OUR LADY OF THE OAK, Monterrey, Nuevo Leon
Monterrey, in the northern state of Nuevo Leon, is the third largest city in Mexico (after Mexico City and Guadalajara) with a population of about three million people. It is a prosperous, bustling place and is considered the high-tech centre of the country, along with Mexico City. Surrounded by the Sierra Madre Mountains, it is dominated by a uniquely shaped mountain peak known as the Cerro de la Silla (Saddle Hill) which has become the signature emblem of the city. Monterrey is one of my favourite cities in Mexico because of its wondrous MACRO PLAZA or “grand plaza.” It is six blocks long and covers 100 acres. Filled with parks and fountains and monuments it is considered the most stunning plaza in the country. It is certainly the largest! It is larger than the zocalo in Mexico City or even Red Square in Moscow.
Steps away from the gran plaza is one of the most majestic churches in the city: The Basilica of Our Lady of the Oak or LA BASILICA DE LA VIRGEN DEL ROBLE It is home to the miraculous statue of Our Lady of the same name. Its story is a fascinating one—-
The Spanish conquest of Mexico by the conquistador, Hernan Cortez, in 1521, made possible the introduction of Christianity to the New World. The first missionaries to arrive were the Franciscans. Twelve of them, referred to as “the twelve apostles,” landed in Veracruz, Mexico, in 1524. The evangelization of Mexico had begun! They first settled in the centre of the country and then eventually moved north to the Nuevo Leon area. In 1592 Spanish Franciscan Fray Andras de Leon placed a statue of Our Lady in the hollow of an oak tree; this was a Franciscan custom—thus forming a natural shrine for Our Lady. When the Franciscans departed from the area they left the statue in its “leafy hermitage.” Why did they leave the image behind? Perhaps the friars, who had placed the land and their mission under Mary’s patronage, left her image that she would continue her protection for the people of this northern area!
As the years went by, the hamlet continued to grow. In 1596 the ninth Viceroy of New Spain, Don Diego de Montemayor, named the flourishing community, “The Metropolitan City of Our Lady of Monterrey.”
One day, as tradition recounts, a little shepherd girl was tending her sheep in the countryside near Monterrey in the year 1650. She was startled to see a motionless figure of Our Lady standing within the niche of an oak tree trunk. Our Lady was calling to her! Word about the miracle spread throughout the hamlet and all came to see and pay homage to the miraculous statue. They believed that this was the statue that the Franciscan friars had placed in the oak tree so long ago! With solemn reverence and great rejoicing, they carried the image to the chapel where they were accustomed to worship. But—as the legend goes—Our Lady of the Oak did not want to stay in that shrine. She returned one night to her tree-trunk home to indicate: “This is where I want my temple to be erected!” Her mantle was covered by brambles and dust, for she had made the journey walking—“to sanctify by her footsteps the land that she loved.” They built a little shrine for her on the exact location where she was found in the oak tree.
The present basilica was built in the same location as this original shrine. The great portico entrance is so impressive! A mural of Our Lady appearing to the shepherd child adorns the façade and eight stately marble columns stand sentry over the elegant neo-classical church of the Basilica of La Virgen del Roble (oak).
The interior of the church is overwhelming in its beauty! It is designed in the shape of a Latin Cross and has three naves. Stained glass windows abound and 24 columns of mottled marble divide the central from the side naves.
On Oct. 24, 1905, the roof of the church caved in, burying the sanctuary and the image of Our Lady under a pile of rubble. By the providence of God, the statue which was submerged by tons of rock, remained intact and unharmed. A milagro (miracle) in itself. And fortunately no one was hurt or injured by the upheaval.
The miraculous statue is 20”(58 cm) in height and is made from a type of clay (made from cornstalks) known as pasta de Michoacan. The statue resides over the main altar in the Basilica. Her hands seem a bit large: this is to show that she is offering her graces and protection most generously to all who ask for her intercession! One niche in the church portrays her statue, surrounded by hundreds of photos and letters from grateful petitioners.
May 31, 1964 was an important date in the history of the Basilica of Our Lady of the Oak: Not only was Our Lady crowned with the approval of Pope Paul Vl on that date but the newly completed temple (the previous one on the site was built I n 1947) was solemnly consecrated by the ecclesiastical authorities. In 1976 the pope elevated the church to the level of a Basilica. Our Lady of the Oak is the official patron and protector of the city of Monterrey.