Well it's that time of year again....the end of July and as August 2nd quickly approaches, the "Romeria" of pilgrims can be seen walking, riding, cycling and including other ingenuous means of transporation along the Pan American Highway and along other main roads of Costa Rica that lead to the city of Cartago where they will participate in the annual celebration of the "Virgen de Los Angeles", this country's patron saint.
Legend proclaims that a young indigenous girl, Juanita Pereira, found the statue of the "Black Virgin" on Aug. 2, 1635, while gathering wood in the forest outside the city, which at the time was racially segregated. The young girl carried the unique
Replica of the Famous Statue
stone said to resemble the Virgin Mary with child in her arms to her home and locked it up. It is said that the small 6 inch stone image almost immediately disappeared, only to mysteriously return to its original spot on the rock in the woods where it was originally discovered. This happened not once, but numerous times, including after giving the stone to a local prominent priest, who then proclaimed it to be a miracle and so began it's high regard throughout the country! The legend lived on, and in 1824, "La Negrita", as the black Virgin image is referred, was officially bestowed as the patron saint by the Costa Rican government.
Today, this small statue rests on a golden and bejeweled platform above the altar at the Basílica Nuestra Señora de Los Angeles in Cartago, some 14 miles east of San José, which was purposely built around the rock where the small figure first appeared.
Millions on the Annual Trek to Cartago
This religious holiday is a unique experience for both nationals and visitors of Costa Rica, as they get to experience the true culture and dedication of the Ticos to their beloved Patron Saint. Pilgrims can travel up to 2 weeks to arrive to the Basilica in Cartago to get a firsthand look at the statue of "La Negrita", which means "little dark one" in Spanish, as that is the color of this beautiful stone figure. Local legend proclaims that a small stream with curing powers is situated in proximity of the Basilica, and this "holy water" is said to cure all forms of sickness and physical ailments, so many pilgrims will collect small amounts of this special water during their annual pilgrimage.
The many "Ticos" from all over the country that spend days and even weeks to make their way to the Basilica, upon arriving will climb the steps of the church on their
On bended Knee, some with Crosses
knees, some with their last ounce of strength, as a means of thanking La Negrita for favors, as well as to pray for help to overcome their sicknesses and/or physical and mental disabilities. Since there can be some 2+ million annual visitors, some pilgrims choose to pray by the stone where the image was originally found, as the surrounding areas of the Basilica can be overwhelmed with people seeking a look at the "La Negrita" statue.
An example of how popular this yearly event is, in 2003, 1.5 million people descended upon the city of Cartago for the dedication to "La Negrita". At that time that number represented close to 40 percent of Costa Rica's entire population!
What was once 1.5 million people, has grown over the years to attract some 2.5 million pilgrims, so with the passing of time, this yearly trek has not lost its following. In response to the incredible amounts of garbage generated by such a large number of
EARTH University going Eco!
people, EARTH University created the program "Eco Romería" starting in 2011. A press release from the Health Ministry said that more than 80,000 plastic bottles and 27 tons of organic material were collected last year. This year, garbage cans will be placed every 500 meters along the main routes leading to the Basílica, as well as the Red Cross will be available along these same main routes and at the church to attend to folks with dehydration, blisters and other side effects of the long arduous trek. The Lumaca bus company has also committed some 270 buses to provide transportation from San José to the Basilica Church so visitors can enjoy the outdoor mass on August 2nd.
The Basilica was built in 1639 and was later partially destroyed by an earthquake. The restored Basilica offers an impressive mix of colonial architecture combined with 19th century Byzantine style and is consecrated to the Virgin of Señora de los Ángeles, it truly is an impressive church.
If you would like to see inside the Basilica on a normal day, just watch below:
Everyone is welcome to participate in the Romeria in Costa Rica. It is an excellent way to get to know the culture and the "Pura Vida" people of this country. The City of
The Adorned Virgin of Los Angeles
Cartago is beautiful to visit and the climate is cool and refreshing. The display area at the Basilica de Los Angeles is worth a stop to see the Virgin statue and the rock she was found on which in truth is actually a replica, as the original Virgin statue is now held at the Vatican. The replica statue, sanctified by the Pope, is kept at the Cartago Basilica and is now what the "romeros" will see upon arrival.
Don't forget the Holy Water!
Don't forget to bring a small container, so you can receive some free holy water that flows from a river that sits below the church and has been blessed by the Basilica's priest, its said to be the ultimate healer!
Feel free to report back to me if the holy water does in fact cure your sickness, physical or mental health......as it never hurts to have a firsthand account that is was worth the long arduous trek! Pura vida!
To see how the Costa Ricans celebrate this holiday and decide if you would like to participate too, check out the following video:
Author: Kimberly Barron, originally from Malibu, California has lived in Parismina and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for 20 years. Starting as a certified tour guide, she spent 15 years managing fishing lodges on the Caribbean Coast and later 4* & 5* Hotels on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Currently semi-retired, Kimberly still works as the Marketing Director for Byblos Resort & Casino and Hotel Makanda by the Sea.