OUR LADY OF MOUNT CARMEL, Tlalpujuahuac, Michoacan, Mexico
On May 16, 1937, disaster struck Tlalpujahuac, a town in the northeast section of the state of Michoacán in central Mexico. In the early 20th century Tlalpujahuac was the leading producer of gold in the country; it was a bustling mining centre teeming with prosperous engineers, families and gold-miners. Today much of the gold is gone but a far greater treasure remains in the town: the 300-year-old painted image of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in the parish church.
On this fateful morning in the month of May a large dam had burst, pouring the cyanide-filled tailings (the byproducts of mining operations) over the church which housed the miraculous image. It was the pastor who bellowed Catastrofe! Catastrofe! “I must save Our Lady’s image!” The tailings were engulfing the church to a level of 27 ft. “It is about to be demolished!” he said of the painting.
But first he had to cut through the three-centuries-old adobe stone which portrayed the Virgin’s image. After managing that feat, he had to carry it over a “rocky ledge more than a half-mile in a fierce rainstorm.” He rescued the legendary image! It was unharmed and resides today over the main altar of the sanctuary.
The original shrine was erected during the 16th century. The image of Our Lady was painted on the adobe walls of a chapel belonging to a wealthy hacienda owner. Over time, however, the roof of the chapel caved in and the interior of the chapel was exposed to the elements. The shrine was in ruins. All that was left was the adobe wall which contained Our Lady’s portrait. It had been left abandoned for many years subjected to the virulent summer rains and dust storms of the region.
Three centuries later a group of townspeople decided to rebuild the chapel and contracted artisans to conduct the renovation. To the astonishment of the artists the colours on the figure’s face were as bright as new. Only the clothing on the painting needed retouching.
In later years a new shrine to house the image was built of solid masonry. The adobe wall containing Our lady’s image was placed in the sanctuary of the main altar. For the discerning Marian pilgrim this beautiful painting can be seen today. It is in its original form. If you look very closely you can still see traces of the adobe, from the chapel that existed centuries ago!
In 1903 disaster befell the image yet again. A fire destroyed the sanctuary but the image was preserved in an “extraordinary fashion.”
On May 16, 1930, a singular honour was bestowed on the shrine—the Vatican approved the pontifical crowning of Our Lady of Tlalpujuahuac. An honour bestowed on very few churches in the country.