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Our Lady of the Angels, Patron Saint of Costa Rica
On August 2, 1635, Juana Pereira, a young girl who lived in Los Pardos, a town in the province of Cartago in Costa Rica, was out looking for firewood. As she strolled through the wooded area she came upon a large boulder. Lying on top of the boulder was a smaller stone, almost black in color. The black stone looked like a doll. The stone is a small statue of a Madonna holding a baby. Juana picked up the stone and carried it home where she placed it in a box for safe-keeping.
The next day Juana again went to the woods to look for firewood. She came across the big boulder she had seen the day before and to her amazement there lying atop the stone was another doll. She took the new doll home and opened her box only to find that the first doll was gone. She placed the new statue in her box and carefully locked it this time.
On the third day Juana returned to the boulder in the forest and there lying on top was the black stone doll. Then she went home and looked in the locked box and found it empty. Shocked, confused and not a little frightened, Juana went to talk with her village priest. Juana told the priest the whole story and left the stone Madonna with him. He was busy and did not think too much about it, but the following day Father Baltazar de Grado went to examine it and it was gone.
Father Baltazar went to the woods just where Juana described and found the statue on the stone. He retrieved the statuette and secured it inside the tabernacle. The following morning Father Baltazar discovered that the stone had disappeared again. Father Baltazar consulted other priests and several of them went together to the forest where they again found the statue atop the boulder. The priests came to the consensus that these happenings were unexplainable by natural law or phenomena and that the Holy Virgin wanted to stay there. They decided to build a small church in that place.
On September 24th, 1824, La Virgen de Los Angeles, in English, the Virgin of the Angels was officially declared the patron saint of Costa Rica. She is called Our Lady of the Angels because she was found on the day the Franciscans celebrate the feast of Our Lady of the Angels. Thirty-eight years later, Pope Pius IX declared that all who visit the Madonna’s sanctuary will receive a full pardon of their sins.
In 1912 the present basilica was built over the original boulder where the little black Madonna was originally found by Juana Pereira. It is an awe inspiring combination of colonial architecture and 19thcentury Byzantine style. Today the original statuette of La Virgen is situated on a gold and jeweled dais above the altar in the Basilica.
The statue is composed of three different kinds of minerals, volcanic rock, jade and graphite. Archeologists are fascinated with this composition since it is uncommon and maybe impossible to combine these three types of stone. The scientists agree that the statuette does have all three of these types of stone. Studies indicate that there was no graphite in Costa Rica at the time of the discovery of the statue. Across the ocean, in the Old World no jade or volcanic rock existed. The Costa Rican Patron Saint has characteristics of both continents. The statuette is twenty centimeters tall, just under eight inches. It’s called the little black one although its true color is a greenish-gray.
Costa Ricans affectionately refer to their Patron Saint as La Negrita (The Dear Little Black One). During the civil war of 1833 the Madonna was named Princess of Peace. Since then Costa Rica has been the most peaceful country in Latin-America. Costa Rica abolished its army and established a University for Peace. In 1956 she was crowned Queen of Workers because from the beginning she displayed a unity with the poor and those beset with difficulties. She came in the form of a small, black statue in the area where the people of color lived, intent on remaining there. This was a time when strict racial segregation reigned in Latin America. People of color not only lived in separate areas, but were not even allowed to enter the city of Cartago. Heaven made a clear announcement about this system through La Negrita.
Every August 2nd, Costa Ricans celebrate one of their most important Catholic holidays, La Dia de la Virgen de Los Angeles, in English, The Day of the Virgin of the Angels with pilgrimages called Romeria, to the Basilica from all over the country. Visitors are welcome throughout the year but the most exciting time is on August 2, when nearly one million people make a pilgrimage to the shrine. The faithful walk for miles, some on their knees to visit the shrine. On the second day of celebrations La Negrita is carried in solemn procession to the parish church of Central Cartago, where she spends a few days before returning home to her Basilica. The Basilica is open daily with several opportunities to attend Mass and Confession.
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