August 13, 1807, was a night to remember in the Dominican convent of Jesus Maria in Guadalajara, the second largest city in Mexico. The church of Jesus Maria is a five minute walk from the mammoth Guadalajara Cathedral and the zocalo (the central plaza of the city). Guadalajara is in the western part of the country in the state of Jalisco. The elegant city boasts of an ideal climate and is popular with many Americans and Canadian tourists.
At 2:30 in the morning a violent thunderstorm erupted. This was a common occurrence in the “rainy season” in this area of Mexico, during the months from July to October. Since 1792 the nuns had lived in the convent peacefully and uneventfully. This was all to change.
While the nuns were asleep in their quarters on this fateful night, the storm raged in full force. Thunder rolled and crackled all around the sky; rain pounded at the windows. A tremendous crash shook the convent to its foundations, waking everyone.
In the dormitory lightning had hit the statue of Our Lady! Smoke filled the room and the smell of burning wood was everywhere – the convent was on fire! The terrified nuns fled for their lives.
Once the fire was safely extinguished the nuns returned to the convent to assess the damage. A sad sight met their eyes: the statue of Mary was damaged beyond repair. Its crystal eyes had been shattered and its face had been blackened. The pearl rosary which encircled the image was now black and twisted.
The Infant Jesus in His mother’s arms, however, was completely unscathed as were the two paintings hanging on the wall on either side of the statue, that of St. Dominic and the other of the Most Holy Trinity. One of the nuns who was sleeping inches away from the statue, escaped unharmed, as did all the rest of the nuns in the dormitory.
A Mass of Thanksgiving was offered the next day in immense gratitude to Our Lady for her protection. This was, after all, an order of nuns, devoted to Our Lady! The statue of Our Lady was relegated to a place of honour in the convent chapel.
This is not the end of the story, however.
Five days later, on August 18, 1807, two workmen and some of the nuns were in the chapel in the middle of the afternoon. Without warning, the chapel turned as black as night. Another storm was on its way.
Before the startled eyes of the onlookers, the statue of Mary began to shine with an intense, “unearthly” glow. The occupants of the chapel were stupefied. Petrified. They wanted to bolt from the room but found themselves unable to move. Mesmerized, they all stood as if “turned to stone,” their eyes riveted on the image. It was at this time that the prioress and the rest of the nuns entered the chapel for Vespers. One can only imagine their surprise!
In the next moments a loud clap of thunder roared through the chapel, followed by an “extraordinary” flash of lightning. The entire chapel became illuminated by an unusual, brilliant light. The drama was just beginning. The lighting struck the statue once again!
Several times the statue changed colour, from rosy pink to white, then back again. Eventually, after a few minutes it resumed its normal colour. As if this were not enough, the eyes which had been shattered, opened up and became as bright as diamonds.
The blackened features of Our Lady’s face transformed into a rosy-peach colour; in fact, the entire statue looked more beautiful than it had originally! The Rosary which had become blackened and distorted by the first lightning strike, became perfectly restored by the second.
These events were verified by an official investigation conducted by the chaplain of the Church of Jesus Maria, Don Manuel Cervino, and the future bishop of the state of Michoacan, Don Jose Maria Gomez y Villasenor. Devotion to Our Lady of the Thunderbolt grew exponentially as the events of August 18th became public.
She became known for her healing powers of intercession. One of the many miracles of healing attributed to her was the healing of a young nun from the convent. At the age of 22, Cecilia de San Cayetano had become ill with a fever which left her spine paralyzed. For eight years she received treatment from the finest doctors in the city.
In August of 1850 her personal physician said to her: “I am so sorry but I can do absolutely nothing more to help you.” She could no longer walk and was in constant pain. On December 17, 1850, she experienced an irresistible urge to visit Our Lady of the Thunderbolt in the chapel. With the aid of the subprioress, she navigated her agonizing way to the feet of Our Lady’s statue where she slumped down almost unconscious.
A sense of despondency overwhelmed her. Only later did she confess that she had suffered the most sorrowful depression during the years of her illness. She said her only consolation was “to place her afflicted heart in the hands of the most Holy Virgin at the foot of the cross.”
On this December day she prayed: “Oh, restore my health, Good Mother, for if I continue like this I fear for my salvation.”
Within minutes, she was walking! She walked unaided back to her room for the first time in eight years. Two astonished nuns followed behind her. Not only was she walking, she was soon taking two steps at a time to the convent refectory. “Watch me, sisters! Who would ever believe it is I?” She lived another 20 years in perfect health.
Another notable cure was that of Dona Micaela Contreras who was healed instantly on September 17, 1856, after suffering from paralysis for 32 years.
Our Lady of the Thunderbolt has received approval from the Church at the highest levels. She was pontifically crowned (a singular distinction granted to few statues) with the authorization of Pope Pius XII in 1940, in the Cathedral of Guadalajara. The sixth Archbishop of the city, Don Jose Garibi Rivera, acted as the Papal delegate.
The majestic statue is 41” high and the eyes have a slight downward cast. She is carrying the Infant Jesus in her left arm. Both Mother and Child are dressed in elaborately adorned vestments and gold crowns studded with precious gems and pearls. The exquisite miraculous statue can be viewed in the Church of Jesus Maria today. She is greatly loved in Guadalajara and countless testimonials in the sanctuary give witness to her powerful intercession.
Over the years Our Lady of the Thunderbolt has acquired two new titles: she has become known as he principal advocate for those without work and for those with urgent needs. She could almost be called the St. Jude of Jalisco!
Mary Hansen writes at MadonnasOfMexico.com. She is a former teacher and has written for the for the National Catholic Register, The Catholic Register and OnePeterFive. She has a B.A. from Queen’s University and a Master of Education and Master of Divinity from the University of Toronto (St. Michael’s). She writes from Ontario, Canada.