OUR LADY OF SAINT-JOHN-OF-THE-LAKES, San Juan de los Lagos, Jalisco
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!