The Nican Mopohua is a Nahuatl version of the most important otherworldly vision from Spanish America: an apparition of the Virgin Mary to a poor Nahua man, Juan Diego, in December of 1531. According to the published narrative, the Virgin Mary asked Juan Diego to build her a shrine on the hill of Tepeyac (near Mexico City) and imprinted her image on his cloak, or tilma, as evidence of her wish. By the mid-16th century, the Virgin&rsquot; s shrine at Tepeyac was credited with working miracles. As Tepeyac was the site of a pre-Hispanic shrine dedicated to one of the female Aztec deities, the new worship of Guadalupe, initiated in the 16th century, transformed the original cult site. One way of interpreting Guadalupe's initial popularity, especially among native peoples, is to see her as the new focus of indigenous spirituality, whose traditional forms had been banned by both Catholic Church and Spanish state. By the end of the 17th century, she took on a different meaning, as proud Creoles were drawn to her as an emblem of divine presence in and favor of New Spain. By 1704, a newly-inaugurated Tepeyac basilica was one of the grandest buildings in central Mexico, as residents of New Spain from all classes joined in the worship of this Virgin. Today the basilica complex lies at the heart of Mexican Catholicism, along with the Virgin honored there, and a part of the complex is captured in a 1925 photograph in the Vistas gallery, "Ascent to the shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe."
The shrine at Tepeyac housed the tilma painted with the Virgin’s image, and a photograph of this cloth in its contemporary setting, a 20th-century basilica, can be seen in the Vistas gallery. From the 17th century onwards, it was the visual image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, captured in representations of the tilma, that was (and is) the focus of the widespread public and personal devotion to her. Prints and paintings bearing the image circulated widely, and one encrusted with mother-of-pearl, can be found in the Vistas gallery. Churches had chapels devoted to the Virgin. Mansions in Mexico City, like the home of the Count of Xala, boasted elaborately framed paintings of the Virgin of Guadalupe, and even humble homes had prints. In its own emphasis on vision, with vivid descriptions of the landscape and the appearance of the Virgin, this narrative, written in an elegant and highly poetic style of Nahuatl, underscores the role of vision as a path to the otherworldly. See the image of Guadalupe at Tepeyac in the Vistas Gallery.