OUR LADY OF TONATICO, Tonatico, Mexico
I was visiting the renowned shrine of Our Lady of Tonatico in the town of the same name in the state of Mexico. It is a ten-minute bus ride from the internationally recognized spa town of Ixtapan de Sal. Whereas Ixtapan is a bustling place, Tonatico is its opposite, a smaller serene spot encircled by mountains. The church of Our Lady of Tonatico is an exquisite place. Enormous in size. All in tones of burgundy and cream and brimming over with flowers to honour Our Lady.
But where was the famous statue? I glanced all around and it was nowhere to be seen. Then I looked up. Way up. And there she was! An unusually tall, elongated figure, situated high above the main altar. A kindly sacristan motioned for me to climb the staircase for a closer look. Before I realized it I was face-to-face with the famous Our Lady of Tonatico!
She looked decidedly different from any statue of Our Lady that I had ever seen before. That tilt of the head. The look of perplexity. Or, maybe of dismay. She looked so down-to-earth, just like everybody’s next-door neighbor. There was nothing ethereal in her expression at all.
And how to account for that unusual tilt of the head? That all began with a catastrophe that happened over two hundred years ago—
All the clergy and guests were gathering on the grounds for the blessing of the new church of Our Lady of Tonatico. A banquet was being held to celebrate the event.
During the festivities two of the townspeople were telling the pastor about a recent dream they had had concerning the new shrine. Oddly, both of the guests had related the identical dream. Its message? That the pastor would have much anxiety concerning this new sanctuary. No sooner had these words been spoken than one of the guests raced over with alarming news. The church was on fire! All stormed over to the calamitous scene. Before their very eyes the roof crashed in! The flames leaped higher and higher. Within minutes all had become a conflagration of burning timbers. Everything was ruined!
Everything, that is, except the statue of Our Lady of Tonatico. It, inexplicably, escaped all damage and beyond all logic, was found outside the church. “How did it get there?” everyone wondered. It was far too large to have been surreptitiously smuggled out of the church. The mystery remains to the present day.
Stranger still, the position of the statue’s head had become altered after the fire; it was now tilted upward toward the church. It was as though Our Lady were standing there—-with anguished eyes—watching the inferno unfold. The unusual angle of the head is visible to the present day.
The story of the miracle spread and the devotion of the townspeople to their favourite patron increased dramatically. She has become known for her extraordinary powers of intercession. Behind the church stands an entire building devoted to testimonials documenting Our Lady of Tonatico’s special favours. All four walls are literally covered with thousands of ex-votos (also called retablos). These are small hand-drawn pictures which depict miracles which have occurred. All are signed and dated by the grateful donors. Usually, the individuals do not paint the pictures themselves. They hire artists to do the work. Since the early 1600’s the statue has been known as “taumataurga” (wonder-working). She has been known to heal paralysis, cure blindness and save people horribly wounded in accidents.
And, according to the dates of some of the ex-votos, Our Lady of Tonatico is continuing her powerful intersessions to this day.