Our Lady of Guadalupe is an aspect of the Virgin Mary, who, according to legend, appeared to Saint Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, an Aztec convert to Catholicism, in 1531. Less famously, the same name also refers to a statue of the Virgin Mary that dates from 1326 and was named after the city of Guadalupe in Spain.
According to the story generally accepted by Catholics, Juan Diego was walking between his village and Tenochtitlan (now Mexico City), where the Catholic mission was headquartered, on December 12, 1531. Along the way, Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared, speaking to him in his native Nahuatl language. She told him to build a church at the site, but when Juan Diego spoke to the Spanish bishop, the bishop did not believe him, asking for a miraculous sign. The Virgin told Juan Diego to gather flowers from a hill, even though it was winter, when nothing bloomed. He found Spanish roses and presented these to the bishop. When the roses fell from his apron, an icon of the Virgin remained imprinted on the cloth.
Many sceptics disbelieve this story, of course, but in any case a church was built in 1533, dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe. Thereafter, Spanish missionaries used the story of her appearance to help convert millions of indigenous people in what had been the Aztec Empire. Our Lady of Guadalupe still undergirds the faith of many Catholics in Mexico and the rest of Latin America, and she has been recognised as patron saint of Mexico City since 1737, with her patronage extended piece by piece until it included all of the Americas by 1946. Much of the recent increase in Marianism in the Catholic Church, including the call to recognise Mary as coredemptrix, stems from the cult of Guadalupe. Today many make the pilgrimage to the Basilica of Guadalupe, some crawling on their knees for blocks, to pray to the Virgin of Guadalupe.
The origin of the name "Guadalupe", in the American context, is something of a mystery. Those who doubt the story of Juan Diego and the apparitions can argue that the 1533 church was dedicated to the Spanish Our Lady of Guadalupe, with the American version developing later. Others have suggested that the name is actually a corruption of a Nahuatl name, "Coatlaxopeuh", which has been translated as "Who Crushes the Serpent". In this interpretation, the serpent is Quetzalcoatl, one of the chief Aztec gods, whom she crushed by inspiring the conversion of the natives to Catholicism.