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Did She Say Guadalupe?  
 
       When the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared in 1531 to the poor Indian Juan Diego and imprinted her image upon his cloak, she also appeared to his sick uncle Juan Bernardino and cured him.  She gave the uncle the task of telling the bishop what her image should to be called.  
        As recorded in the Nican Mohopua, an account written in Aztec*, she told him it was to be known as: "Cenquizla Ichpochtzintli Santa Maria de Guadalupe (The Perfect Virgin, Holy Mary of Guadalupe)..."   We see the word Guadalupe written here, but is this what the Blessed Virgin actually said to Juan Bernardino? 
         It's a reasonable question because he spoke the Aztec language of Nahautl which does not contain the letters "G" and "D" found in Guadalupe.   The Nahautl alphabet contains 17 letters: A, C, (C with a cedilla), E, H, I, L, M, N, O, P, Q, T, U, X, Y and Z.  So it leads to a natural thought, could the uncle have spoken the word Guadalupe or articulated it well enough to be understood? 
         According to The Wonder of Guadalupe by Francis Johnston, a Belgian Jesuit studied the matter exhaustively, and in 1931 wrote a book that said that "it was expected that Our Lady would give Juan Bernardino a message of such transcendental importance in his own language, so that he could remember the words and accurately repeat them, instead of a message containing an Arabic word like Guadalupe which could not be spelt or pronounced in Nahautl."
         It is safe to say that whatever she said, there was a purpose behind it.  It seems likely that Mary said something in Aztec to Juan Bernardino: something familiar to his ear and tongue, and something meaningful to the Indians, but something that was misunderstood by the bishop as meaningful to him and the Spanish.  There was a shrine by the name of Guadalupe back in Spain.  God may have permitted this to help the Spanish accept the events, and for the sake of peace and unity. 
         Francis Johnston said Becarra Tanco, who participated in the Apostolic Proceedings of 1666, concluded that Mary used the word "Tequantlaxopeuh," meaning "who saves us from the devourer."
         In 1991 my wife Serafina and I went  to Tulpetlac, north of Mexico City where Juan Bernardino lived and saw the Blessed Virgin.   We were told the uncle's house used to stand where the church stood, behind where the altar was situated and where a baptistry was located.  In that church of La Quinta Aparicion (The Fifth Apparition) we encountered the very same word "Tequantlaxopeuh" that Tanco had settled upon, on a wall plaque.
      The plaque related that in this place in her fifth apparition, the  Mother of God cured Juan Bernardino, making this the first miracle and asked that her image be called "Santa Maria de Guadalupe" (Holy Mary of Guadalupe).  Immediately following this, the word "Tequantlaxopeuh" appeared in larger letters, set off with dashes.  It was as if  the plaque was disputing what was being said.  The plaque also said that Pope Pius XII granted a plenary indulgence to those who visit this place, and gave the name Tulpetlac and the date: December of 1531.        
        We spoke with a priest there, and he pronounced Tequantlaxopeuh as "Tea-quantla-show-pay" and said it meant "la que pisa la serpiente" which in English means, "she who steps on the serpent."  When we visited the church at a later date, we found the plaque outside by the entrance.
        Francis Johnston also mentions the following studies.  In 1895 Professor D. Mariano Jacabo Rojas, head of the Department of Nahautl in the National Museum of Archaeology, History and Ethnography, did an "intensive scientific study of the word Guadalupe."  He concluded she used the word "Coatlaxopeuh" which means "she who breaks, stamps or crushes the serpent (Coatl means snake in Nahautl)," which was supported by other authorities decades later in 1936 and 1953.
       In the 1950's Helen Behrens, an authority on the image, studied the word Guadalupe, assisted by a Nahautl scholar Byron MacAfee.  She stated in her report that "Neither Bishop Zumarraga nor any other Spanish prelate has been able to explain why she wished her image to be called de Guadalupe.   The reason must be that she did not say the phrase at all.  She spoke in the native language, and the combination of words she used must have sounded like de Guadalupe to the Spaniards."  She went on to say that "te coatlaxopeuh" has a similar sound, the "te" part meaning stone.   Add stone to the word serpent in the meaning of Coatlaxopeuh and you get "she who breaks, stamps, or crushes the stone serpent." 
        If you pronounce "te" as "tay,"  it would rhyme with  "de" ("day") in Spanish, and sound somewhat similar.  Now phonetically combine the elements: te (tay), coatla (kwa-tla) and xopeuh (show-pay) and you get  "tay kwa-tla-show-pay."   You can hear similarities in it to "day gwa-da-loo-pay", but the "show" doesn't ring similar to the "loo" of Gwa-da-loo-pay.
        There is a characteristic of the Aztec language that might explain the matter.  Tulpetlac, for example, is written as Tolpetlac, as are other Aztec words.  Angel Maria Garibay in his Llave de Nahautl (Key of Nahautl), says that here is a sound between the "o" and the "u".  He says that in modern dialects there sometimes is a different sense in different regions.  What if the "-xopeuh" part were pronounced with a "u" sound rather than an "o" sound, and hence, "-xopeuh" was pronounced "shoo-pay" instead of "show-pay"?   And " Santa Maria te coatlaxopeuh" was pronounced as "Santa Maria Tay-gwa-tla-shoo-pay"?
        Could this have been what Juan Bernardino actually said?   He would reflect the speech patterns he lived with.   It might explain how he was misunderstood to have said Guadalupe.  
        And consider what Francis Johnston states in The Wonder of Guadalupe.   He says in areas of Mexico where Nahautl is spoken,  inhabitants say Santa Maria de Quatlasupe, referring to the image.  Could this be an indication of how the "oo" sound lived on in the tradition of the people?  At least regionally?
        It seems to me the evidence is against the uncle having said Guadalupe.  The Aztec language didn't have all the letters contained in the word, and it was the uncle's task to relay the name of the image to the bishop.  In addition, you have the various studies concluding it was not Guadalupe.
        I feel pretty comfortable with the belief that Juan Bernardino did not say Guadalupe, and that it is an error that heaven allowed, for a reason.

        There is another possibility, if one wants to think a little outside of the box.  The Blessed Virgin may have told Juan Bernardino to say, "Santa Maria de Coatlaxopeuh," and then added for his ear to catch and for his memory to retain, "the same person as the one the Spanish call "Santa Maria de Guadalupe."   When Juan Bernardino relayed his message and said what sounded similar to Guadalupe, the Bishop could have questioned him through the interpreter, whether he was saying it was Santa Maria de Guadalupe.  Juan Bernardino, remembering what Mary added, could have smiled and nodded "yes."   It could have been simple as that, and the rest is history. 

                                                                                                                                                                        ―John Riedell
* Some words were in Spanish

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