Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Our Lady of Las Lajas

top photo credit wikipedia commons; lower photo credit

"The image is not painted, but mysteriously imprinted in the rock. The colors are not applied in a surface layer of paint or other material, but penetrate deep into the rock. No one knows how the work was done."
Prof. Plinio Correa de Oliveira

photo credit Martin St-Amant - Wikipedia - CC-BY-SA-3.0

Another acheropite image? At the very top of South America. An amazing basilica on the border of Colombia and Ecuador, an engineering wonder, marvelously balanced high above a river and wedged into a steep canyon and built around the miraculous image of Our Lady of Las Lajas. There is no apse or back wall of the church, for the building is built right up against the rock, and the naturally formed grotto containing the image of Our Lady of Las Lajas is the framework and structure for the main altar of the basilica. The amazing image of Mary, Jesus, St. Dominic and St. Francis has been venerated there since 1754. I love Our Lady's robe which is so similar to that of Guadalupe but displayed in such a different manner. And to see Our Lady's hair is quite striking.

The Story of Our Lady of Las Lajas from the Colombian website as quoted in

Back in the 18th century, Maria Mueses de Quinones, an Indian woman from the village of Potosi, Colombia, often walked the six miles between her village and the neighboring one of Ipiales. One day in 1754 as she was making the journey, she approached the place called Las Lajas (the Rocks), where the trail passes through a deep gorge of the Guaitara River. Maria never liked this part of the trail. There were rumors that a cave in Las Lajas was haunted. Such superstitions lingered amongst the converted Christian Indians.

She was carrying her daughter Rosa, a deaf-mute, on her back in the Indian fashion. By the time she had climbed to Las Lajas, she was weary and sat on a rock to rest. The child got down from her back to play.

After a while, Rosa emerged from the cave shouting: “Mama, there is a woman in here with a boy in her arms!” Maria was beside herself with the fright since this was the first time she had heard her daughter speak. She did not see the figures the girl was talking about, nor did she want to. She grabbed the child and hastened on to Ipiales.

When she recounted what had happened, no one took her seriously at first. However, as the news spread, some asked if perhaps it were true. After all, the child was now able to speak.

A few days later, the child Rosa disappeared from her home. After looking everywhere, the anguished Maria guessed that her daughter must have gone to the cave. The child had often said that the Lady was calling her. Maria ran to Las Lajas and found her daughter in front of a noble Lady and playing affectionately with a Child who had come down from His mother’s arms to let the girl enjoy His divine tenderness. Maria fell to her knees before this beautiful spectacle; she had seen the Blessed Virgin and the Divine Infant.

Fearful of ridicule, Maria kept quiet about the episode. But she and Rosa frequently went to the cave to place wild flowers and candles in the cracks of the rocks.

Months went by, with Maria and Rosa keeping their secret. Finally, one day the girl fell gravely ill and died. A distraught Maria decided to take her daughter’s body to Las Lajas to ask the Lady to restore Rosa to life.

Moved by the sadness of Maria’s unrelenting supplications, the Blessed Virgin obtained Rosa’s resurrection from her Divine Son. Overflowing with joy, Maria returned home. It was not long before a crowd had gathered to hear what had happened. Early the next morning everyone went to Las Lajas, each one wanting to check the details for themselves.

That was when the marvelous picture of Our Lady on the wall of the grotto was discovered. Maria Muese de Quinones could not recall noticing it until then. The Child Jesus is in Our Lady’s arms. On one side of Our Lady is St. Francis; on the other is St. Dominic. Her delicate and regal features are those of a Latin American, perhaps an Indian. Her abundant black hair covers her like a mantle (The two-dimensional crown is metal and was added by devotees much later on). The Indians had no doubt: this was their Queen.

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