Acheiropoieta, a Greek term for “made without hand,” refers in the Orthodox tradition to miraculous sacred images, like the Shroud of Turin, that came into existence without human artistry. These works of art, this tradition says, were created by the Master Iconographer: the Holy Spirit.
Tomorrow is the memorial feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which honors the image of Mary miraculously imprinted on the tilma of St. Juan Diego.
There are evidently a large number of symbols in the image that are drawn from Aztec culture, but the one I find most beautiful is the black sash around her slightly bulging waist that indicates she is with child. The only images in the ancient and medieval Christian tradition that show Mary with child are the icons of the Annunciation, which is why the Gospel of the feast tomorrow is the Lukan annunciation. In the western iconographic tradition, there is a dypich of this event: before and after Mary says “yes” to the angel Gabriel. Before her yes, Gabriel is in an upright, superior position as he enters Mary’s presence, sent by God bearing a message; and she looks at him with open hands. But after her yes, he assumes a bowed posture of reverence, and she bows her head with hands open but lowered, as God has taken flesh within her. She is now the Ark of the Covenant.
The image of Guadalupe is clearly the second image in this diptych, as she has received the eternal Word in her womb and communes with Him in prayer (hands folded, which is a sign to Aztecs she is not a goddess), radiant with the light of divinity shining from within her. And she appears on the tilma as an Aztec woman, making this icon a magnificent revelation of the Incarnation of a God who assumes not only Mary’s human flesh and culture, but all human flesh, all human cultures, impregnating them with His divine light in order to raise them up, purify them and consecrate them for immortal life in the Kingdom of God that is coming and that is to come. When God saves each of us, He also saves the whole world we inhabit. Glory to Him for endless ages for honoring us with such unspeakable dignity. May we live worthy, as she did, of this calling. Amen.