Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe (Basilica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe) is at Plaza de las Américas #1, about 10 km (6 mi.) n. of the Historic Center (M: La Villa-Basilica, line 6). From the La Villa-Basilica Metro station walk n. 2 blks. to the plaza. The site is on a hillside (Cerro del Tepeyac) in the neighborhood (colonia) of Villa de Guadalupe; if you're unfamiliar with the city, take a taxi. One of Roman Catholicism's holiest shrines, the basilica honors the Guadalupe Virgin, Mexico's patron saint.
Mexican Catholics believe that at this site in December 1531 the Virgin appeared to Juan Diego, a peasant Indian, and asked him that a church be built. After hearing this story, the local bishop requested proof. Diego returned on Dec. 12, his cape filled with roses that the Virgin had directed him to pick (a rather miraculous occurrence itself, considering the time of year). When the cape was opened, the roses had disappeared and a vivid image of the dark-skinned Virgin appeared on the folds of cloth.
A large underground parking lot is filled with handicraft vendors and shops selling religious items. Visitors enter the plaza through steel gates manned by armed guards. The ornate Old Basilica (Antigua Basilica), which originally housed the sacred image, dates from the 1530s.
Near the entrance gate is the New Basilica (Nueva Basilica), which can accommodate more than 10,000 people. Daringly modern in contrast, it was built in the mid-1970s and resembles a stadium more than a church. The cloth, in a gold frame and protected by bulletproof glass, hangs above the main altar; visitors pass beneath it via two moving walkways going in opposite directions.
Also on the plaza are an information center and a museum displaying religious-themed paintings, sculptures, decorative arts and a collection of retablos (small devotional paintings incorporating traditional Catholic iconography). Other churches within the complex are the Church of the Indians (Ex-Parroquía de Indios) and the Church of Santa María de Guadalupe Capuchinas.