It’s romería time again, and the streets from San José to Cartago have been filled with pious pilgrims making their way to the Basílica in Cartago. Most have made a promise to La Negrita, the patron saint of Costa Rica, and they walk in honor of that promise. Some have come from countries outside Costa Rica, and many have completed the last hundred meters of the journey on their knees.
A Cartago resident and friend of the Sleep Inn told her own firsthand account of the pilgrimage and the important day after. She reported that she had spent the night of August 1 in San José, just so she could make it to work on time on August 2. She said that the thousands of devout pilgrims flowing into the city on August 2, the Virgin’s day, made the streets impassable for outgoing Cartago citizens but that the spiritual energy was palpable in the city. Most of the pilgrims, she said, arrived in time to attend the 9:00 AM mass in the park, where the Virgin, clothed in her festive garments, was presented to her followers.
But the festivities do not end on August 2, because the following day marks the start of another important time for worshipers of La Negrita. On August 3, Costa Ricans celebrate “La Pasada,” when the clothed Virgin is transported from the Basílica in Cartago to that city’s cathedral, where she will remain for a month. Our friend tells us that this journey mirrors the Virgin’s long-ago journey from San José to Cartago, when the country’s capital made the same shift. After her month at the cathedral, La Negrita returns again to the Basílica to await the next influx of pilgrims on August 2.
Costa Ricans describe La Pasada as a moment of incredible spiritual feeling. The streets of Cartago are carpeted in blossoms of yellow and white, the colors of the Virgin, and the clothed statue passes in front of her adoring masses. Schoolchildren are given the day off, and store owners decorate their windows in the Virgin’s yellow and white. A glow of spirituality infuses the city and those who witness the procession, whether or not they consider themselves devout followers of La Negrita.
This last August 2, 2011, an estimated two million pilgrims completed the romería to Cartago. This year marks the 375th anniversary of the Virgin’s first apparition.