Q: Who is Our Lady of Atocha?

A: She is the “mother” of the very popular Niño de Atocha, who according to some legends escaped from his mother, and according to other sources, brought food and drink to Christians incarcerated by the Moors at a place called Atocha.  Our Lady of Atocha is the name of a parish in Madrid.  The parish was entrusted to the Dominican Order in 1523, and still is today.  Originally a hermitage, it became a sanctuary of modest dimensions, intentionally kept small by the then-Moorish government.  As mentioned, Our Lady of Atocha later became a Dominican parish and, in 1863, was elevated to the rank of Basilica by Pius IX.  The image of Our Lady of Atocha is much older.  Ildephonsus of Toledo mentioned its existence in the seventh century, and pointed in his description to the apple in Mary’s hand.  Atocha is mentioned in the thirteenth century Cantigas of Alfonso el Sabio (see Cantigas 289, 315, 396).  Given the mysterious history of the image, some aficionados have attributed its origin to Saint Luke.  The image is in fact a statue, a wooden sculpture, whose iconographical make-up points to the 12/13 century.  The statue had been vested in precious robes and bedecked with jewels, as was the custom especially since Reformation times.  Queens and future queens would frequently donate their wedding garments to Our Lady.  Among the treasures of Our Lady of Atocha we find the terciopelo (cape of velour) of Isabel II.  The sculpture, now unadorned, is an Enthroned Madonna holding an apple in her right hand and the blessing Christ child on her left knee and arm.  The image’s face is of dark complexion, “moreno oscuro, casi negro.”  The small sculpture (60 cm in height) of Our Lady of Atocha is the secondary patroness of Madrid, together with the Virgin de la Paloma.  The principal patroness is Our Lady of Almudena.


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