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Wednesday, May 31, 2023

A Visit to Cartago’s Basílica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles

Basílica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles lays within Costa Rica’s historic city of Cartago. It towers in its grandeur as it’s framed by the backdrop of Cartago’s breathtaking mountainscape. Here lies one of the most important churches in Costa Rica and asacredrelic that holds a special place in the hearts of many Costa Ricans.

One does not need to be a devoted Catholic to appreciate the beauty of Basilica de Nuestra Senora de Los Angeles and enjoy a visit to the Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels. It is a place to come and learn about the culture and history of the country.

As you arrive you are greeted by a vast open plaza where people sit back and relax in Cartago’s refreshing and cool climate. Pigeons wander around and there is a sense of calmness and serenity. It is a wonderful place to come spend a little time and just unwind.

Cartago’s Basílica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles is much more thanabig, architecturally beautiful church in Costa Rica. If you visit during August you will come across an entirely different scenario here at the historic church as it is the annual celebration of “Virgen de Los Angeles”. Over 2 million people may be completing their pilgrimage, “the romeria” in which many begin their grueling journey in honor of the country’s beloved patron saint in July. It is a 22km pilgrimage of devotion, respect, and prayer. Many walk for days coming from all over the country showing their dedication to their honored patron saint.

The church is home to La Negrita and is dedicated to the Virgen of los Angeles. At the end of the pilgrimage, you will see people finishing their journey on their knees making their way up into the church and to the altar. They are in thanks, faith, and prayer some to help overcome obstacles and sickness.

However, it is not just during the pilgrimage you will witness many on their knees on their way to the altar. It is all throughout the year people come in prayer and respect. Basílica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles is a place to come witness the strong and dedicated faith of Costa Rican’s. It is open to the public to learn about the legend and history of Cartago’s miracle.

The legend that follows the appearance of the Virgen de los Angeles’s image dates back between 1635 and 1639. While out gathering firewood, it is believed that a young girl known as Juana Pereira came across a volcanic rock with an image carved into it which was laying upon the large rock sitting here beneath the church.  

When looking closer at the image in the volcanic rock it appeared to be of the Virgin Mary who was holding a young Jesus in her arms. Like many of us that find something interesting, she brought it back home with her.

As the story goes, while she was out the next day another volcanic rock with the same image carved into it was laying upon the big rock. Unbeknownst to her, it was the same one.  However, she brought it back home with her thinking she now somehow had two. But when she returned home, the original one was no longer there and she in fact still only had one. As the third day came, it happened yet again, to find that the one in her home had disappeared and it was only to be found out on the rock yet again.

The decision was made to go and speak with a local priest in Cartago, Baltazar de Grado about this mysterious rock that kept returning to its original spot. The young girl gave it to him to see if this phenomenon kept occurring and it is said that it happened to him as well. Yet again this mysterious rock found its way back upon the rock.

They took this as a miracle and a sign from the Mother of God.  That she was saying she did not want to be moved away from where she felt she belonged. She wanted to stay with the others who lived excluded from society in Cartago. In 1824, Costa Rica recognized the importance of La Negrita and in high regard, it officially became Costa Rica’s patron saint.

The church describes it as “light green with white mineralization concentrations. The origin of the piece is fragmentary volcanic, probably volcanic ash with feldspar and pieces of rock. It is not jade and it is not possible to know where this rock comes from.  The Virgen has a round face, slanted eyes, she wears a tunic and in her left hand she holds the Baby Jesus whose little left hand is on his mother’s chest”

Below the church is where you can walk around and learn of the story and history behind the church and why it plays an important role in the country. There are lots of wall signages throughout, a replica of the church,  and wall exhibitions leading you to a large ominous rock. It sits behind a small gate with the wall carved out around it.

Some choose to lay flowers upon it, idols, or simply place their hands on it. The rock is said to be the resting spot of the famous relic before it became enclosed in its altar for its worshippers.

Outside leads you to the Fuente del Agua Bendita (Blessed Mother’s Spring) which is believed to be a spring of holy water. On your way to the spring, you can purchase a plastic replica container of La Negrita to fill up or even a basic jug if you forgot to bring your own ( for less than 1,000 colones). There is a small gift shop on your walk down to the spring with other La Negrita items.

If not here, Cartago is also full of religious stores featuring all things La Negrita and many other items to remember your visit.

Some visitors will even bring bags of empty plastic pop bottles and containers. Filling up with the holy water they bring back into their homes whether it be for healing, miracles, or worship. Others will come simply to bless themselves with the holy water. It is said that “water that flows from the spring under the stone of the discovery is available to pilgrims since 1797.”

The church which you walk through today is not the original Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels church. Over time it has seen many rebuilds. Its first construction began in 1639 and was built surrounding the legendary rock. It was then built again by the Brotherhood of Our Lady of the Angels finally to be finished in 1681 and 1833 brought the third reconstruction.

In 1910 Cartago was struck by one of the most historic earthquakes that Costa Rica has suffered and the church also fell victim to its destruction. During this time, Cartago held the title of the country’s capital and almost everything was destroyed along with the death of more than 1,000 people.

The power of this earthquake was enough to destroy the church’s third rebuild and so began another. The current Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels that currently stands was completed in 1930. 1976 brought blocks that have the appearance of carved stone and were included in the reinforcement and remodeling.

One can walk into Basílica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles and quietly look around and admire the beauty within of the towering ceilings and octagonal dome structure. Up front sitting high up on its altar in its tabernacle of cedar and gold is where you can stand in front of La Negrita.

It is a stunning sight to see in its glory and elegance, infusing yourself within a part of Costa Rican culture. If you are visiting you can take pictures within the church, just exercise respect for those around who have come to worship and pray. Around the perimeter, you will find spectacular stained glass and images as well as various statues. Altars of San Antonio De Padua, San Benito de Palermo, San Vincente de Paul, and San Cayetano as well as several others have benches of prayer available.

A visit to Basílica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles is for those that want to know more about Costa Rican culture and history. Whether you are a practicing Catholic or agnostic and atheist, it is a destination of great interest and intrigue and is open to everyone.

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