Colombia, Las Lajas


In her Santuario de Las Lajas, 7 km from Ipiales, the nearest village, in the southern Colombian Department of Nariño, 10 km from the border to Ecuador, in the canyon of the Guáitara River. About 4 ft. high, applied directly into the rock in 1754.

Our Lady of the Rosary of las Lajas
(Nuestra Señora del Rosario de las Lajas), 
la Mestiza (the woman of mixed Spanish-Indian race)

Though this Madonna is not black she shares important characteristics with Black Madonnas. 
First, her eyes and hair are so black that she is revered by her devotees as “La Mestiza”, the woman of mixed Spanish and native Latin American race. She first revealed herself to and performed her first miracle for a native woman and child. So as many Black Madonnas, she too stands in solidarity with her darker, disadvantaged children.


Secondly, she is said to have appeared in such an entirely miraculous fashion that she is classified as an akeropita image, that means ‘not made by human (but by divine) hands’ in Greek. “The image is not painted, but mysteriously imprinted in the rock. The colors are not applied on a surface layer of paint or other material, but penetrate deep into the rock.” “Geologists from Germany bored core samples from several spots in the image. There is no paint, no dye, nor any other pigment on the surface of the rock. The colors are the colors of the rock itself and run uniformly to a depth of several feet.”(*1)

Other Black Madonnas said to have been manifested by divine hands are Our Lady of Guadalupein Mexico City, Our Lady of the Pillar in Zaragoza, etc.
Thirdly, as many Black Madonna shrines, so this one too stands apart by itself in nature, a breathtaking place of natural and man made beauty.

The Apparitions:

Artur Coral-Folleco tells the full story of the apparitions of the Mestiza of Lajas on the website of the nearest village Ipiales:(*2)

In the 18th century, Maria Mueses de Quiñones, an Indian woman from the village of Potosí, Colombia, often walked the six miles between her village and the neighboring one of Ipiales. One day in 1754 as she was approaching the bridge across the river Guaitara at a place called Las Lajas (which means flat, slippery rocks), a terrible storm came up. Frightened, the poor Indian took refuge in a cave on the side of the path. Feeling a bit spooked and alone, she began to invoke Our Lady of the Rosary, who had been made popular in the region by Dominican friars. All of a sudden she felt that someone was touching her back and calling her. She turned around, but didn’t see anyone. In terror she fled to Potosí.

Days later, Maria returned once more to Ipiales, 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 tired and sat on a rock to rest. The child got down from her back and started climbing around the rocks. Soon she exclaimed: “Mommy, Mommy, there is a white woman here with a boy in her arms!” Maria was shocked since this was the first time she had heard her daughter speak. She was also scared because she could not see the figures the girl was referring to. So she grabbed the child and hastened on to Ipiales. 

When she told friends and relatives what had happened, no one believed her. So she just took care of her business and went home to Potosí. When she came by the cave Rosa yelled: “Mommy, the white woman is calling me!”(*3) Maria still couldn’t see anything and so she hurried to take her daughter far away from this apparently haunted place. Back at home she told other friends what had happened. This time, since the path by that cave was much traveled, the news of something supernatural happening there spread quickly.

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, because the child had often said that the white lady was calling her. Maria ran to Las Lajas and was overjoyed to find her daughter kneeling in front of the white lady and playing affectionately with the child who had come down from his mother’s arms to be with Rosa. Maria fell to her knees before this beautiful spectacle; she had seen the Blessed Virgin and the Divine Infant for the first time. 
Fearful of ridicule from the people who had not believed her previous accounts, 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. 

Time passed, with Maria and Rosa keeping their secret. But one day the girl fell gravely ill and quickly died. The distraught mother decided to take her daughter’s body to the feet of the Lady of Guáitara. There she reminded the Virgin of all the flowers and candles Rosa had brought her and the poor mother asked the lady to restore Rosa to life.

The Blessed Virgin, moved by the sadness of Maria’s unrelenting supplications, granted Rosa’s miraculous resurrection. Overflowing with joy, Maria went to Ipiales. She arrived at night time and told everyone what had happened. Those who had already gone to bed, got up, the church bells were rung, and a great crowd gathered in front of the church to hear what had happened. At daybreak everyone went to the cave. There was no more doubt about the miracle when all could see supernatural lights streaming from the cave. Going in, they found for ever engraved into the rock wall, the image of the Most Holy Virgin. Maria Mueses de Quiñones could not recall noticing it until then.

The image:

It looks like Mother Mary and Baby Jesus are fishing for saints, which I guess they always are. Here, the “fishing rods”, if you will, are a rosary and a scapular. The Virgin is offering a rosary to St. Dominic, who was indeed instrumental in spreading that devotion throughout the Catholic world. Jesus is offering the scapular to St. Francis whose order spread that devotion and has had a special connection to this sanctuary from the start.(*4) (To this day, the sanctuary is under the pastoral care of the Franciscan Sisters of Mary Immaculate.) Both the rosary and the scapular are instruments of salvation and of Marian devotion. 
The crowns were added later by the faithful.

The church:

The oldest record of this holy place comes from the travel accounts of the Franciscan friar Juan de Santa Gertrudis. He was a blind monk who, between 1756 and 1764, traveled on foot from Ecuador to Nariño, Colombia, begging for money to build the first chapel in Las Lajas. At its completion, Fray Juan miraculously regained his vision, he believed, as a result of his deep faith in the Virgin Mary of Las Lajas. Over time bigger sanctuaries were needed. Today’s church was built from January 1, 1916 to August 20, 1949, with donations from local churchgoers.
In 1951 Church officials finally accredited Nuestra Señora de Las Lajas as an authentic miracle and declared the sanctuary a minor basilica in 1954.(*5) 

Each September 16th, the date of the apparition of the image, thousands of pilgrims come to the sanctuary to honor the Virgin and to pray with her. The other great feast day for the Madonna of Las Lajas is Maundy Thursday of Holy Week. That’s when pilgrims come from several nearby cities, including from Ecuador, walking about twelve hours in honor of the Mestiza. Other big organized pilgrimages take place in December and early January.(*6) 
In the course of the centuries all these pilgrims have left countless ex-voti on the rock walls of the way down from the village into the canyon of the sanctuary. They attest to the mercy and miracle power of the Madonna.

*1: Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira,” Our Lady of Las Lajas”, and Michael O'Neill, “Guáitara Canyon, Columbia (1754) : Our Lady of Las Lajas” Thank you to Michael O'Neill of "Miracle Hunters" for pointing me towards this great Madonna. 
*2: “Nuestra Senora de las Lajas” I have translated and slightly edited his account.
* 3: Many websites summarize this story and claim the girl cried: “Mommy, the Mestiza is calling me”, but it seems like the title Mestiza was a later invention.
* 4: According to the New Advent Catholic online encyclopedia’s article on the scapular “the best known scapular is that of the Third Order of St. Francis”.
* 5: See English Wikipedia article on "Las Lajas Sanctuary
*6: See Spanish Wikipedia article of "Santuario de Las Lajas