Juan Diego v. John Donne

In the penultimate matchup of the Round of 32, Juan Diego faces off against John Donne. Yes, one of these saints will be Juan and Donne (or 'one and done,' if you prefer).

Yesterday, Jonathan Daniels swept past Rutilio Grande 79% to 21% to make the Saintly Sixteen, where he'll face Josephine Bakhita.

Obviously you watched Monday Madness yesterday. But if you insist on watching it again, you can watch it here. Tim and Scott thank you.

Time to vote!

Juan Diego

Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin (whose Indigenous name means “He is who speaks like an eagle”) was born in what is now known as Mexico in 1474. Although not poor, Juan was not considered rich or influential. But he was very devout, and every day, he walked from his home to see the Franciscan friars at the chapel at Tolpetlac. Along the way, he passed a hill at Tepeyac.

In December, 1531, he saw the Virgin Mary, appearing as a young Indigenous girl, standing on the hill. She told him to go to the bishop and tell him to build a chapel in her honor so she could help the locals who suffered. Juan immediately did so, but the bishop was not convinced. When Juan returned home past the hill, Mary was still there; he told her about his failure and suggested she send someone more important. She insisted Juan do it, and he agreed to go back to the bishop again.

The next day, the bishop was a bit more agreeable but asked for some sort of sign before he invested in the building project. Juan ran back to the hill and informed Mary, who agreed to provide a sign the following day.

However, on the next morning, when Juan was supposed to arrive at the hill to fetch his sign, he was instead caring for his uncle, Juan Bernardino, who had taken ill during the night. On the next day, as his uncle appeared to be near death, Juan left to fetch a priest to administer last rites. He intentionally avoided Tepeyac so as not to run into Mary, but Mary managed to show up to him anyway. He told her what had happened, expecting her to yell at him. Instead, she told him “¿No estoy yo aqui que soy tu madre/Am I not here? Me, your mother?” She said she had healed his uncle and for Juan to go up the hill and fetch the flowers blooming there to take to the bishop. Juan piled the flowers into his cloak, and when he unfurled it, the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe appeared on his cloak. The image convinced the stubborn bishop.

On December 26, 1531, the bishop led a procession to move Juan’s cloak to a hastily constructed adobe shrine on Tepeyac hill, and Juan spent the rest of his life serving there. He died in 1548. While the apparition of Guadalupe was recognized early on, Juan himself wasn’t made a saint until 2002, becoming the first Indigenous saint of the Americas.

Collect for Juan Diego

O God, you have brought us near to an innumerable company of angels, and to the spirits of just men made perfect: Grant us during our earthly pilgrimage to abide in their fellowship, and in our heavenly country to become partakers of their joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Megan Castellan


John Donne

Gifted preacher, gifted writer, dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral, prisoner, poetic rake, deeply faithful Christian: these titles all describe John Donne.

Donne was born into a Roman Catholic family in 1572 but struggled with religion for many years. During much of his youth, he was marginally spiritual and definitely not traditionally religious. A perpetual university student, he attended some of England’s finest universities yet never obtained a degree. He traveled Europe and spent time courting affluent ladies wherever he went while writing groundbreaking, edgy, and even scandalous poetry. His charm and intellect guided him into a promising political career. He sat in Queen Elizabeth’s last parliament and worked for the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, a prestigious office of the court. The rake had turned a corner… almost. But Donne, who did not live life by halves, fell in love with Anne More. Her father was vehemently opposed to the match, so the two married in secret in 1601. When the marriage became public, Donne was fired from his post and imprisoned. Donne was eventually released from prison, and by all accounts, Anne and John lived a sincerely committed life together.

During this time, John became deeply involved in Anglicanism. As early as 1607, his friends encouraged him to seek ordination, but he refused and instead wrote about religious matters. His essays were widely published and captured the attention of King James, who wanted Donne to become a priest so badly that he declared to all of England that Donne could not be hired except in the church. Donne was ordained in 1615 and soon became known as a great preacher in an age of great preachers.

After serving in several congregations, John was named dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London in 1621. His sermons attracted large audiences with his wit, intelligence, and passionate devotion to Christ. He served as dean until his death in 1631. Knowing his death was near, John planned his monument at St. Paul’s; it does not depict him in pompous glory but rather in his burial shroud. For John, a life of faith saw God’s love even in death. He believed with every bit of his soul that the resurrection wasn’t just a story but truth. His statue survived the 1666 fire at St. Paul’s and still watches over the cathedral where he preached the Good News.

Collect for John Donne

O God of eternal glory, whom no one living can see and yet whom to see is to live; grant that with your servant John Donne, we may see your glory in the face of your Son, Jesus Christ, and then, with all our skill and wit, offer you our crown of prayer and praise, until by his grace we stand in that last and everlasting day, when death itself will die, and all will live in you, who with the Holy Spirit and the same Lord Jesus Christ are one God in everlasting light and glory. Amen.

Laurie Brock


John Donne: National Portrait Gallery, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Juan Diego: Miguel Cabrera, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


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77 comments on “Juan Diego v. John Donne”

  1. When I was in community college I received a good grade on my paper on John Donne but I have no recall of what I wrote about. Maybe a dissertation on No Man is an Island. Who knows? But my vote went to Juan Diego. Out Lady of Guadalupe , the patron saint of the Americas, has been an inspiration and hope for countless people for centuries. My parish celebrates her every year. We have Mariachi both in the Mass and at the festive luncheon afterwards. We have a combined bilingual Mass with both our English and Spanish speaking members joined together in joyful celebration. Because we recognize Our Lady, we have drawn many of our Latino neighbors to return to worship. Thank you, Juan Diego, for making this all possible.

  2. I was sad when Dorothy Sayers was eliminated from the brackets; but reminded of how her wayward and profoundly human creation Lord Peter Wimsey was a passionate acolyte of Donne, I gave him my vote today. Lord Peter is as fictional as Juan Diego, but his story has always charmed me.

  3. I would have voted for Juan Diego except his picture looks like a white Jesus. The reason to vote for him would have been that he was indigenous to Mexico. It was just too confusing a mash up of values. So I went with John Donne whose poetry and sermons inspired my own faith. But I still feel remorseful for choosing what is familiar.

  4. John Donne's Holy Sonnets are some of the most powerful poems every written. Laurie gave a clever nod to "Death Be Not Proud" in her collect. This retired English teacher must vote for John.

  5. Donne was a wit too ... he said 'when you have Donne you have not done for there is More.' I am a lifelong Anglican for Donne. Done!

  6. I live in a community with a large Latino population, and I often see the power of the Virgin of Guadalupe in their lives and culture. However, I struggle a bit with manifestations of Mary (or saints or angels). I don't doubt the sincerity of those who claim to have had the experience, and it often seems to do them great good, but it seems such an "extra-Biblical" event. Perhaps coming from a very Protestant background, it's hard for me to understand the veneration of Mary, though not the respect for her. So while appreciating the significance of an indigenous saint, my vote is for John Donne, whose story is complex but verifiable. He was a man who, much like St. Paul, was headed in one direction until God got ahold of him, and then all of his considerable intellect and talent were committed to serving God. Years ago I read "Take Heed of Loving Me" by Elizabeth Gray Vining, a historical fiction based on Donne's life, that was my introduction to his life beyond his well-known "For Whom the Bell Tolls" sonnet. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2625767-take-heed-of-loving-me

    1. My personal and very unauthoritative opinion is that because deep down in our souls we know that there must be both masculine and feminine in the godhead, the Roman Catholic devotion to Mary grew out of that need since everything else was male, male, male. They even envisioned her assumed into heaven so there could be a female up there to turn to.

      1. You have a point. But it seems to me that those who characterized God as MALE, MALE, MALE were overlooking that in the first Creation account, God says, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, ... So God created mankind in his own image,
        in the image of God he created them;
        male and female he created them."
        The Godhead is both/and,and somehow transcends male/female, masculine/feminine, though that's sometimes hard to wrap our minds around. The older use of masculine pronouns for God and "man" referring to all humans also perpetuated the understanding that God is male. Personally, I tend to see the Holy Spirit as an expression of the feminine nature of the Godhead - think of all her creative, nurturing, teaching attributes.

  7. "Love must not be, but take a body too." John Donne declares in "Air and Angels" that love's fullest manifestation requires a body. It seems to me that he is articulating a claim for resurrection. As the gospels of both Mark and Luke tell us, "He is not the God of the dead but of the living." Poets just say it better. As Pablo Neruda wrote of his dead dog, "creo en el cielo, sí, creo en un cielo donde yo no entraré, pero él me espera ondulando su cola de abanico para que yo al llegar tenga amistades." (Though I am a materialist and don't believe in heaven, yet I believe my dog will meet me there wagging his tail.)

  8. The story of Juan and the apparition of the Blessed Mother in this hemisphere has always been a major inspiration to me—so my choice was clear.

  9. A complex servant of God, vs a man of pure and simple faith?
    Who can decide? Above my pay grade.
    I voted for Juan, who will doubtless lose.

  10. John Donne's famous piece of writing was not a poem but
    a writing of prose. It is often frequently misquoted..
    " never send to know for whom the bell tolls..."It makes
    sense when you read the entire prose piece." Ernest Hemingway titled one of his books For Whom The Bell Tolls and that is one reason why this quote is so famous and often attributed to Hemingway which is not correct.

  11. I will never forget my ninth-grade English teacher, Dr. Robert Ream, reciting John Donne's "No Man Is An Island" to our class and finding poetry like a new language in my life!

  12. My favorite Lenten hymn, (1982 Episcopal Hymnal #140)has the words of John Donne, and melody "Donne" by his contemporary John Hilton. "Wilt thou forgive that sin, where I begun...
    I have a sin of fear that when I've spun my last thread I shall perish on the shore; Swear by thyself that at my death thy Son shall shine as he shines now and heretofore. And having done that, thou has done, I fear no more."

  13. I have a special fondness for Mary, and the Virgin of Guadalupe is deeply important to Mexican and other indigenous people of North America -- and to non-indigenous folks as well. And as he was the first indigenous saint in the Americas, the combination led me to vote for Juan Diego.

  14. from today's Episcopal Relief meditation: "Jesus chooses the broken, rejected, and outcasts to be his messengers. Throughout the gospel, they find themselves restored, not just in body and mind, but in their relationships. He sends them to give witness or thanksgiving for their healing, forcing the community to see them differently, to understand that God is at work doing something new. The restoration of these individuals changes the community, challenging to see that it was wrong in rejecting them in the first place." Both Juan Diego (easy) and John Donne (hmmm, not so easy) were the "rejected" and then chosen to be the messengers.

  15. "Dr Donne's verses are like the peace of God; they pass all understanding." -- James I

  16. Fairest day to thee, devotees of saints most holy,
    To choose betwixt whom is but earthly folly,
    For who, saves’t but thou, O God, whom thine elect dost know?
    For us to choose, tis but vain and silly show.

    (With apologies to John Donne)

  17. Ive always loved the story of Juan Diego and his encounter with the Virgen de Guadalupe. It is so much a part of Texas and the southwest. And we all need a mom.

  18. Well, I was an English lit major, so I did think of John Donne. BUT!!!!!!!!!!!! I was raised as a Roman Catholic, here in SOuthern Californa, and there has always been a special veneration for our Lady of Guadalupe, and, really, her story there is wonderful, so Juan had to get my vote today!

  19. My grandmother was born into a family with the surname "Donne", but, sadly, according to my dad, if there was any connection, it was " on the wrong side of the blankets". There was, however, a very long history of clergy in family, and I have a significant number of their bibles and prayer books, which I treasure.
    So, yes, I did vote for him.

  20. I haven't seen it so far in the comments, so I will add my favorite John Donne poem, along with a recording of it in the setting by American composer Williametta Spencer. We learned this in (public) high school choir, and I have never forgotten my choir director delicately trying to explain the concept of grace (in trying to get the correct tone on that word) without offending anyone. It was a good lesson in tact, especially considering the nature of the poem as a whole.

    At the round earth's imagined corners, blow
    Your trumpets, angels, and arise, arise
    From death, you numberless infinities
    Of souls, and to your scattered bodies go,
    All whom the flood did, and fire shall, o'erthrow,
    All whom war, dearth, age, agues, tyrannies,
    Despair, law, chance, hath slain, and you whose eyes,
    Shall behold God, and never taste death's woe.
    But let them sleep, Lord, and me mourn a space;
    For, if above all these, my sins abound,
    'Tis late to ask abundance of thy grace,
    When we are there. Here on this lowly ground,
    Teach me how to repent; for that's as good
    As if thou'hadst seal'd my pardon with thy blood.


  21. Juan Diego got my vote today. The story of a simple Aztec Indian who heard the voice of Mary and then did what she asked resulted in a grand cathedral being built, many Natives converted and several miracles have occurred. His dedication to Mary was simple and heartfelt. And while he did not write great works of art, his actions have given the people and the native population of Mexico something of a higher value to believe in.

  22. I had to vote for the writer of the Holy Sonnets. The one beginning, "Batter my heart, three-person'd God.." is my favorite.

  23. Juan Diego - out of a humble status to create a great national religious tradition. John Donne had plenty of accolades during his life. Send him home and let Juan Diego go on!!!!

  24. There is a lack of contemporaneous historical records to support the existence of Saint Juan Diego whilst there is much of his own writings remaining to support the existence of Saint John Donne.

    Whilst I like the poetry of my fellow Anglican, the faith of many has been impacted by the story of the appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The beautiful Roman Catholic Cathedral in Dallas, Texas is dedicated to her. And the roses that he was told to gather to take to the Bishop were of a kind that grew in the Bishop’s hometown back in Spain but were not native to Mexico.

    It takes faith to believe that Saint Juan Diego existed and saw Out Lady of Guadalupe, but it also takes faith to believe in the Resurrection that we will celebrate with loud A-_-_-_-s the Sunday after the Golden Halo Winner is selected. As George Michael sang, you gotta have faith.

    My vote is with Saint Juan Diego, even though I suspect that Donne isn’t done yet

  25. Dear Lent Madness friends, thanks for keeping us informed and entertained as part of our lenten devotions. I was sorry to see Juan Diego lose to John D even though Donne is a great poet. Perhaps if Juan D makes a future-year bracket appearance, It might help to note that his vision of the Virgin of Guadalupe was the turning point in evangelizing all of the conquered peoples of Latin America. Especially Mexico, but everywhere a feminine aspect of the Holy made a huge difference. Otherwise a great summary of Juan D's story.