The Painting of the Virgin

God, seeing in America a child
Embracing Faith with jubilation meet,
Took up His paints, and on a flowered sheet
By His own hand a portrait deftly styled,
For He intended Jesus’ Mother mild
To be that favored Nation’s mercy seat,
Whence He would issue clemency complete
As humble men implored, and Mary smiled.
At Guadalupe, Indians, behold
Your mother’s beauty and kindheartedness!
Esteem her counsel more than treasured gold;
Revere her friendship; love her tenderness;
Take Mary as your Lady long foretold,
And venerate her picture’s holiness.

—Translation by Margaret Coats

 

Spanish original found on a damaged painting from the early nineteenth century

Viendo Dios a la America su amada
En brazos de la Fe recien nacida,
Toma el pincel y en lamina florida
De su mano a MARIA dexa copiada.
Madre en ella la da, tan empanada
En ver a esta Nacion favorecida
Que muestra su clemencia defundida
Siempre que es de los hombres implorada.
En Guadalupe, Indianos, alli mora
Esta Madre comun, esta Hermosura
A uestra consuelo se atesora
Ved su amabilidad, ved su ternura,
Y au tan propra esta MARIA Senora
[line illegible except the final word] Pintura.

 

 

Margaret Coats lives in California.  She holds a Ph.D. in English and American Literature and Language from Harvard University.  She has retired from a career of teaching literature, languages, and writing that included considerable work in homeschooling for her own family and others.  


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26 Responses

    • Jonicis Bulalacao

      Thanks, Margaret, for this beautiful poem that inspires us to all the more beg our Blessed Mother’s intercession for our country in this troubled times.

      Reply
  1. Cynthia Erlandson

    Lovely — I’m amazed at the talent of those who can translate, still keeping the same rhyme scheme, and all the other considerations that must go through the translator’s mind!

    Reply
  2. Sally Cook

    Margaret —
    A lovely and evocative poem. Thanks for translating and sharing it.

    Reply
  3. Margaret Coats

    The illustration here is not the painting on which I found the sonnet, which was a much less professional Mexican folk painting. I was not able to photograph it, and therefore Evan has outdone himself in locating something similar. This Joaquin Villegas painting features a great deal of text. In the part we see here, there are speech “ribbons” from God the Father, God the Son, and two angels. In the half we do not see, there is more speech from the visionary Juan Diego, and from what appears to be an eagle, as well as a possible poem on a cameo at lower left. Check out the full painting, and learn about the “Heavenly Workshop” genre at

    https://artsandculture.google.com/asset/the-eternal-father-painting-the-virgin-of-guadalupe/LQGsqpnrG-WJhQ?hl=en

    Reply
    • Margaret Coats

      Sorry, the above link may not work due to SCP or your own computer blocking third-party tracking cookies. But you can get there by typing the link directly into your own search engine, even if you use Duck Duck Go to avoid ad tracking.

      Reply
    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      The image is most impressive! This reminds me of the famous prophecy of the miracle of the Tilma expressed in the names of of the three ships Columbus used on his first voyage. “Pinta” is the feminine singular of “painted,” “Niña” is the feminine singular of “girl, virgin,” and “Santa Maria” is Holy Mary. Taken together we have “painted young virgin named Mary.”

      Reply
  4. Margaret Coats

    Thanks still more to Evan, Mike, and other tech experts! It’s good to see that full picture, as it indicates poems or poetic language may be an important part of this kind of painting.

    Reply
  5. Christina Lesinski

    Lovely! Beautiful the way it flows. A tender way to reflect on Out Lady of Guadalupe.

    Reply
  6. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Margaret, it’s a real privilege to read this translation which flows smoothly and beautifully as it reveals the wonder of the Spanish original. I can feel the care and effort that has gone into this polished piece. Thank you very much!

    Reply
  7. Karen

    Beautifully, well-written translation by the very talented Coats. Thanks so much for transcribing with great precision. May God reward you!

    Reply
  8. R. M. Moore

    The Americas are indeed blessed under the protection of O. L. G. and also let Catholics remember that O. L. of the Immaculate Conception is Patroness over the U. S . A…of which may be also said from Mrs. Coats’ following poetic quote:
    “…To be that favored Nation’s mercy seat,
    Whence He would issue clemency complete
    As humble men implored…”

    Reply
    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      This is very true and we must always keep it in mind and heart.

      Also, we must embrace the findings of modern science regarding the Tilma. It is not a painting. There is no paint on the fabric. There are no brush strokes. the surface of the image is perfectly smooth, like a photograph.

      Richard Kuhn, the 1938 Nobel Prize winner in chemistry, found that the image did not have natural animal or mineral colorings. Given that there were no synthetic colorings in 1531, the image is inexplicable.

      The image does not even touch the fabric underneath it. Instead, the colors float above the surface of the Tilma at a distance of 3/10th of a mm or (1/100 of an inch).

      In 1979, Americans Philip Callahan and Jody B. Smith studied the image with infrared rays and discovered to their surprise that there was no trace of paint and that the fabric had not been treated with any kind of technique. It’s just raw fiber.

      Tonsmann, a Peruvian engineer, added, “Callahan and Smith showed how the image changes in color slightly according to the angle of viewing, a phenomenon that is known by the word iridescence, a technique that cannot be reproduced with human hands.”

      The scientist began his study in 1979. He magnified the iris of the Virgin’s eyes 2,500 times and, through mathematical and optical procedures, was able to identify all the people imprinted in the eyes.

      The eyes reflect the witnesses of the Guadalupan miracle the moment Juan Diego unfurled his tilma before the bishop, according to Tonsmann.

      And this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many, many more miracles associated with the Tilma.

      Reply
  9. L Garcia

    Thank you Dr. Coats for a beautiful translation of this lovely poem that captures the essence of God’s great gift to America, Our Lady of Guadalupe. We enjoyed reading and rereading it.

    Reply
  10. Joseph Charles MacKenzie

    This is one of those rare cases of a literally perfect translation of a perfect Spanish sonnet with the added challenge of completing a last line. I most admire Coats’s ability to embrace the spirit of the original Mexican iconography which, I am sure, succeeds by its very imperfection as we see so often in these colonial devotional paintings—as I know well, having enjoyed many local exhibits in Santa Fe over the years, whether at the Museum of Art or the Museum of Spanish Colonial Arts on Museum Hill.

    Coats’s sonnet is a gem in its own right, one that dazzles even as it nourishes the reader’s devotion to that Most Holy Virgin whose triumph in the new world more than compensated for the demonic suppression of her cult in the old.

    Coats’s translation is especially meaningful to me on a deeply personal level, as my mother’s royal city of Santa Fe boasts the oldest shrine in North America dedicated to La Guadalupana. In its santuario is the largest oil-on-canvas, Spanish baroque reredos (altar screen) painted by Jose de Alzibar in 1783, as well as a statue of Saint Juan Diego by Gogy Farias from Mexico City.

    All too many of my native New Mexicans seem unaware of Alzibar’s importance. For, indeed, he was one of the founders of the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Carlos (Valencia, Spain) in 1784.

    I think I could go one indefinitely on the many spiritual gifts this densely packed translation abounds in, let alone the original Spanish text. But to conclude, let me say that my definition of poetry as “the radiance of God’s Word through language ordered by grace” (a definition which remains unrefuted) could not be more perfectly fulfilled than here in this outstanding translation by Margaret Coats.

    Reply
  11. Joe Tessitore

    “ … and elsewhere he breaks forth, “Run through all creation in your thoughts, and see if there be equal to, or greater than, the Holy Virgin Mother of God. “ “

    St. Proclus, quoted by St. John Henry Newman.

    Reply
  12. Margaret Coats

    Happy Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe! Thanks, Mr. Tessitore, for bringing in a quotation from the saints in her honor. Of course I must attribute all of value in my work to the intercession of her Immaculate Heart with God.

    As Mr. MacKenzie and others who read Spanish will have noticed, lines 11 and 13 of the original poem, like its final line, are missing some letters. I had left a few blank spaces to indicate that in my submission, but these disappeared when the poem was posted. The work of art was most damaged, and difficult to read, near the bottom.

    Thank you, Mr. MacKenzie, for providing information showing that scientists who have studied the Guadalupe image fail to find any natural explanation for its qualities. For me, the lack of paint brings into focus Juan Diego’s task in gathering roses of Castile atop a barren Mexican hill, as Our Lady asked him to do. Of course he thought these roses, gathered in December, would be the sign the bishop in Mexico City wanted to authenticate his vision. But as the full image of the illustration (to be seen at the above link) reveals, Juan Diego was bringing earthly pigments to be used by the Father in the Heavenly Workshop. Painters used to find and mix their own paints; here Juan Diego carries out an important role in this Artist’s studio, as does Our Lady herself, who arranges the roses in the tilma before she allows Juan Diego to carry them to the bishop. In the miraculous portrait, the backdrop to the stars on Our Lady’s blue cloak shows gold outlines of flowers. Mexican scientists have studied these, and determined that they represent native Mexican plants. The image is heavenly, the materials native, although in the judgment of science they are not natural.

    Thanks to the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art in Santa Ana, California, for that last bit of information, and for their 2016-2017 Guadalupe loan exhibition from Mexico, that included the painting on which I found the poem.

    Reply
  13. Margaret Coats

    Another gift for the feast day: I was able to read the cameo in that illustration Evan found, and it does indeed contain another found poem! While the speech “ribbons” are all Latin quotations from Holy Scripture, the poem is in Spanish, with rhyme scheme abbaaccddc.

    Dios qual Pintor soberano
    gastar quiso lindas flores
    y a Maria con mil primores
    copio, como de su mano.
    Lienso ministro el Indiano
    da [l or f or t]osco humilde sayal
    en su capa, y sin igual
    se vee con tanta hermosura
    que indica ser tal pintura
    obra sobra Natural

    Reply
  14. Joseph S. Salemi

    I’d like to add a small point to what Mr. MacKenzie has said about Tonsmann’s researches into the images seen in the iris of the Blessed Virgin’s image on the Guadalupe tilma.

    Tonsmann was not the first to explore this question. Dr. Charles Wahlig, an optometrist from Woodside, New York (Queens County), noted these images back in the early 1960s, and published a small book on Juan Diego and the miracle. Dr. Wahlig pointed out that the images in the Virgin’s iris are curved in precisely the manner in which images are reflected on the surface of the human eye. He also noted that there were a few persons to be discerned.

    Tonsmann’s techniques, of course, are much more advanced and sophisticated than Dr. Wahlig’s. Wahlig had to work with comparatively crude blow-ups of photos.

    Dr. Wahlig and his family were old friends of my family in Woodside. He was a very devout Catholic, and spent much time doing research in Mexico.

    Reply
  15. Brian Onuigbo

    This is an excellent poem, and completely captures the essence of the image , the Immaculate Lady who it portrays, and of the Spirit whose divine brush created it.

    Reply
  16. Phyllis Schabow

    Of all the information presently in print regarding the miraculous surrounding this beautiful image, this is the first hinting at the Divine Designer’s hand in its production. Margaret’s choice of poetry brings to us who know no Spanish something most extraordinary – the thought that God the Father Himself would express His love for this only-begotten daughter of His Heart in such a way as to make visible to us mortals an idea of what prompted Him to form the entire creation. For, indeed, it is all for her. Everything in His Mind from all eternity – the moon and stars, the flowers, motherhood, are made visible in this image. Daughter of God the Father, Spouse of God the Holy Ghost, mother of God the Only Begotten Son, and Only Begotten Son of Mary Immaculate, through Mary came Jesus into the world, through Jesus came the Sacrament of Baptism, through Baptism – a share in the Divine Nature is given to mere mortals, and preserving the innocence of life as they enter eternity in possession of the sanctifying grace infused into their souls at the instant of baptism, they are united with the Most Holy Trinity and His well beloved Mary as her children. Children who have freely chosen her to be their mother in imitation of Christ Himself, who sent an angel to ask if the maiden would be willing to bear Him as her Son. So, thank you Margaret for your lovely translation which has prompted so many wonderful thoughts – for the first time – suggesting that it was God the Father who fashioned Mary to be the Mother of His Son, and so of course it would be God the Father who fashioned this image for us, her children still in this valley of tears, to contemplate the loveliness of she who will be our delight for all eternity if we but persevere in the light of His love.

    Reply
  17. Irene Childs

    Great job Margaret! Thank you for translating and sharing. God bless and keep you and all yours.

    Reply

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