The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe is located in Templo Expiatorio a Cristo Rey,” Mexico City, in the northern neighborhood of Villa de Guadalupe Hidalgo, Officially known as the “The Legend. The construction of the old basilica began in 1531 and was not finished until 1709.
According to the legend, Juan Diego was walking between his village and Mexico City on December 12, 1531 when Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared, speaking to him in his native Nahuatl language. She told him to build a church at the site. When Juan Diego spoke to the Spanish bishop, the bishop did not believe him, asking for a miraculous sign to prove his vision’s authenticity. The Virgin appeared to Juan Deigo again and, although it was winter, to him to gather flowers. Miraculously, Spanish roses bloomed right at his feet. When Juan Diego presented these to the bishop, the roses fell from his apron (the Tilma) and an icon of the Virgin was miraculously imprinted on the cloth. The bishop ordered a Church built at once, dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe. Spanish missionaries used the story of her appearance to help convert millions of indigenous people in what had been the Aztec Empire.
The original miraculous apron containing the image of the Virgin hangs behind bullet-proof glass above the altar in the new basilica. The basilica now houses a museum of ex-votos (hand-painted depictions of miracles, dedicated to Mary or a saint in gratitude) and popular religious art, paintings, sculpture, and decorative and applied arts from the 15th through 18th centuries.
The present church was constructed on the site of an earlier 16th-century church that was finished in 1709, the Old Basilica. When this basilica became dangerous due to the sinking of its foundations, a modern structure called the New Basilica was built next to it; the original image of the Virgin of Guadalupe is now housed in this New Basilica. Built between 1974 and 1976, the new Basilicahas a circular floor plan. The circular structure is 100 meters (330 feet) in diameter, and can accommodate up to 50,000 people. The choir is located between the altar and the churchgoers to indicate that it, too, is part of the group of the faithful.
To the sides are the chapels of the Santisimo and of Saint Joseph. It has 9 chapels on the upper floor. Under the main floor are the Basilica’s crypts, with 15,000 niches and 10 chapels. Its seven front doors are an insinuation to the seven gates of Celestial Jerusalem referred to by Christ.