The Hymn of San Juan Diego

[Editors note: This is the second poem in the song cycle by James Matthew Wilson inspired by the Mass of the Americas, called “The River of the Immaculate Conception.” The book may be purchased from]

The Hymn of Juan Diego

Thus it is said that Juan Diego
Saw first the Aztec girl,
Her shoulders cloaked in starry mantle
Her hair dark as the merle.


The hill whereon she stood had been
An ancient mother’s home,
Laid low with all Tenochtitlan
When stout Cortez had come.


Light sprang from dull rocks at her feet
And birdsong filled the place,
While she herself eclipsed the sun,
Its blaze about her face.


And every color of the stones
For which the Spaniards killed
Became the turquoise and the gold
With which the sky was filled.


“All those who seek me, Little One,
Will have me for their mother;
And those by pride or greed estranged
Will someday call you brother.”


Juan begged the bishop build a church,
Received a doubtful smile;
And felt his own unworthy bones
As ignorant and vile.


The bishop’s jeweled servants scorned him,
Said he was telling lies.
A second time the bishop’s asked,
A second time denies.


Some thought to beat Juan for his words;
He found his uncle ill,
So every claim upon him led
Him to avoid her will.


But she met him upon the way:
“Why do you run from me?
My mantle covers you already,
And sets your uncle free.”


“Gather these roses in your cloak
As your land’s never seen,
Then, lay them at the holy feet,
And he’ll know what they mean.”


The brute crowd at the bishop’s door
Stood in his way and sneered.
They saw his breast of flowers and snatched;
The petals disappeared.


So, Juan Diego was let in
To stand before the throne,
To show his harvest of the rose
Where rose had never grown.


“I’ve done as she, the mother of God
Told me to do,” he said,
And poured out at the bishop’s feet
The bright abundant red.


But, as these fell, the bishop saw
Juan’s rough-stitched cloak unfold
The image of that placid queen
Ablaze with teal and gold.


He fell upon his knees in praise
And wept for love of her
Who on that land of rock and thorn
Her great care should confer.


Beneath her mantle and her banner
All those vast lands are warmed,
But what we seek in them must be
First by her love transformed.


And so, Diego’s cloak poured forth
Not conquest but sweet flowers
And Mary chose a tattered cloth
To first unveil her powers.


This is the second poem from James Matthew Wilson’s new book of poems, The River of the Immaculate Conception (Wiseblood Books, 2019).

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