The beautiful brown-skinned Virgen de Guadalupe is, of course, the patron saint of Mexico who managed to convert millions to Catholicism. But even Catholicism can't seem to explain everything that this mestiza mother figure has come to mean in the hearts and minds of Mexicans and Mexican Americans. Her significance is so deeply etched in the identity of her devoted followers that many have etched her image onto their bodies. Many of these tattoos are beautiful, but what's more amazing is the profound meaning that those who sport these have attached to their Virgen Morenita ink.

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Virgen de Guadalupe tattoos are not rare, as you will see. Some of the tattoos we'll show you here are lifelike and gorgeous, others are more abstract. Some are colorful and rooted in our love of color, while others are more stylized. What all have in common is that they're all beautiful and meaningful--something so true of all body ink.

Click through this gallery to see a sampling of body art dedicated to the Virgen de Guadalupe. Although we don't have all the back stories to the tattoos of the people we feature here, we are sure that the motivations are all deep and powerful. Along with each tattoo, we'll go through the story of when La Virgen de Guadalupe first appeared in all her glory to an indigenous man in Mexico.

The year was 1531. 1

It is said that the Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego, an indigenous man, on December 9, 1531, on Tepeyac Hill, which is now a suburb of Mexico City.


He was on his way to church. 2

Juan Diego, a convert to Catholicism, was on his way to chapel when the Virgin Mary spoke to him in Nahuatl, his native language.


She chose him to be her messenger. 3

She told Juan Diego that she was the Virgin Mary and that she wanted a church to be built on the spot where they were.

He reluctantly did what was asked of him. 4

Juan Diego went to the palace of the archbishop of Mexico, Fray Juan de Zumárraga, to relay the request of the Virgin Mary.  



He was met with skepticism. 5

Of course, the archbishop did not believe Juan Diego and asked for proof.


And yet he had to keep trying. 6

That same day, Juan Diego saw the Virgin again and she asked him to keep trying to get that church built.


His insistence was met with more distrust. 7

Juan Diego went back to the archbishop the next day, which was December 10, but still the archbishop did not believe him.

A miracle was needed. 8

Juan Diego was instructed by the archbishop to go back to Tepeyac Hill and ask the apparition for some kind of miraculous sign to prove she was who she said she was.


And so back he went. 9

This messenger thing was not easy, so much back and forth.

He asked for a miracle. 10

It was still December 10, when Juan Diego went back to Tepeyac Hill to ask for a sign from the Virgin Mary that he could share with the archbishop.


She promised a miracle. 11

The Virgin Mary told him to come back on December 11 for the sign.

Then life got in the way. 12

On December 11, Juan Diego did not go back because he had to take care of his uncle who had gotten very sick.


He thought his uncle was about to die. 13

Early on December 12, Juan Diego went to get a priest to administer last rites because he didn’t think his uncle was going to make it.

He tried to hide. 14

Juan Diego was trying to avoid running into the Virgin Mary because he was ashamed about not having shown up the day before, so he went a different way to avoid Tepeyac Hill.


You can't hide from an apparition, though. 15

The Virgin appeared to him nonetheless and once he told her about his uncle, she gently admonished him for not going to her by saying, “¿No estoy yo aquí que soy tu madre?” (Am I not here, I who am your Mother?).

She made him a promise. 16

She told Juan Diego that he did not need to go get a priest as his uncle would be just fine.


She made flowers bloom in the winter. 17

Instead, she sent him to gather flowers at the top of Tepeyac Hill, even though it was the dead of winter.

They weren't even local flowers. 18

When Juan Diego got to the top of the hill, not only did he find flowers, he found Castilian roses that aren’t even native to Mexico.


She took the flowers from him. 19

The Virgin then arranged the flowers in Juan Diego’s tilma, a kind of poncho/cloak, and sent him to the archbishop.

The flowers were just one part of the miracle. 20

On December 12, when Juan Diego opened his tilma in front of the archbishop, the flowers dropped to the floor.


They were just a preface to what was coming. 21

That there were blooming flowers that had never been seen in that part of the world was a miracle in itself.

What was to come was so much more amazing. 22

But the flowers weren’t even the most impressive part of the miracle.


It was the tilma that took their breath away. 23

What was even more astounding was the image of the Virgin that had somehow been emblazoned on Juan Diego’s tilma.

Miracle received. 24

The archbishop kept the tilma and accepted it as miraculous proof.


There were more miracles in store. 25

Juan Diego went back to his uncle Juan Bernardino on December 13.

Juan Diego's uncle saw her too. 26

Juan Bernardino told Juan Diego that the Virgin had appeared to him as well.


She kept the promise she had made to Juan Diego. 27

Just like she had promised, Juan Diego's uncle had recovered.

She talked to Juan Diego's uncle. 28

She didn't only stop by to cure Juan Bernardino.


She revealed her name. 29

She told him what she wanted to be called.

Yes, her name is Mary. 30

But in Mexico, her apparition wanted to be called something special.


And that's where Guadalupe comes in. 31

It was during her apparition to Juan Bernardino that she asked to be called “Santa Maria de Guadalupe.”

The tilma tells a story too. 32

The tilma depicts a pregnant Mary.


There are indigenous elements throughout. 33

In the image, the Virgin is dressed like a traditional Aztec princess.

Things can be inferred from images alone. 34

The black sash worn high up on her waist was a symbol used for pregnancy in Aztec culture.


She spoke to the indigenous people in their own language. 35

The story of how the Virgin appeared to Juan Diego dressed like an Aztec princess and spoke to him in Nahuatl is believed to be responsible for millions of people converting to Catholicism in less than seven years.

As per her request, a shrine was built. 36

The shrine that was constructed in her honor is called the Basílica de Santa Maria de Guadalupe.


She is incredibly popular. 37

Every year more than 20 million people visit the shrine.

And can you believe Juan Diego's tilma is still around? 38

The tilma has survived all these years and is still on display.


Never mind separation of church and state. 39

In 1859, the day of the Virgin de Guadalupe became a national holiday.

Oh, and Juan Diego became a saint ... eventually. 40

On July 31, 2002, Juan Diego became the first Roman Catholic indigenous saint from the Americas.