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Codex Escalada / Codex 1548


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Codex Escalada


Codex Escalada (or Codex 1548) is a pictorial manuscript on a sheet of parchment (approximately 5¼ x 8 inches) made from deerskin on which there have been drawn in ink images and Nahuatl text depicting the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe to St. Juan Diego. If authentic, and if correctly dated to the mid-16th century, the document supplies a gap in the written record as to the antiquity of the tradition regarding the apparitions. The cult of the Virgin of the Tepeyac (Guadalupe) is well established as originating from that era even without this document. The document features in a couple of places the name Cuauhtlactoatzin which is known from other sources to be the native name of Juan Diego, although the normal orthography for the mid-16th century is "Quauhtlahtoatzin".[1]

The parchment surfaced in 1995 and was published in 1997 by Fr. Xavier Escalada S.J. after whom the document was honorarily named in 2002.


The document is difficult to read because of the presence of creases along both axes and the deep yellowish tint. However, the main images can be distinguished. The main pictorial elements of the document are:


1. A rocky landscape with sparse foliage and a small man in the distance.


2. Face
The woman's face shows great compassion. The Indians felt that the face was the window of the inner person, a means by which one could read who a person was -- the way a person would act. A good woman to the Indians was one whose femininity showed in her face. The head of the woman in the image shows her with dark skin and dark hair like that of the Indians.


3. Hands
Her hands are not poised in the traditional Western style of prayer, but in an Indian manner of offering, indicating that something is being offered, that something is to come from her.


4. Maternity Band
The maternity band around the woman's waist was the sign of a pregnant woman, a mother who is about to give birth, it was a sign to the Indians that someone is yet to come.


5. Stars
The stars on the mantle are a sign that a new civilization, or era, is beginning. The Indian tradition recognized the end and the beginning of different eras throughout the ages, and the destruction of a particular civilization or era was always accompanied by a comet, or a body of stars.


6. Sun Rays
The rays of sun in the image recalled for the Indians that the sun played a key role in their civilization. But the woman in the image is greater than even the sun. She hides the sun, and only the rays come forth. She hides the sun but does not extinguish it.


7. Mantle
The predominant color in the image's mantle is turquoise, the blue-green color reserved for the great god Omecihuatl. Although the Indians had many "intermediary gods." Omecihuatl was considered the supreme god. It was a mother-father god who sometimes was represented as a man and sometimes as a woman. It was a source of unity for everything that exists.


8. Moon
The woman is standing on the moon, indicating that she is greater than the god of night, the moon god.


9. Angel
The angel at the bottom of the image was seen by the Indians as an "intermediary god" carrying in a new era, the beginning of a new civilization. One era was at an end -- had died -- and a new one was beginning, was being born.


  1. On the left an Indian (assumed to be St. Juan Diego) kneeling at the foot of a mountain and facing in three-quarter profile.

  2. On the right Our Lady of Guadalupe (as distinguished by her shape, surrounding oval, mantle, and crescent moon at her feet).

  3. The sun is rising over the hills behind the Virgin.

  4. Above the landscape is the date "1548" beneath which are four lines of Nahuatl text written in the Latin alphabet which can be translated as:- "In this year of 15[0]31 there appeared to Cuauhtlactoatzin our dearly beloved mother Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico".[2]

  5. Below the landscape is the large signature of Fray Bernardino de Sahagún (ca. 1499-1590), the renowned Franciscan missionary, historian and pioneering ethnologist.

  6. Directly beneath the kneeling Indian is more Nahuatl text written in the Latin alphabet, the first part of which can be translated as:- "Cuauhtlactoatzin died a worthy death"; and the second as:- "in 1548 Cuauhtlactoatzin died."It is these last details which have led the parchment to be regarded as a type of "death certificate" of Juan Diego.[3]

  7. In the right margin:

    1. At the top half is a continuation of the landscape

    2. Below it is an indestinguishable image.

    3. Next is a left-facing pictogram of a man raising an upright staff seated on a throne. The chair features the head of a bird from which streams flow.

    4. Beneath this pictogram are the words "juez anton vareliano [sic]" most likely a reference to Antonio Valeriano (ca. 1525-1605).[5] Valeriano was or judge-governor of his home town of Azcapotzalco (1565 - 1573), and of San Juan Tenochtítlan afterwards. He was a student and contemporary of Sahagún in the compilation of an encyclopedic account of Nahuatl life and culture before the Spanish conquest. He is best known for his compilation of the Florentine Codex.[4] The purpose of Sahagún's signature is uncertain.

    5. The pictogram of Valeriano is similar to one of him found on the Aubin Codex (displayed in the British Museum), which probably dates from 1576 giving it the name "manuscrito de 1576". The purpose of the Valeriano pictogram is uncertain.

Iconographic Analysis

The depiction of Juan Diego and the Virgin are similar to an engraving by Antonio Castro found in the 2nd edition of a work by Luis Becerra Tanco first published in Mexico and in 1666 as Origen milagroso del santuario de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe and republished in Spain in 1675 as Felicidad de México.[5] The iconography of the Virgin is notably missing three features which have been consistent in her iconography: the sun rays framing her, the crown on her head, and the angel at her feet. All three features can be seen in the earliest known depiction of the tilma, painted in oil in 1606 by Baltasar de Echave Orio.[6] A sequence of marks on the mantle have been interpreted as stars but are not clear. Some scholars have studied the tilma and concluded that the moon, angel, sun rays, and stars, were all later additions to the original image beginning at an indeterminate time in the 16th century and perhaps continuing into the early 17th century.[7]


The discovery of the parchment was first made public in August 1995 when Father Escalada, - a Spanish Jesuit and long-time resident of Mexico who had devoted his life to Guadalupan studies and who was at that time preparing for the publication of his Enciclopedia Guadalupana – announced that the owners of the parchment had brought it to his attention and requested confidentiality.[8] The original announcement came almost mid-way between the 1995 beatification and the 2002 canonization of Juan Diego. His historicity had been questioned by some scholars as the earliest surviving written reference to him had been Miguel Sánchez's Imagen de la Virgen María(1648).[9] Nevertheless, the parchment reveals no new data about Juan Diego or the apparitions, for his native name and the year of his death were already known from other sources. Valeriano was likewise already known for his promotion of the cult of Our Lady of Guadalupe and is thought to be the author of the Nican Mopohua.

The document had originally been discovered by José Antonio Vera Olvera who found the parchment, by chance, enclosed in a manila envelope and lodged between the pages of a 19th century devotional work on sale in a second-hand book market, and from him it passed to the Guerra Vera family of Querétaro who revealed its existence to Fr. Escalada in 1995. On the occasion the formal gift to the Archbishop of México on April 14th, 2002, the owners requested that it be known as the Codex Escalada in honour of Fr. Escalada's life-work researching the apparitions.[10] Fr. Escalada died in October 2006.[11]

Investigations as to authenticity

In 1996 and 1997 the parchment and Sahagún's signature were subjected to technical and critical analysis the results of which were all favorable to the document's authenticity. A copy of the Sahagún signature was sent to Dr. Charles E. Dibble a former professor of anthropology of the University of Utah and as one of the leading scholars in Sahagún studies possessed the largest collection of Sahagún signatures . On June 12,1996 he wrote, "l have received a copy of codice 1548. I have studied the signature, and I believe it to be the signature of Fray Bernardino de Sahagún. I base my conclusions on the indications of three crosses; the form of the 'Fray', the 'd' and the 'b'. In my opinion the signature is not the same as, that is not contemporaneous with the 1548 date of the codice. I would assign the signature to the 50's or the 60's' ." In his report of September 18th, 1996, Don Alfonso M. Santillana Rentería, head of the Office of Documentoscopy and Photography of the Bank of Mexico in Mexico City, verified the signarture by saying, "the signature in question, attributed to Fray Bernadino de Sahagún, which appears on codex 1548, was made by his own hand; therefore it is authentic". [12] Professor Castaño's' team identified the ink used for Sahagún's signature (as also they did with the ink used for the date "1548") as being not identical with that used on the rest of the parchment.

While many of the puzzling features have still not been fully explained or accounted for, no critics have impugned (i) the integrity and expertise of those who have subjected the document to investigation, or (ii) the reliability and coherence of such tests and investigations as were actually performed or conducted, or (iii) the conclusions drawn from the results of those tests and investigations.[13]

Rafael Tena, among others, contended that even if Sahagún's signature is authentic, its presence on a document such as this constitutes a serious internal inconsistency arising from Sahagún's known hostility to the cult of Guadalupe.[19] While Sahagún did indeed express reservations as to the cult in his historical works, that comparatively late criticism was based on what he considered to be a syncretistic application to the Virgin Mary of the Nahuatl epithet "Tonantzin" ("our dear mother") which, however, he himself had freely used with the same application in his own sermons as late as the 1560's.[14]

Publication of the results

The results of all these analyses and investigations were published by Escalada in July 1997 as an 80 page fifth volume or appendix to his Enciclopedia Guadalupana, complete with photographs and technical data.[15]


  1. González Fernández et al., pp.329-352; Brading, p. 117; Betancourt; Tena (one of the Nahuatl scholars entrusted with the decipherment and translation of the text) reads "Cuauhtlatoatzin" throughout

  2. The Nahuatl scholars entrusted with the decipherment and translation of the text (including Miguel Léon-Portilla, Rafael Tena and Mario Rojas Sánchez) were at slight variance over the precise wording, but the import of the text is clear: for the variant readings, see Betancourt

  3. The date of birth depends on combining various probabilities as to when and at what age Valeriano started at the Colegio de Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco and his likely age at the start of his political career. Karttunen, p.114, puts the date of birth "at the beginning of the 1530's"; other historians put it in the 1520's, e.g. Miguel Léon-Portilla gives a range of 1522-1526 (see the review of Tonantzin-Guadalupe by Eduardo Matos Moctezuma in Estudios de cultura nahuatl, vol 33 (2002), pp.359-374, at p.370. Rodrigo Martínez Baracs suggests "1524?", see last para. of online article De Tepeaquilla a Tepeaca, 1528-1555, Andes, vol.17 (2006) pp.281-328

  4. Brading, p. 344

  5. Karttunen, pp. 115-116.

  6. discussion and illustration in Victoria, pp. 137ff.; and see Brading, plate 10 at p. 105

  7. Callahan, pp. 6-13, esp. conclusions at pp. 9, 10, 13; summary conclusions 2 and 3 at p.18; and speculations at p.19

  8. Peralta

  9. Brading, p. 55

  10. Brading, p. 191; Sousa, Poole & Lockhart, pp. 4-8, 12-19, 43-47; Poole (2002); Peralta; cf. Traslosheros

  11. Betancourt; and articles in El Observador (N° 544, December 11, 2005) "Es verdadera historia lo de la Guadalupana" and El Méxicano (April 15, 2002) "Confirma códice el milagro guadalupano" both accessed 2011-02-02

  12. "Muere el padre Xavier Escalada" Noticieros Televisa, accessed 2011-02-02

  13. Chávez Sánchez, Eduardo, La Virgen de Guadalupe y Juan Diego en las Informaciones Jurídicas de 1666, (con facsímil del original), Edición del Instituto de Estudios Teológicos e Históricos Guadalupanos, 2002

  14. "El acervo documental de la Basílica de Guadalupe" official website of the Basilica, accessed 2011-02-02, and see references under Provenan

  15. Escalada; Moreno; Betancourt; Poole (2006) pp. 132f.

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