Our Lady of the Angels

Our Lady of the Angels

            The image of Our Lady of the Angels is only about three inches high, and is carved in a simple fashion on dark stone. The stone is a composition of three different stones, almost impossible to find them together. She has a round, sweet face, slanted eyes and a delicate mouth. Her coloring is leaden, with scattered golden sparkles. She carries the Christ Child on her left arm. Only the faces of Mary and the Child are visible; the rest is covered by a cloak that is gathered in pleats. The statuette is displayed in a large gold monstrance that surrounds it and enlarges its appearance.

            While searching for firewood on 2 August 1635, the feast of the Holy Angels, a poor mestizo woman named Juana Pereira discovered this small image of the Virgin sitting beside the footpath near Cartago, Costa Rica. Juana took it home with her, but it soon disappeared only to be re-discovered at the same place beside the same path. The statue repeated this behavior five more times – taken to homes and then the parish church – and returning on its own to the site where Juana found it. The locals finally took this to mean that Our Lady wanted a shrine built there, and so it was.

            The shrine soon became a point of pilgrimage, especially for the poor and outcast. The stone on which the statue was originally sitting is in the basilica, and is being slowly worn away by the touch of the hands of the pilgrims. A spring of water appeared from beneath the stone, and its waters carried away to heal the sick. During the civil war of 1833 she was named Princess of Peace. Since then Costa Rica has been one of the most peaceful countries in Latin-America, abolishing its army and founding a University for Peace.

            Every year on August 2nd hundreds of thousands of faithful come from all over Costa Rica and neighboring countries to participate in this festival. On the second day of celebrations La Negrita (as she is affectionately called, owing to the dark complexion of the stone), is carried in solemn procession to the parish church of Central Cartago. There she spends a few days before she returns home to her basilica.

            The Our Lady of the Angels Basilica was built in 1639 and was partially destroyed by an earthquake. The basilica has since been restored and constitutes a unique mix of colonial architecture as well as 19th century Byzantine style. During the construction, the church was destroyed by earthquakes so many times, it was finally decided to move it to the location where the statue was found and they were able to finish construction. Many people think that the earthquakes were signs that the Lady of the Angels wanted the basilica built there.