old one, and an approved one at that. As a matter of fact, Our Lady of Wolf River is one of the most beloved “Our Lady’s” in all the world. Her appearance occasioned the largest single mass conversion in history (8,000,000 people) and the subsequent conversion of many more millions over the past five centuries.
In 1544 a pilgrimage of children to her shrine resulted in the cessation of a deadly plague that had already killed at least 12,000. A painting of her image played a significant role in the world-turning battle of Lepanto. (We might do well to employ this same “Our Lady” and her sacred image in our modern day Lepanto – look it up if you know not to what I refer.) In 1737 a typhus plague that had claimed 700,000 lives ceases when she is proclaimed Patroness of the country.
In 1921, there was a miraculous preservation of her sacred image when a bomb, planted by an anti-religious government agent, exploded directly beneath the sacred image and did not even crack its glass cover.
Many more miracles and pontifical honors can be accorded the Lady of Wolf River, but perhaps the most wonderful and amazing thing is what she herself has revealed to us through the name she chose. Three hundred years before Lourdes, Our Lady of Wolf River identified herself to a dying Indian as the “Immaculate Conception” and the woman of Genesis 3:15.
The old Spanish word for “river” is “guada” (today it means bog or marsh), and the Spanish word for “wolf”, which today is “lobo”, is etymologically descended from the old Spanish word “lupe”. “Guadalupe” literally means “Wolf River”. Our Lady of Guadalupe! Our Lady of Wolf River! So how did she get this name and what’s the connection with “Immaculate Conception”?
What follows is speculation, but extremely well documented and professional speculation. (See The Wonder of GUADALUPE by Francis Johnston.)
In Spain, there is a statue of the Blessed Virgin holding the Child Jesus in one hand and a crystal scepter in the other. The pose signifies Mary’s Divine Motherhood. Tradition has it that Pope St. Gregory the Great venerated it in his private oratory. He eventually gave it as a gift to the Bishop of Seville where it was venerated until the Moorish invasion of 711 A.D. Legend has it that it was hidden away in a cave on the banks of the Guadalupe, “Wolf River”, and probably so named for obvious reasons. In 1326, Our Lady is said to have appeared to a herdsman and revealed the statue’s location. The statue was entrusted to the Franciscans and a monastery was built on the spot. It soon became the most celebrated shrine in Spain. Christopher Columbus is said to have prayed there before he embarked on his momentous voyage. Indeed, he christened the island that providentially saved him, “Guadalupe”.
Now, back to Mexico. Though Juan Diego became the hero and now saint of the “Our Lady of Guadalupe Story”, it was not to him that Our Lady revealed her name, but to his uncle, Juan Bernardino, whom she visited and miraculously cured at the very moment she was instructing Juan Diego, many miles away, to gather the flowers that were to turn into her sacred image on his Tilma.
Like, his nephew, Juan Bernardino was an Aztec. He did not speak Spanish, but the Aztec language of Nahuatl. Of course our Lady spoke to him in his own language and the word she used to identify herself was most likely not “Guadalupe”. Johnston (in the aforementioned book) points out that not only does the word “Guadalupe” have no connection at all with Mexico; the word itself was not pronounceable in the Aztec language because it had no letter or sound for D or G. (The Aztecs have always rejected the Spanish name and have given their beloved Virgin various Aztec titles.)
In 1666, when depositions on the apparition were forwarded to Rome to Pope Innocent X, it was pointed out by the coordinator of these Apostolic Proceedings, that Our Lady in fact did not use the word “Guadalupe”, but most likely used the phonetically similar Aztec word Tequantlaxopeuh (pronounced Tequetalope), which literally translates as “Who saves us from the Devourer”.
A little bit of Aztec history here in order to understand what a baptized Aztec, such as Juan Bernardino would have understood. The great “Devourer” was the dreaded Aztec feathered serpent god, Quetzalcoatl. Over 20,000 live victims every year had their living hearts gouged out of their chests to appease this fearful, blood thirsty Aztec deity. To the baptized Juan Bernardino, “the great Devourer” meant both Satan and this terrible pagan god, behind whom, of course, was Satan.
A history of the apparitions, “Estrella del Norte”, published in 1688, concurs with the earlier speculation about the use of the Aztec word and its meaning, and the author further inferred that Our Lady had identified herself as the “Immaculate Conception”, the One who would vanquish Satan, indeed the Woman of Genesis 3:15. Though the actual institution of the dogma was yet a couple centuries away, this description of Our Lady was known well enough for the then Bishop of Mexico, Bishop Zumarraga, to refer to her as the “Immaculate Conception” in a communication to Cortes (yes, that Cortes) in 1531, inviting the Conqueror to participate in a procession with her sacred image.
Before we go on and tie this all together, it is important to note and easy to see how the phonetically similar word used by Juan Bernardino in his native Aztec language and spoken through a Spanish translator (Juan Gonzalez) would invoke the word “Guadalupe” from the Spanish mind as devotion to Our Lady of “Wolf River” in Spain was well known, and indeed, at its peek at the time.
More recently (1895) an intensive study of the word Guadalupe was undertaken with the conclusion that the Virgin used the word Coatlaxopeuh, which means “she who breaks, stamps or crushes the serpent”; again, the equivalent of the Immaculate Conception. Johnston also points out that in their catechesis of the Aztecs, the Franciscans at the time referred to the Virgin as “she who crushes the serpent”, knowing that the Aztecs would draw the obvious parallel between Satan, and their own horrific pagan god.
One last study and I’ll get to my point. Helen Behrens, credited as the 20th century’s foremost authority on the sacred image, studied the Aztec word even further and made the following observation. The words “te Coatlaxopeuh” which the Aztec Juan Bernadino probably used, and which sounded like “de Guadalupe” to the Spanish ear, can be translated thus: “te” means “stone”; “coa” means “serpent”, “tla” can mean “the”, and “xopeuh” means “crush, or “stamp out”. Thus the Virgin of the Tilma should be known as “Our Lady who will crush, stamp out, abolish or eradicate the stone serpent”.
So, in a way, Our Lady was trying to tell us, exactly what the Catholic Church has always told us, and eventually proclaimed, that she is the Immaculate Conception, the Woman of Genesis 3:15, through whom redemption would come. And just as our Redemption did come through her body in the person of Jesus through her to us, He still comes through her to us.
However, we have a modern problem. Modern translation have either virtually eliminated or effectively downsized the Woman of Genesis 3:15 as the One who will “crush and “stamp out” the serpent”. The Bible that the Church has used for 1,600 years, the Old Latin Vulgate of St. Jerome says: “…ipsa conteret caput tuum et tu insidiaberis calcaneo eius” , or, in English, as translated in the Doauy Rheims Bible, “…she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel”.
This of course fits perfectly with everything our Church has taught about the role of the Blessed Mother in salvation history. All those statues of her crushing the head of the serpent come from this verse. And of course, it fits exactly with what she revealed about herself in the above account. However, perhaps to appease our separated brethren in the name of ecumenism, modern Catholic biblical scholars have opted to leave Jerome and nearly two millennia of Catholic tradition in the following translations:
“He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel” – NAB
“…he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” –CSRV
“It will crush your head and you will strike its heel.” – JB & NJB
Perhaps Our Lady of Wolf River anticipated this rewriting of her redemptive role in her visit to Tepeyac Hill in 1531. Perhaps we should listen to her name. Perhaps we should learn to pronounce “Coatlaxopeuh”.