There are two important religious celebrations during the year for Catholic costarricans: Holy Week and August 2nd., Day of La Virgen de Los Angeles, the patron saint of Costa Rica. The day was considered big enough to be placed with Mother´s Day next, on August 15.
During the days before August 2nd., an estimated more than a million costarricans (about 1/4 of the total population) go on a pilgrimage from their towns all over the country, to the Basilica of the city of Cartago.
This journey, which is made by whatever the means possible, many of them walking no matter how far, is sometimes made as a promise, and other times in giving thanks for favors granted with help of La Vírgen de los Angeles to the faithful, some who they claim as being of a miraculous nature.
We would have to trace the origins of this tradition back to the days of the colony when the city of Cartago was founded by the spaniards, and was the most important town in this newly discovered territory in Central America. Cartago was, in fact, named the first capital of Costa Rica, and Juan Vásquez de Coronado it´s first appointed governor.
History has it that during those days somewhere beyond a place called “La Cruz de Los Partos”, on the side of town where the slaves and other populace lived (It´s understood that in those days there were two kinds of people: The Conquistadors families, and the indigenous and slaves), an indian girl who nobody knows exactly her name, but later was named Juana Pereira, while walking by a stream one day saw what appeared to be a small wooden figure on a rock by the stream. This little sculpture, which had the appearance of a woman with child, arose her curiousity so she took it home and kept it there. The next morning, when she looked for the statue to show her relatives, she found it was gone; no one having any idea what she was talking about. Later, when she returned to the place where she had found it, it was right there, on the rock where it had appeared. She picked it, and took it home again with the same results the next day, and after this happening for the third time, she finally concluded that she wanted to stay there. When she spread the news to the rest of the people and pretty much to everyones amazement, they told the local priest about the facts, and he thought that if the Lady insisted staying there, then they ought to build her a little shrine there for the people to visit. As time went by and the visitors were becoming more and more all the time, they decided to build a chapel. By the end of the 19th. century, the tradition of visiting the place, and specialy on August 2nd. had made it a place of pilgimage where everybody went at least once a year, and the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de los Angeles was build to accomodate the ammount of people who came to “The Little Piece of Heaven” under the Cartago sky.
As the story goes, nobody realy has a registred name of that indian girl who found the statue (which is basicaly the one you see in the replica in the picture), but in the 1930´s monseñor Sanabria, who was then the archbishop of San José, named her Juana Pereira in honor of his mother whose name was Juana. But as there wasn´t a registred name I guess it could be translated as Jane Doe. The woman in the figure, who we also must add, is black… was identified mostly as the virgin of the mestizos, of all the different kinds of people who inhabited the country in those days. It was said that there was a piece of heaven under the Cartago Sky and that in that heaven, the angels were of all kinds of different colors: Black, white, red, blond with blue eyes, …etc. So I guess it could be inferred that these citizens basicaly define the costarrican national identity, with all the mixture of cultures that meztizage brought upon this nation.
We´re not talking about any apparitions here, or any kind of messages from the Virgin Mary, except that she agreed to stay here, and to have us visit her once in a while.
Once, somebody who was disscusing with me over-adamantly stated that ” it´s all about popular religiosity
“. Well, then what´s wrong with popular religiosity if the people here beleive it´s good and it´s based on some evangelical fact? The Catholic Church accepts the tradition though there aren´t any certified apparitions. And based on The Gospel´s very words: “You beleive Thomas, because you have seen, happier yet, those who beleive without having seen”.