OUR LADY OF HEALTH, “LA SALUD,” Patzcuaro, Michoacan
Our Lady of Health is not only one of the most revered images of Mary in Mexico, she is one of the first to be created in the country. And her origins are linked to one person—
The first-time visitor to Patzcuaro, Michoacan, notices one thing immediately: the name “Vasco Quiroga.” You see his name everywhere: on streets, stores, plazas and parks. You even see his name on restaurant menus, such as Pescado de Tata Vasco (fish) or Helado de Tata Vasco (ice cream). “Tata” is a term of endearment meaning “Father” or “Daddy.”
And you can’t help wondering as you stroll through the town, “Who was this person? Was he a famous politician or a military figure or even an entertainment icon?” But no! He was none of these things. VASCO DE QUIROGA was the first bishop of the newly erected diocese of Michoacan; he was appointed in 1536.
He was born in Spain and was a lawyer in Salamanca. His was a late vocation. In 1531 he was sent by the Spanish Crown to be a member of the Second Audencia to govern the newly conquered lands of New Spain. This group comprised “an outstanding group of men” of whom Quiroga was the “most distinguished.” He was considered one of New Spain’s “greatest statesmen and churchmen.” These administrators set out to reverse the disastrous abuses of the First Audencia whose president was the notorious Nino de Guzman; his tyranny and cruelty were legendary. Such actions led the indigenous Tarascan peoples of Patzcuaro to flee to the mountains in terror. Through the efforts of this second group the deserted cities once again became populated, the friars returned to preach the gospel and a number of the indigenous people converted to Christianity. The bishop’s title was “Defender and Protector of the Indians.” During his long life in Mexico (he died at the age of 96) he was much beloved by the Tarascan peoples of the area. A sentiment which continues to the present day!
In the beginning, the new bishop was faced with a severe challenge even though the first missionaries had arrived as early as 1526: the Tarascan “priests” were reluctant to relinquish their pagan rituals and idols. And, not surprisingly, for obvious reasons, they hated the Spanish and their religion!
The bishop, who had a deep devotion to Our Lady, commissioned one of the Tarascan priests, an expert sculptor of pagan idols, to create an image of the Virgin Mary. He used a mixture of corn stalks and orchid bulbs known as Pasta de Michoacan to sculpt the image, which would become one of the first Marian statues to be made in the country. Eventually, Patzcuaro became renowned as the centre of religious sculpture in all of New Spain.
The bishop placed the exquisite statue in the chapel of his newly constructed hospital and consecrated all of the Tarascan peoples to her protection and care. Soon, stories of remarkable favours and cures began to spread through Michoacan. So numerous were the healings which occurred that the Tarascans began calling her La Salud, Our Lady of Health.
In time the small chapel became too miniscule for all her devotees! In 1690 construction began on a much larger church to be named after La Salud. In 1899 amid “sumptuous celebrations” the statue was granted a singular honour: she was crowned pontifically by the decree of Pope Leo Xlll. In 1924 Pope Pius Xl elevated the church to the dignity of a basilica and in this same year Our Lady of Health was named the principal Patrona of the archdiocese of Morelia, the capital city of the state of Michoacan. In 1962 an unbalanced atheist entered the basilica and fired 10 shots at close-range toward Our Lady’s face. Miraculously, the image remained unscathed!
So numerous are the favours and graces granted by Our Lady of Health that she is known as a “wonder-working” image.