Who is the Virgen de Los Angeles in Costa Rica?

Virgen de Los Angeles
Image from Wikipedia.

Costa Ricans Celebrate their Patron Saint on August 2nd

The Virgen de Los Angeles (Virgin of the Angels), or La Negrita, is the patron saint of Costa Rica. Religion is a serious affair for Costa Ricans, and many are followers of the Roman Catholic faith. One of, if not the most, significant days of the year in Costa Rica is August 2nd, when thousands participate in a pilgrimage for the Virgen de Los Angeles, displaying their faith and connection to the spiritual realm. But, who exactly is the Virgen de Los Angeles, and what is its importance?

A Holy Discovery

On August 2nd, 1635, a native woman named Juana discovered a small statue, no more than a meter tall, of the Virgin Mary near modern-day Cartago. The statuette was made out of dark wood and thought to be an indigenous representation of the Virgin Mary, leading to the name, La Negrita or Black Virgin. Juana was quite taken with the statue and brought it home with her. However, the next day the statue had disappeared from her house and returned to the location where she discovered it. For a second time, Juana attempted to remove the statue. Miraculously, it returned to where Juana had first found it. 
After hearing this tale, the townspeople knew they were in the presence of something miraculous. They decided to build a shrine for the statue. They then built a new church around the statue, the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de Los Ángeles.

The Legacy of the Virgen de Los Angeles

Only a few short years after the church was finished in 1639, an earthquake hit Costa Rica, nearly destroying the church and the statue. The statue was declared emblematic of the patron saint of Costa Rica in 1824, following a restoration of the basilica and ornamentation of the statue itself.

As with many holy locations and relics, the Virgen de Los Angeles inspires pilgrimages for Roman Catholics in Costa Rica and around the world. People travel on foot, by cars and horses to the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de Los Angeles and finish their journey by kneeling in front of the statue.

The Celebration of the Virgen de Los Angeles

Celebration Virgen de Los Angeles
Image for The Tico Times.

Over one million people, and sometimes as many as two and a half million, travel to the city of Cartago to participate in the pilgrimage every year. Some pray to the saint to help sick loved ones or to help them find solutions to their problems. Some pilgrims even wash in a small stream near the basilica, believing the water to have healing properties. People travel from all over Costa Rica and the world to see the Virgen de Los Angeles in person. Some adventurers bring tents and camps along the way, with no specific route to follow. Others take the traditional 22 km road from San Jose to the basilica. This celebration unites and inspires the entire country.

Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels, Cartago

Basilica de Nuestra Señora de Los Angeles
Image from Britannica.

The home of La Negrita is absolutely breathtaking. There are stained glass windows all around the church. Every inch is covered in hand-carved wood altars and hand-painted walls. Since the renovations in the 1630s, the structure has remained unharmed. The virgin now resides on a gold, jewel-studded platform in the very main altar in the cathedral. Those visiting Costa Rica in late July and early August should make it a priority to visit the cathedral to see the pilgrimage along with the beautiful church and the patron saint.

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