In the long Catholic tradition of miraculous apparitions that change the course of Church history, statues of the Virgin often appear and show the faithful where to build a new church. True to that tradition, the Basilica of Cartago—the Basílica de Los Angeles—now stands on the spot where an image of the Virgin first appeared. In the 1600s, before the church existed, a Cartago woman wandering through the woods found a dark stone image of the Virgin Mary. The woman immediately took the statue home with her. In the morning, the statue had disappeared from the woman’s house and reappeared in the woods where she had first appeared. After trying futilely, several times, to keep the statue in her home, the woman finally resigned herself to the fact that the Virgin wanted a church erected on the site where he had found her. The Basilica of Cartago was built in the honor of this Virgin, la Virgen de los Angeles. The statue of the dark-skinned Virgin—known as “La Negrita”—stands on the church’s altar. In 1824, Costa Rica declared La Negrita the Patron Saint of Costa Rica.

Soon after the erection of the church, La Negrita’s faithful began to associate her with miraculous healings. The sick who prayed to the Virgin experienced dramatic recoveries, and the Basilica of Cartago became a significant pilgrimage site, with August 2 recognized as the official day of pilgrimage. For over 200 years, the Catholic faithful have made an annual trek to the church. Sick people travel to Cartago to pray to the Virgin for relief from their suffering. Those who have recovered go to the church to express their gratitude to the Virgin who healed them; the newly cured pilgrims have often made an earlier promise to the Virgin that they will visit her church if she grants them a recovery.

La Negrita’s devoted followers often acquire small metallic representations of their ailments—tiny golden legs, little silver eyes or ears, or small metal hearts. As reminders of their promises to make pilgrimages to Cartago in the event of a cure, La Negrita’s followers often wear these body parts on gold chains around their necks. Many of the healed leave these metallic reminders on La Negrita’s altar, which is now resplendent with the gold and silver representations of ailments cured.

La Negrita’s most faithful come to Cartago in cars and on buses from all across the country. Most walk the last fourteen miles from San José to the church. The most devoted make their way up the church steps and to La Negrita’s altar on their knees.

Read more about the healing powers of La Negrita.

Writing and editing by Beaumont Hardy Editing.