Monthly Archives: August 2019
The clowns. The acrobats. The trapeze artists! Who doesn’t love a circus? And the citizens of San Juan de los Lagos, a town 76 miles northeast of Guadalajara, were no exception. The circus was coming to town!
The year was 1623. A family of aerial acrobats was in the middle of their performance when the six-year-old daughter slipped, lost her footing and plunged to the ground far below. Impaled by a dagger through the chest, she died instantly. Safety nets were not in use at that time: instead—to increase the thrill factor—daggers had been placed in the earth with their points placed upward.
Hours later, as the young trapeze artist was being prepared for burial, Ana Lucia, the 86-year-old sacristan’s wife, elbowed her way through the crowd and placed a statue of Mary (known as Our Lady of San Juan de los Lagos) on the little corpse. “La Virgencita will return the child to life!” she proclaimed. “Let us all pray to Holy Mary!” Within minutes, the child blinked open her eyes, looked all around, and sat straight up. She was alive!
Since 1623 the shrine of Our Lady of San Juan de los Lagos has become one of the most celebrated shrines in Latin America, second only to Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. It attracts more than six million pilgrims a year.
In 1634 Guadalajaran Bishop Cervantes Carvajal, travelled to the town to investigate the extraordinary happenings. He interviewed many of the witnesses including 97-year-old Ana Lucia. His findings verified the authenticity of the miracle of 1623 as well as an “uninterrupted series of additional favours and miracles.” Further church investigations in 1639 and 1668 collaborated Bishop Carrvajal’s research.
The miracles continue to the present day: a special room has been set aside beside the sacristy for the displaying of ex-votos, pictorial testimonials, objects and letters of thanksgiving for miracles granted. The room is overflowing with them!
The shrine of Our Lady of San Juan de los Lagos, once a humble chapel with “mud walls and straw roof” is now a “magnificent” twin-towered basilica. On the feast of the Assumption in 1904 the statue was crowned with the authorization of Pope Pius X. In 1944 the seminary of San Juan de los Lagos was founded. Three years later Pope Pius Xll elevated the sanctuary to the status of a basilica. In 1972 the shrine became the Cathedral-Basilica for the newly established diocese of San Juan de Los Lagos.
Although the exact age of the statue is unknown it was most likely brought to the town by the saintly Franciscan missionary, Fray Miguel de Bolonia, in the sixteenth century. The ongoing existence of the statue is a miracle in itself: Over 500 years old, the statue should have disintegrated within a few years; instead it is intact, robust, unblemished—and in mint condition.
An exemplary honour was bestowed on the shrine on May 8, 1990: that was the day that Pope St. John Paul ll visited. He spent an “unprecedented” three minutes kneeling in front of the statue praying before the small image, “with eyes closed—in a spirit of intense recollection.” It seemed like he could barely tear himself away—Our Lady has that effect on people!
As I was leaving the shrine I spoke to one of the nuns in attendance: I brought up the subject of the vocations crisis we are having in the Church today. She looked at me quizzically: “Vocations crisis?” she asked. “What vocations crisis? Here we have three hundred seminarians! We are bursting at the seams!”
It looks like Our Lady of St. John is continuing her wonders to the present day!
The drive from Queretaro to Soriano is a little tedious; it is nothing but flat plains, humdrum scenery and sparse populations.
But then, as you approach the small town you are stunned to see the church—so enormous, so majestic! “Such magnificence in this sleepy place!” said one author. And at the centre of this glorious church, above the main altar, is the miraculous statue of Our Lady of Sorrows. You are touched by the expression on her face, such sorrow, such anguish of heart, “deep beyond telling” recalls one chronicler. It is a small statue, only 26” in height.
The statue spans two distinct time periods of Mexican evangelization: one in the mid 1500’s and the second in the mid-to-late 1700’s. But how can this be?
The deep devotion of the early Franciscans to Our Lady is legendary: Often it was their custom to leave innumerable statues of Our Lady along their trails. It is surmised that this statue is one of these. Historians believe that the first priest to preach here was Franciscan Fray Alonso Rangel who came to New Spain in 1529. He learned the Otomi language and converted many to the faith. And one cannot help but ask: “But what happened in the intervening years?”
The writer Pena said: “No Christian Indian or Spaniard was safe in this Sierra Gorda in the 1700’s,” and he spoke of the massacres by the Chichemeca Indians. “Nothing remained,” he said, “the missions were burnt and the missionaries were sacrificed.”
The little chapel in Soriano was not spared. It was in ruins. The year 1723, though, brought new life to the area. New mines had been discovered and new settlers arrived. And, upon this lively scene, arrived a zealous Franciscan missionary from Queretaro, Fray Guadalupe Soriano.
Being a curious sort, he decided to poke around the ruins of the ancient chapel. There, something caught his eye! Something metallic! He hastily cleared away the heap of stones and rubble. And there it was—-underneath a slab of rock—the statue of Our Lady of Sorrows. It had survived the massacre, the fires, the elements…intact.
Today “Hundreds of paintings, photos, cards and letters of thanksgiving adorn the walls of the adjoining chapel.” The citizens have a fervent love for Our Lady of Soriano. And she has rewarded them with a multitude of favours throughout the centuries.
In 1964 the statue was pontifically crowned and in 2009 Pope Benedict XVl elevated the church to the level of a Basilica. Fray Rengel would be proud!
Zacatecas. It’s one of those places you just can’t forget. A mountainous city in north central Mexico, it’s a place of superlatives. UNESCO bestowed the title, Patrimony of Humanity, on the city in 1993.
It’s considered one of the finest of Mexico’s colonial cities. It was once the biggest silver-producing city in the world and for three centuries was one of the country’s most prosperous areas.
And that’s not all. It is renowned for having the only cable-car system in the world to traverse an entire city. And that cable-car leads directly to the shrine of EL PATROCINIO, which is majestically situated atop the Cerro de la Bufa, (Hill of the Bufa). The Bufa is a dramatic outcropping of rock which overlooks the city.
The statue of El Patrocinio was brought from Spain by the Spanish Conquistadores and was present at the founding of the city in 1546.
In 1588 Spanish King Felipe ll ordered a coat of arms for the city of Zacatecas: Prominent on the shield was an image of the Virgin Mary standing on the clouds atop the hill of the Bufa. The four founding Conquistadores are depicted at the foot of the hill. Symbolism on the shield can be traced back to a 500-year-old tradition: Initially the Chichema Indians were terrified of the Spaniards. They took refuge in the Cerro de la Bufa, hiding in the woods, fortifying themselves with supplies and weapons. Then came the events of Sept.8, 1530:
All were astounded by a vision in the sky: “A Lady of great beauty appeared on the Bufa with a child in her arms.” She advised the Indians to make peace with the Spaniards. All were startled and shouted “Milagro! Milagro!” (miracle) From that time on peace ensued between the two groups and the conversion of the indigenous population to the Christian faith proceeded tranquilly.
The Franciscans were the first evangelizers to the area: Francisco Jeronimo de Mendoza built the first church on the site in 1603. Until this time the church had been a small hermitage.
In 1707 the Franciscan Apostolic College for the Propogation of the faith was founded in nearby Guadalupe, Zacatecas, for the express purpose of evangelization. For the next century and a half the College provided priests for the shrine of EL PATROCINIO.
The charming wood statue (with such a youthful face!) measures 125 cm in height. It is enshrined above the main altar in the small, light-filled church. Neoclassical architecture dominates the interior.
The statue was crowned canonically by the authority of Pope Paul Vl in 1967. Cardinal Jose Rivera did the honours in the presence of 15,000 of the faithful.
“Zacatecas has always been the city of Mary,” he said, “right from the beginning.”
And it is probably the only city in the world where you can go directly to Mass—by cable-car!
“Reverse the ravages of time!” Cosmeticians have made fortunes on just such claims.
“Impossible!” say the realists. “Only in your dreams!” say the skeptics. But once, a very long time ago, just such a miracle did indeed occur…
The date was Sept. 19, 1644: The miracle occurred in Talpa, Jalisco, a small town in the Sierra Madre mountains of western Mexico.
Many years earlier, Franciscan missionaries had brought a 19”(48 cm) statue of Our Lady of the Rosary to the town. The fragile cornpaste statue had been crafted by Tarascan Indians in Patzcuaro, Michoacan, a state in central Mexico. The resourceful Tarascans combined dried cornstalk with the bulb of an orchid to devise a uniquely durable but lightweight substance, ideal for the moulding of statues. Patzcuaro had become renowned as the Christian sculptural centre of the country. Thus it was that the Franciscan missionaries would travel to Patzcuaro to purchase their statue.
It was placed in the local chapel and was the object of fervent veneration for many years. Over time, however, insects of all kinds began devouring the statue’s face. Eventually the statue became so disfigured—it was full of cracks and insect bites—- that the pastor, Father Pedro Rubio Felix became worried that the unsightly-looking image would be a deterrent to his parishioners’ faith. He announced: “The statue should be discarded! With all due reverence, of course.” He asked the cantor’s daughter, Maria Tenachi, to perform the task. She agreed to do so but only with the utmost reluctance. She loved the statue—and furthermore—she had received many favours from her patron!
She embarked upon her sad task. She began—ever so slowly—to carefully wrap the statue in altar cloths. Then—without warning, she was knocked to the floor by a dazzling light which beamed from the statue’s forehead. Maria fell “as if dead.” The people in the church rushed over, fearing the worst. “What has happened to Maria?” they screamed, racing to her side.” “She’s dead!” shrieked those closest to her; to everyone’s relief, however, Maria soon regained consciousness and rapidly recovered. Her eyes reverted at once to the statue: “Look, look at the statue!” Maria cried. Before their eyes the statue had transformed itself. “It looks perfect!” said one. “It looks brand-new!” said another. The news spread. People came running from all quarters to see the “renovated’ Virgin”. All were singing, praying, marvelling. “Milagro! Milagro!” (miracle) they shouted. The pastor, himself, witnessed the astounding events and testified to them in writing as did the onlookers in the church. And the Bishop of Guadalajara, Don Juan Ruiz Comenero said, “It is a great miracle!”
But that is not all. There had been, in reality, a double miracle: When Maria lifted the statue she was astonished by its weight: the featherweight, fragile statue had now become robust and heavy. It had changed into a new unknown substance.
Official church investigation in 1670 resulted in the document, La Autentica, which established the authenticity of the 1644 miracle. The fame of the image grew day by day and many were the miracles associated with her intercession. The small rustic chapel had to be expanded to accommodate the overflow crowds. In 1782 construction was completed on the “towering” church which stands today. It was declared a basilica by Pope Benedict XV in 1915 and the statue was crowned with papal approval in 1923.
As popular as she was three centuries ago, she is attracting even more crowds today: The travel guide Pacific Mexico refers to Our Lady of Talpa as one of the “three Sister Virgins of Jalisco who draw millions of pilgrims each year.” The other two are Our Lady of Zapopan in Guadalajara and Our Lady of San Juan de Los Lagos, in the town of the same name.
And Our Lady of Talpa is indeed proof—with God anything is possible. The ravages of time can be reversed—particularly in the spiritual realm!