In the quiet church, a mosaic image of a serene woman shimmers in the flickering light of blue votive candles. Her turquoise cloak shines with gold stars, and her slippered feet stand on an amethyst crescent held by a small angel. Our Lady of Guadalupe has come to Our Lady of Lourdes Cathedral.
“Mary has many titles,” explains the Rev. James Ribble, pastor of the cathedral in downtown Spokane. “Catholics have had a great devotion to the mother of Jesus for 2,000 years.”
The mosaic was given to the church by a parishioner in commemoration of the donor’s parents, William and Gilberta Schaefer, whose names are inscribed on a small plaque beneath the picture. It will be dedicated by the Rt. Rev. William Skylstad, bishop of the Spokane Diocese, today at the 5 p.m. Mass as part of the parish’s annual celebration of its patroness.
A “fiesta” theme is planned for the parish dinner after Mass.
Ribble gestures toward the mosaic and continues talking about Mary.
“Her titles come from the places of her apparitions,” he says, places where she is believed by many to have appeared, including a hilltop in Mexico. Guadalupe is a major pilgrimage site for Catholics, second only to Rome.
Ribble points out that such visions of Mary are not a matter of Catholic doctrine but are considered to be private revelations.
Artisans at the Vatican mosaic studios in Italy spent nearly six months creating the 30-inch-by-45-inch mosaic from hundreds of small glass tiles, semiprecious stones and coral. Mounted in a creamy marble frame, the 400-pound picture rests in forged metal tracks set into the church wall.
A nearly identical “twin” Guadalupe mosaic hangs in St. Peter’s Basilica near the tomb of the first pope, honoring Mary as “The Mother of the Americas.”
“She is the bridge in the New World between conquered and conqueror,” says Ribble, who saw the mosaic in progress last October during a visit to Rome.
He says the mosaic has great monetary value, “but even greater spiritual value to people with a special devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe. We have a great many Hispanics in our diocese.”
The story of the Guadalupe miracle is that Mary appeared during the winter to an Aztec Indian named Juan Diego. She told him to take a message to the bishop of Mexico, but the bishop was skeptical.
Diego returned to the site where he had seen Mary, and she appeared again. This time she directed him to fill his rough-weave cloak with roses and take them to the bishop as proof of her presence.
When Diego stood before the bishop, he opened his cloak, spilling the roses to the floor. Imprinted on Diego’s cactus-fiber cloak was the richly colored image of Mary.
Juan Diego’s unfaded cloak is displayed in Mexico City at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Thousands of pilgrims visit the shrine every year to request Mary’s help and to thank her for favors received.
The imagery in the mosaic relates to ancient religious symbols of Mexico’s native people.
The crescent under the woman’s feet is the Indian pictograph for Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent-god to whom they paid human sacrifice. The blue-green robe the figure wears was a color reserved for native royalty.
She stands blocking out the sun, which the Indians worshipped, its rays radiating around her, indicating that she was more powerful than the sun.
Church literature says this picture was responsible for the conversion of 8 million Indians in the seven years after 1531. Historians speak of 15,000 people coming for baptism every week and as many as 750 giving up plural wives to live with only one in matrimony.
Ribble says the Guadalupe cloak also has attracted the attention of scholars who studied photo negatives of it and discovered that the eyes of the painting reflect the figures of several persons. One is thought to be Juan Diego and a second his interpreter.
The pastor feels that anyone who sees the mosaic will recognize its beauty, and he hopes many will be drawn to prayer.
“Who can tell which person’s faith will be touched by seeing this, or who will be enriched beyond this world’s riches,” Ribble says.
“We attract such an unusual cross section of people to this church. It’s a `magnet’ church,” he says.
Of the 2,000 people who attend Mass every weekend at the cathedral, fewer than half reside within parish boundaries.
“Many come who don’t belong to any parish,” Ribble says.
“Many are hanging onto their faith by their fingertips. Others are reaching out in faith for the first time.”
Says the priest: “Whoever they are, Mary wanted to be here for them.”