It’s a major miracle that you’ve probably never heard of.
On Sunday, Oct. 3, 1847, more than 2,000 people in Ocotlán, Mexico saw a perfect image of Jesus Christ crucified that appeared in the sky for more than 30 minutes.
Approved by the Archdiocese of Guadalajara in 1911, the phenomenon is known as the “Miracle of Ocotlán” and took place one day before an earthquake that killed 40 and left the town in Jalisco State in ruins.
Before the start of Mass at the cemetery of the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception – presided over by the parochial vicar, Father Julián Navarro – two white clouds joined together in the northwest sky, where there appeared the image of Christ.
Those present and in nearby towns were deeply moved, made acts of contrition, and cried out begging, “Lord, have mercy!” This apparition of Christ was called “the Lord of Mercy” and in his honor, in September 1875, a new parish church was blessed, consecrated and dedicated to him.
Also among the faithful who witnessed the miracle were Father Julián Martín del Campo, pastor of the community, and Antonio Jiménez, the town’s mayor. Both of them sent letters to their respective superiors telling what had happened.
After the miracle, a record of the event was written down with 30 eye-witnesses attesting. Fifty years later, in 1897, by order of the then-Archbishop of Guadalajara, Pedro Loza y Pardavé, another record of the event was made, with 30 additional persons including five priests.
On Sept. 29, 1911, the Archbishop of Guadalajara at that time, José de Jesús Ortiz y Rodríguez, signed a document validating the apparition of Jesus Christ at Ocotlán, and the devotion and veneration given by the people of that area to the venerated statue of our Lord of Mercy located in the shrine of the same name.
In December of 2010 television crews from all over Latin America came to the town of Ocotlán in the Mexican state of Jalisco. Among them was Spanish-language broadcast giant Univisión which sent a film crew from their show “Primer Impacto” to cover what people throughout the region were considering to be a miracle.
In the Basilica to Our Lord of Mercy something unusual was happening on the main crucifix behind the altar, the crown of thorns on the head of Jesus began to sprout flowers. The crown, which had been made out of a thorny desert plant that had been twisted into a circle, had been taken off the Jesus when Father Miguel Angel González noticed a sprout which had appeared in the back of the crown in early November of 2010. By the time of the filming of the “Primer Impacto” episode about this event, the crown of thorns had been removed from the Jesus and put under glass and monitored by security cameras.
When the television crew filmed the sacred object, it had several pink, trumpet-like flowers coming out of it and a few other green shoots with leaves. Faithful from the town of Ocotlán and the surrounding areas formed a line to view the crown, and the flowers seemed extra special because it was the week before Christmas. The resident priest talked briefly about the history of this specific crown of thorns. It was given to the church as a gift in 1994 by a new bride after a wedding. The crown was placed at the foot of the cross and then moved to rest on the praying hands of a statue of the Virgin of Dolores. From the Virgin statue it was moved to its rightful place on top of the Cristo on the main crucifix in the basilica. In addition to Father Miguel Angel, the Univisión reporter also spoke with two parishioners about what they were witnessing. Gerardo Moreno stated calmly and evenly, “It’s a message because everything is pretty bad. I think that this is a sign.” Juan Manuel Nuñez, an older man with tears in his eyes trembled when he told the reporter, “I am a believer, a believer in God. It’s a warning, a warning of something.” Like most people who visited the object, the locals interviewed were not sure exactly what they were seeing, only that it was somehow supernaturally inspired and seemed to underscore their already strong religious beliefs. Father Miguel Angel assured the public that the church was going to great lengths to investigate the phenomenon and promised to keep the relic under glass with round-the-clock monitoring by security cameras to prove that the crown was not being tampered with. The “Primer Impacto” show ended by telling its viewers that the University of Guadalajara was going to make a thorough scientific investigation of the crown and would make its findings public. The intrusion of science into the realm of faith was largely ignored by the multitudes of people who came to the basilica to witness what they were claiming was the second miracle at Octotlán, the first one occurring on the same spot some 153 years before.
The name “Ocotlán” comes from the language of the Aztecs, Nahuatl, and is a combination of two words, “ocotl,” or “pine tree” in English and “tlan,” which means “place of,” in English: “Place of the pine trees.” The town sits on the shores of Lake Chapala where the Zuma and Santiago rivers pour into the lake. The climate is temperate, the air is fresh and the soils are rich.
A thriving indigenous settlement existed there when the Spanish first arrived in 1530 and the area had been long occupied by the Otancas, Texuexes, Tepehuanes and Coanos. One of the first major battles of conquistador Nuño de Guzmán happened at Ocotlán and when the local native kingdom was defeated, the Spanish established a permanent presence, building a hospital and a chapel dedicated to the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception under the direction of the Franciscans.
The Virgin at Ocotlán quickly became known as “The Patroness of the Indians” and the building to house her became a regional pilgrimage site. Parts of that chapel still exist today and it is considered to be one of the oldest buildings in the Mexican state of Jalisco.
By the mid-1840s the town had become known as a place of vice and licentiousness, so the history goes. All of that changed abruptly on October 2, 1847. A massive earthquake hit the town leveling most buildings and causing the rest to be uninhabitable. There was much misery and death and the survivors in this town of 1,500 people were in a state of shock. In the day following the quake, the mayor of Ocotlán, Juan Antonio Ximénez wrote a letter to the governor of the state of Jalisco. The letter survives. The mayor writes:
“Yesterday, Saturday the 2nd at seven thirty in the morning a strong earthquake, which lasted more than five minutes was felt in this town. It did not, however, cause any damage. The repetition, happening between nine and ten o’clock on the same morning, was terrible. In an instant, some of the town’s buildings were knocked down, and the others were completely destroyed or in imminent danger of collapse. As of yesterday, 46 persons of both sexes, and of various ages, had been found dead, and it is not possible now to know with certainty the number of injured and wounded who miraculously escaped the destruction. It was not only the town that suffered this misfortune. The same thing occurred in all the other places in the municipality. There was terror and fright everywhere, especially when rocks broke away from the hill and the wild animals were terrified.”