According to Nican Mopohua, a 17th-century account written in the native Nahuatl language,
the Virgin Mary appeared four times to Juan Diego, an indigenous Mexican peasant and once to his uncle, Juan Bernardino. The first apparition occurred on the morning of Saturday December 9th, 1531. Juan Diego experienced this vision of a young woman at a place called the Hill of Tepeyac, which later became part of Villa de Guadalupe, a suburb of Mexico City.
According to the accounts, the woman, speaking to Juan Diego in his native Nahuatl language (the language of the Aztec Empire), identified herself as the Virgin Mary, "mother of the very true deity". She was said to have asked for a church to be erected at that site in her honor. Based on her words, Juan Diego then sought out the Archbishop of Mexico City, Father Juan de Zumárraga, to tell him what had happened. Not unexpectedly, the Archbishop did not believe peasant Diego. Later that same day, Juan Diego again saw the young woman (the second apparition), and she asked him to continue insisting.
The next day, Sunday, December 10, 1531, Juan Diego once again spoke to the Archbishop. The latter instructed him to return to Tepeyac Hill and to ask the woman for a truly acceptable, miraculous sign to prove her identity. Later that day, the third apparition appeared when Juan Diego returned to Tepeyac; encountering the same woman, he reported to her the Archbishop's request for a sign, which she consented to provide on the next day (December 11th).
However, Juan Diego's uncle, Juan Bernardino, was very ill on Monday the 11th which obligated Juan Diego to attend to him.
In the early hours of Tuesday, December 12, as Juan Bernardino's condition had deteriorated, Juan Diego journeyed to Tlatelolco to get a Catholic priest to hear Juan Bernardino's confession and help minister to him on his deathbed.
To avoid being delayed by the Virgin and ashamed at having failed to meet her the previous day as agreed, Juan Diego chose another route around Tepeyac Hill. Yet the Virgin intercepted him and asked where he was going (fourth apparition); Juan Diego explained what had happened for which the Virgin gently chided him for not having made recourse to her.
In the words which have become the most famous phrase of the Guadalupe apparitions and are inscribed above the main entrance to the Basilica of Guadalupe, she asked "¿No estoy yo aquí que soy tu madre?" ("Am I not here, I who am your mother?"). She assured him that Juan Bernardino had now recovered. Then told him to gather flowers from the summit of Tepeyac Hill, which was normally barren, especially in the cold of December.
Juan Diego obeyed her instruction, finding Castilian roses, not native to Mexico, blooming there. According to the story, the Virgin arranged the flowers in Juan Diego's tilma, or cloak. When Juan Diego opened his cloak later that day before Archbishop Zumárraga, the flowers fell to the floor, revealing on the fabric the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
The next day, December 13th, Juan Diego found his uncle fully recovered as the Virgin had assured him. Juan Bernardino recounted that he also had seen the Virgin Mother while praying at his bedside (fifth apparition); that she had instructed him to inform the Archbishop of this apparition and of his miraculous cure; and that she had told him she desired to be known under the title of 'Guadalupe'.
The Archbishop kept Juan Diego's mantle, first in his private chapel and then in the church on public display, where it attracted great attention. On December 26, 1531, a procession formed to transfer the miraculous image back to Tepeyac Hill where it was installed in a small, hastily erected chapel. During this procession, the first miracle was allegedly performed when a native was mortally wounded in the neck by an arrow shot by accident during some stylized martial displays performed in honor of the Virgin. In great distress, the natives carried him before the Virgin's image and pleaded for his life. Upon the arrow being withdrawn, the victim fully and immediately recovered.
Zumárraga having recognized the miracle, ordered a shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe to be built on the Hill of Tepeyac, with a basilica to her constructed below. Today, the original miraculous tilma image hangs in the new basilica at Tepeyac in Mexico City. The image left on Saint Juan Diego's tilma is the only true picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe in existence. The image has remained intact with all its original vibrancy for 475 years.