Hadewijch vs. Juan Diego

As Lent Madness voting resumes for the week, we encounter Hadewijch and Juan Diego, two outsiders in their own unique ways. In case you're wondering about the pronunciation, Hadewijch rhymes with hate-a-witch (if you're either a Wiccan or from Salem, Massachusetts, please don't get offended). 

In the only Saturday match-up of Lent Madness 2015, Molly Brant sent Swithun back to the proverbial swamp 58% to 42%. Molly will face the winner of Bede vs. Cuthbert in the Saintly Sixteen.

 Yesterday, in case you missed it (and if you did, you should sign up on the home page to receive e-mails every time we post something), we shared some resources to supplement your Lenten journey. We've invited folks to add others in the comment section, not because we don't have all the answers but because we're lazy. So check out what we're calling "Lent beyond the Madness" and feel free to add to the list.


In the early thirteenth century, new expressions of religion began to appear in what are now the modern-day countries of Belgium, Luxembourg, and The Netherlands. The devotions of contemplation and ecstatic mysticism began to be publicly practiced by a group of devout women known as the Beguines. Beguines were not nuns, but women who chose to lead lives of poverty and prayerful contemplation without taking formal vows. Their members were from across all socioeconomic classes; some lived alone, and others formed small groups.

Hadewijch was among these devout women. Other than her devotion as a Beguine, almost nothing is known of her life. What we do know has been distilled from her writings—collections of poetry, letters, and visions. Her writings show a proficiency in Latin and French, with a vast knowledge of both the Old and New Testaments and early Church writers, especially Saint Augustine of Hippo.

Her writings tell of a burning love for the Trinity and mystical love for Christ. In fact, her writings are filled with the theme of love, although a much more diverse sense of the word than English translations can capture. Hadewijch used various terms for love, including karitate (love of neighbor), lief (the beloved) and minne (a feminine word of the language of courtly love). Minne is used most often in her writings, as an experience of the soul in a loving, erotic relationship with God.

While almost nothing is known directly about her that can be pinned down as historical fact, her use of the images of courtly love to describe our relationship with God suggests she was nobility. She took common images of her day—love offered to a lady by a knight, the knight facing dangers to win the love of a woman, the elegant dance of honor, expressions of love, the trials faced to win the love and affection of the beloved — and used the tension, seduction, and longing particular to courtly love to express the relationship between the soul and God. Her poetry brought a holy sensuality to the usually dry theological writings of the time, which were also rife with superstition and threats of eternal damnation.

Her use of courtly love and eroticism to speak of our relationship with God did not find support in the traditional church hierarchy or in the Beguine community. From the content of letters and visions, scholars believe Hadewijch was evicted from her community and perhaps imprisoned for her expression of faith and belief. Other letters indicate she lived her last years homeless, serving the sick and dying in hospitals where she could care for those in need, sleep in a corner when possible, and pray in a chapel.

Collect for Hadewijch

Loving God, we thank you this day for the ministry and mystical experiences of your servant Hedewijch. Grant that we might each discover a language of love to speak to you, and to our brothers and sisters in faith. Give us grace to speak of love and out of love daily, to you and to the world, not counting the cost or considering the risks of speaking and loving boldly, knowing that your love perfects our imperfections, and that mercy and grace cover a multitude of shortcomings. Amen.

-Laurie Brock

unnamedJuan Diego

Juan Diego is the first Roman Catholic indigenous American saint. Born in 1474 with the name “Cuauhtlatoatzin” (“the talking eagle”), Juan Diego was a member of the Chichimeca people and lived a simple life as a weaver, farmer, and laborer. When he was fifty years old, he and his wife were among the first indigenous people in the former Aztec Empire to accept baptism and convert to Christianity.

According to tradition, on December 9, 1531, Juan Diego rose before dawn to walk fifteen miles to mass. As he passed the hill of Tepeyac, he heard a woman’s voice call him to the top of the hill. There, he saw a beautiful young woman dressed like an Aztec princess. She said she was the Virgin Mary and asked him to tell the Bishop of Tepeyac to build a church on that site in her honor.

The bishop was skeptical of Juan Diego and demanded proof of the Lady’s identity. On December 12, Juan Diego returned to Tepeyac and asked the Virgin Mary for proof. She told him to climb the hill and to pick the flowers that he would find in bloom. He obeyed, and although it was wintertime, he found roses blooming in the frozen soil. He gathered them in his tilma (cloak) and took them to the bishop. When Juan Diego opened his tilma, dozens of roses fell out. An image of Mary, imprinted on the inside of his cloak, became visible. Having received this proof, the bishop ordered that a church be built on Tepeyac in honor of the Virgin and thousands converted to Christianity.

This was the first Marian apparition in the New World. Additionally, Mary spoke to Juan Diego in Nahua, the Aztec mother tongue. The familiar language and comforting words of Our Lady still prompt thousands of converts to declare their faith in Jesus and love for Mary; this devotion can be seen and felt throughout much of Latin America, including roadside shrines and icons in bodegas, restaurants, and households from South Texas to Tierra Del Fuego.

Juan Diego died on May 30, 1548, at the age of seventy-four and was buried in the first chapel dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe. Pope John Paul II praised Juan Diego for his simple faith and offered him as a model of humility for all Christians. On May 6, 1990, Juan Diego was beatified by Pope John Paul II in the Basilica of Santa Maria de Guadalupe, Mexico City.

Collect for Juan Diego

Almighty God, you love the least of us and reveal your glor y and blessings to those simple and seeking souls who desire the warmth and vision only you can provide.We thank you for the life and ministry of Juan Diego, who, inspired by a vision of The Blessed Virgin, helped to spread the story of Jesus’ redeeming love throughout his community and into the New World. For the beauty of roses in winter, for comforting words in our own tongue, and the grace to spread the life-changing message of the Gospel, we thank you. Amen.

-Nancy Frausto


Hadewijch vs. Juan Diego

  • Juan Diego (57%, 4,069 Votes)
  • Hadewijch (43%, 3,040 Votes)

Total Voters: 7,109

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186 comments on “Hadewijch vs. Juan Diego”

    1. I noticed that you gave a pronunciation guide for Hadewijch, but not Cuauhtlatoatzin. I'd like to be able to call Juan Diego by his given name.

      1. Jim The article doesn't mention that the tilma of Juan Diego is continually on display in the Cathedral in Mexico City!

        1. If Jaun Diego makes it into the round of Saintly Kitsch you can be sure it will be mentioned. For the moment, you need to look for some good quotes for the next round. Fredrick Douglass will certainly have a few good ones.

    2. It would be better/fairer/more interesting if only those who already cast their votes would be able to see the total vote count!

  1. I'm going to "begin the Beguine" today, impressed by Hadewijch's monastic spirituality, knowledge of the Old and New Testaments, and her burning love for the Trinity and mystical love for Christ.

      1. Yes ! For Hadewijch, for her mystical love for Christ and the giving of herself to the sick and dying. In her memory I vote for her.

    1. I agree, as well. It wouldn't sway me, but I know people who say they have been swayed after seeing the total.

      1. Yes, posting the vote count throughout the day is causing a big problem for me! My four high school religion classes are competing against each other for the highest score (winner gets a pizza party) and the classes that meet later in the day are starting to figure out that they can check the tally before class. Would be so helpful if the tally is not posted until voting is closed!!!! HELP

  2. Voting for Hadewijch today for her imagination and creativity and for being willing to step outside the expectations of society at great cost.

      1. Depends on what you consider "erotic." There are parts of St Teresa of Avila that could be considered erotic. (A sword piercing her entrails ... ?)

  3. I'm with you, Rodger! I love that she was faithful, despite the pushback from everyone. That must have been incredibly tough and lonely.

    1. I agree, Susan. She lived with integrity, and I respect her tremendously for that. It sounds like she had little affirmation from her faith community which, as you said, must have been very lonely. But she was true to her faith and that is a real example to me. She has my vote.

  4. A pattern is emerging - the practical, feet-on-the-ground, in-the-world saint is getting my vote. It's not the man vs the woman (Molly Brant proved that). Let's see if the trend continues to the end...

  5. Oh boy, the SEC continues to show no mercy in its matchups! I must choose between the lady who showed me the way toward a deep and deeply grounded vision of love and the humble peasant to whom I owe devotion as protector of the borderland God has led me to dwell in. Juan Diego, this one's for you!

    1. Do you remember the video produced once upon a time showing the ferrets at work either in Scott's office or in Tim's?
      Blame the ferrets for this. Although I continue to wonder about the way these match ups have been created. They seem to be skewed.
      So far I've only gone for the "losers".

        1. I've picked losers so far, too. Today's will probably be another one, from the vote so far.
          So Tim and Scott, start your engines! I guess the complaints have begun, or is that beguine?

          1. Sally, you and I must join forces! Brendan is the only "winner" I have backed as well. It's hard to believe how so many others can be so wrong! 😉

      1. I also usually vote for the "loser." I'm not a betting person though so I just go with the saint who resonates with me or whose story teaches me the most critical lesson for my own life. I've never done well with games that require me to figure out how "normal" people think so I don't make a habit of trying.

        1. There are no losers in this contest, because we all benefit by participating. Its an honor to participate.

        2. Count me as voting 100% losers other than Brendan. Still, so Mmmmmmmmmm e of t h e Mmmmmmmmmm atchups are difficult to decide.

  6. Juan Diego's simplicity and humility spoke to me. I seem to relate less to people who withdraw from the world, although that is of course a wonderful path to God.

    1. I too thought Juan was a gentle and humble guide and felt comforted by his vision and walk in faith. But, I considered Hadewijch and her suffering for her faith and the end of her life in service to those who needed comfort and care. She had extremes of faith and life while it seems Juan Diego had a more level course to run. Each answered the call of God to witness, but it seemed to cost Hadewijch much more.

    1. The story of Juan Diego is abeautiful one, with which I have long been familiar. I am delighted to vote for him.

  7. I'm holding off voting for a bit. Even though I scored a Saintly Scorecard, I haven't done my homework. Based on the writeups it seems like Hadewijch had a more concrete history of service and writings while she was active, even though her other history is lost, but I'll see if others can convince me for Juan Diego.

  8. I realize it is St. Juan Diego in competition here, not his vision, but...

    It is important to note that not only did Our Lady of Guadalupe speak to Juan Diego in his native language, she also appeared to him. as a brown-skinned woman (hence the practice, common among Spanish-speakers, of affectionately referring to her as "La Morenita"). This was interpreted as an unambiguous sign that Our Lady, and by extension the Church, was not the sole possession of the Spanish colonizers. but could be embraced by the indigenous population as well. (It is commonly thought that this explains the mass conversions that occurred in the wake of Juan Diego's vision.) The cult of La Virgen De Guadelupe remains very strong not only in Mexico throughout the Spanish-speaking world. She continues to be of particular comfort to the poor, the oppressed, the formerly colonized and women. Among many other excellent sources, see Linda B. Hall, Mary, Mother and Warrior: The Virgin in Spain and the Americas (University of Texas Press, 2004) and Jeanette Rodríguez, Our Lady of Guaudalupe: Faith and Empowerment among Mexican-American Women (University of Texas Press, 1994).

    1. I agree. We seem to be faced yet again with a choice between one who gave up a position of privilege to humbly serve God and one who's faith empowered him to rise above his lowly circumstances and do great things in God's name. So far we seem to be supporting the overcomers. Thoughts?

    2. Thank you, Francis! A group of us from Oregon were in Mexico last December for the feast of the Virgen. It was amazing to see the pilgrims, walking for hours with her portrait on their backs, approaching the Basilica. Some camped overnight on the stone plaza. Many groups of indigenous dancers performed outside. The story of St. Juan Diego and the beloved Virgen is not forgotten there.

    3. Thank you, Francis, for sharing additional information about Juan Diego. I am learning so much during Lent Madness from both the accounts of the saints as well as informative comments such as your.

    4. Thank you, an excellent addendum for Juan Diegio. We see the results of his vision in much of the Southwest

    5. Thanks for verbalizing what I find so compelling about Juan Diego's vision. For me, it shows that Christianity as a religion of conquest is a human construct placed on the faith not an essential quality of the faith itself.

      1. To date, only Brendan won the popular vote among my choices. Today, again, I went with the "loser".That said, I marvel that St. Teresa of Avila, St. Swithun & Hadewijch were rejected. Encroyable!

  9. I am a mystic, myself, though I live in the world. While I greatly respect for the humble folks who go about living in the world and getting things done, my temperament is towards the cloistered visionary who lives in a deep, abiding love for God. My vote goes with Hadewijch.

  10. "The madness of love Is a blessed fate; And if we understood this We would seek no other: It brings into unity What was divided, And this is the truth: Bitterness it makes sweet, It makes the stranger a neighbor, And what was lowly it raises on high." - Hadewidch--My vote today goes to Hadewijch de Antwerp, fellow Beguine, of one of my favorite mystic writers, Mecthild de Magdeburg. Like Mechtild (oh, that she would make the Lent Madness bracket one day, Hint: SEC) Hadewijch was a talented writer in the courtly style of love, mystic of the Trinity and the Beloved Christ, and of service to the poor and sick in her community.

  11. Juan Diego's vision of Our Lady of Guadalupe was so significant because Mary appeared to him, not just dressed as, but embodied as, a woman of his own people. Her skin was brown, like his was. His vision at Guadalupe remains a powerful sign of the universality of the church: an important witness in a church whose sacred art is dominated by European-looking images of Jesus, Mary, and the early Christians.

  12. It's about time Hadewijch was brought out of the mists of time. For the many unrecognized and unnamed women through the ages who labored devoutedly for their faith and the well being of their neighbor, I vote for her today!

    1. I too vote for Hadewijch today. I'm pondering the different ways that their visions were received. Juan Diego's bishop demanded proof and Mary granted it in tangible beauty. While that is compelling, and I genuinely appreciate her appearance in the body of a Native born brown skinned woman (quite the comeuppance for the Bishop, I imagine), I must contrast that response by church officials to the one that Hadewijch received. Her passion for God was not only disbelieved, but smeared as somehow shameful. Yet she held to her interior knowing and allowed it to move her into unitive love for the poor regardless of the response of her community of Beguines and the larger church. For all of us mystical types who have seen and cannot prove, I must vote for Hadewijch.

  13. I voted for Juan Diego because he was the one who saw the virgin Mary in the new life. Also he gathered lots of flowers in winter that were in bloom. (age 7)

  14. Hmm. Guess I'm just not into visions of Mary. I've got nothing against the Mother of God, I just prefer those saints who have had visions of Christ and express them using the language of love.

  15. The lady who lived her life of action out of the love for God gets my vote today despite what others said and did. And when the she is tossed out of community/imprisoned for those actions, she just continues on to love God and others more. Sounds saintly to me...

  16. Juan Diego is is indeed "a model of humility for all Christians," I feel Hadewijch was truly a model of Christian love for God and neighbor. She and the Beguines put the two great commandments into practice. She honestly expressed her true feelings of love for God in ways unheard of, unfortunately not to her favor; she held her ground against great odds. Hadewijch gets my vote!

    1. PhilEsq -- THANK YOU for the website!! It reads like the discovery of a gold mine -- I wasn't familiar with Hadewijch, & her spirituality reminds me of Julian of Norwich -- and she took her Lover to the least & loneliest -- & met Him there.....

  17. I grew up in a town with a large Mexican-American population, so I am familiar with Our Lady of Guadalupe. Hoswever, it seels to me that all Juan did was act as a messenger. I've never heard of him after this incident, and though it was important to the conversion of the indigenous people of Mexico, that was surely ddue to the Virgin Mary, not Juan. Hadewijch was at the forefront of a major movement within the church (the Beguines), without which there may not have been the meeting on Tepeyac hill may not have happended.

    1. Indeed, there was talk before his canonization that the miracle came from the Virgin and that Juan Diego was simply the messenger and not a saint. Being the messenger is no small thing, though, and often comes w/ a high cost, as it did for Juan Diego. Juan Diego, though, exemplifies those with a humble faith, who continue to learn and grow. He is reputed to have walked 15 miles to Mass several times a week and he is supposed to have said to the Virgin Mary: I am nobody, a small rope, a tiny ladder, the tail end, a leaf. His canonization rested as much on his model of humility as on his role of messenger.

    2. well said! I voted for Hadewijch. not to mention that it is wonderful to be able to express the love of God in many different ways. I like that she did not limit her love of the divine to the confounds of worship

  18. I realize it is early in the game, but this is hands down the toughest choice for me yet! In fact, I haven't voted yet! I came to the comments seeking enlightenment, and all they do is pull me this way, then that way! I now move on to prayerful contemplation...

  19. It looks like I'm on a roll for picking the underdogs. Although we don't know too much about Hadewijch, she has left behind a powerful testament of spirituality in a woman's voice, something remarkable for her time that is still inspirational today. Juan Diego may or may not have seen the Virgin Mary. That Hadewijch should win this match-up is obvious to me.