On the borders between Colombia and Ecuador is a beautiful sanctuary, a wonder to its visitors. There is a venerated image of Our Lady of Las Lajas, and thousands and thousands of pilgrims from both countries visit each year and obtain many favors from God.
Back in the eighteenth century, María Mueses de Quiñones, a local woman from the village of Potosi, Colombia, often walked the six miles between her village and the neighbouring one of Ipiales. One day in 1754 as she was making the journey, she approached the place called Las Lajas (the Rocks), where the trail passes through a deep gorge of the Guaitara River. Maria never liked this part of the trail because there were rumors that a cave in Las Lajas was haunted. Such superstitions remained among the converted Christian Indians.
Maria was carrying her daughter Rosa, a deaf-mute, on her back. And by the time she had climbed to Las Lajas she was weary and sat on a rock to rest. The child got down from her back to play. The next thing Maria knew Rosa was at the cave shouting: “Mommy, there is a woman in here with a boy in her arms!” Maria became very frightened. This was the first time she had ever heard her daughter speak! She didn’t see the figures the girl was talking about, nor did she want to. She grabbed the child and ran on to Ipiales.
When she told people what happened nobody took her seriously at first. However, as the news spread some asked if maybe it was true. After all, the child was now able to speak. A few days later Rosa disappeared from home. After looking everywhere the anguished Maria realized that her daughter must have gone to the cave. She often said that the woman was calling her. Maria ran to Las Lajas to find her daughter kneeling in front of a splendid woman and playing affectionately with a child who had come down from His mother’s arms to let the girl enjoy His divine tenderness. Maria fell to her knees before this beautiful spectacle; she had seen the Blessed Virgin and Jesus.
Fearful of ridicule, Maria kept quiet about the event. But frequently she and Rosa went to the cave to place wild flowers and candles in the cracks of the rocks. The months went by with María and Rosa keeping their secret. However, one day the girl fell gravely ill and died. A distraught Maria decided to take her daughter’s body to Las Lajas to ask Our Lady to restore Rosa to life.
Pressed by the sadness of Maria’s unrelenting supplications, the Blessed Virgin obtained Rosa’s resurrection from Her Divine Son. Overflowing with joy, Maria went home. It didn’t take long for a crowd to gather. Early next morning everyone went to Las Lajas, each wanting to check the details for themselves.
That was when the marvellous picture of Our Lady on the wall of the grotto was discovered. Maria Muese de Quinones could not recall noticing it until then. The child Jesus is in Our Lady’s arms. On one side of Our Lady is Saint Francis; on the other is Saint Dominic. Her delicate and regal features are those of a Latin American, perhaps an Indian. Her abundant black hair covers her like a mantle (The two-dimensional crown is metal and was added by devotees much later on). Her eyes sparkle with a pure and friendly glow. She looks about fourteen years old. The indians had no doubt: this was their Queen.
As devotion to the image grew, a good road replaced the old trail. In the early 20th century a tasteful gothic church was built over the cave. But who put this magnificent image there? The artist has never been identified! Scoffers say the wily Dominicans sneaked in a good artist, and the gullible indians are still being fooled.
But tests done when the church was built show how stupendous this image actually is. Geologists from Germany bored core samples from several spots in the image. There is no paint, no dye, nor any other pigment on the surface of the rock. The colors are the colors of the rock itself. Even more incredible, the rock is perfectly colored to a depth of several feet!
So the mystery remains unsolved. Did angels do it? Or did God Himself do it at the dawn of creation, when he contemplated the most excellent of all His creatures? The One whom He would make Queen of Heaven and Earth and to whose maternal care the future nation of Colombia would be entrusted.
Las Lajas Sanctuary
Las Lajas Sanctuary (in Spanish Santuario de Las Lajas) is a basilica church located in the southern Colombian Department of Nariño, municipality of Ipiales and built inside the canyon of the Guáitara River.
The church is of Gothic revival architecture and was built from January 1, 1916 to August 20, 1949, with donations from local churchgoers, replacing an old nineteenth-century chapel. The name Laja comes from the name of a type of flat sedimentary rock similar to floor tiles found in the Andes Mountains. There was a claim that an apparition of the Virgin Mary was seen.
There is now a miraculous image on a stone there. It is still possible to see this today. The reason for the church’s creation is that in 1754 an Amerindian named Maria Mueces and her deaf-mute daughter Rosa were caught in a very strong storm.
They found refuge between the gigantic Lajas, and to Maria Mueces’s surprise, Rosa exclaimed “the mestiza is calling me…” and pointed to the lightning-illuminated ‘painting’ over the laja. The oldest reference was recorded in the accounts of Fray Juan de Santa Gertrudis’s voyage through the southern region of the New Kingdom of Granada between 1756 and 1762.
In 1951 the Roman Catholic Church authorized the Nuestra Señora de Las Lajas virgin, and it declared the sanctuary a minor basilica in 1954.
Originally published – Wikipedia