[Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre]

Cuba: Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre

Some time around the year 1600, two native Indians, Rodrigo and Juan de Hoyos, together with a ten-year-old slave boy, Juan Moreno, went out looking for the salt needed to preserve the meat of the Barajagua slaughter house, which supplied the workers and inhabitants of "Santiago del Prado," now known as "El Cobre." That day they were just able to reach Cayo Francés, halfway across the Bay of Nipe, where they encamped to escape the fury of a storm which would have torn their frail canoe to pieces.

Calm was restored with daybreak, and they took to the transparent sea. In the distance, they saw a white bundle floating on the waves and approaching them slowly. At first they took it for a sea bird. As it came closer, it seemed to be a girl and at last they were able to determine that it was a statue of the Virgin Mary holding the child on her right arm and with a gold cross in her left hand. The statue was fastened to a board with the inscription, "I am the Virgin of Charity."

According to the sworn testimony of witnesses, despite the recent storm and the motion of the waves, neither the figure of the Virgin, nor her clothing, was wet.

The head of the statue is of baked clay covered with a polished coat of fine white powder, possibly rice paste, and the recent thorough renovation of the image revealed the fine features which countless paint coatings had deformed. A well-shaped nose and a well-proportioned face with large, loving eyes convey a gentleness that invites trust and prayer. The Virgin is about sixteen inches high and her feet rest on a brilliant moon whose ends surround on both sides the silver cloud where three cherubs spread their golden wings. The Child, at the left side of the statue, raises a hand as if blessing, and in His other hand He holds a gold globe. The entire figure is covered by a heavy cloak which gives it the typical triangular shape.

[Our
Lady of Charity of El Cobre]


The image's original clothing was white, but the faithful have given her gold and silver colored robes. Because Our Lady of Charity is a symbol of Cuban nationality, popular statues give her a white robe, a blue cloak and have the Child dressed in red: the colors of the Cuban flag. Nowadays the Virgin's dress, a copy of a very early one, is of heavy lamé with gold threads, and has the national Cuban shield embroidered on the skirt.

The simple folk have gotten used to the image of their "Cachita" with the small boat at her feet and in it the "Three Juans" who found her floating on the water. This detail is omitted in the oldest reproductions which copied the original statue.

At the request of the veterans of the War of Independence, Our Lady of Charity was declared the patroness of Cuba by Benedict XV in 1916 and solemnly crowned in the Eucharistic Congress held in Santiago de Cuba in 1936. Pope Paul VI raised her sanctuary to the category of Basilica in 1977.

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Dominican Republic: Our Lady of "La Altagracia"

The Dominican Republic, where the evangelization of the New World began, is under the protection of the Virgin under two titles: Our Lady of Mercy, the principal patroness who was so proclaimed in 1616 during the Spanish colonial rule, and the Virgin of Altagracia, Protector and Queen of the hearts of the Dominicans. "Tatica from Higuey," as the natives of Quisqueya fondly refer to her, has her story and legend. There are historic documents that prove that in 1502, in the island of Santo Domingo, the Most Blessed Virgin was honored under the title of our Lady of la Altagracia, whose portrait had been brought from Spain by Alfonso and Antonio Trejo, brothers who were among the first European settlers of the island. When the brothers moved to the city of Higuey, they took the image with them. Later they offered it to the parish church so that everyone could venerate it. The first shrine was completed in 1572, and in 1971 the present Basilica was consecrated.


[Our Lady of

Popular piety has it that the devout daughter of a rich merchant had asked him to bring her a portrait of Our Lady of Altagracia from Santo Domingo. The father tried to get it for her, but with no success. Neither clergymen nor tradesmen had ever heard that Marian title.

Back at Higuey, the merchant decided to stay overnight at a friend's house. After dinner, feeling sorry for his daughter's disappointment when he should arrive empty-handed, he described to those present his unsuccessful search. As he spoke, an old man with a long beard, who was passing by, took out of his knapsack a rolled up painting and gave it to the merchant saying, "This is what you are looking for." It was the Virgin of Altagracia. At day break the old man had disappeared.


The portrait of Our Lady of Altagracia is thirty-three centimeters wide by forty-five high. Expert opinion has it that it is a primitive work of the Spanish school, painted towards the end of the fifteenth or beginning of the sixteenth century. The painting, which depicts a Nativity scene, was restored successfully in Spain in 1978, and its original beauty and color can now be appreciated. The rigor of time, candles' smoke and rubbing by the hands of the devotees had so altered the surface of the portrait that it had become nearly unrecognizable.

The scene of Jesus' birth is painted on a fine cloth. The Virgin, lovely and serene, occupies the center of the picture; she is looking with tenderness at the child who lies nearly naked on the straw of the manger. A blue cloak sprinkled with stars envelops her and a white scapular closes her garments in front.

Maria of Altagracia wears the colors of the Dominican flag; anticipating in this manner the national identity. A radiant crown and twelve stars frame her head which now has a crown on it. The frame which holds the painting is probably the most refined example of Dominican gold work. This marvel made of gold, precious stones and enamel, is the work of an unknown eighteenth-century artist. Possibly he used the jewels that the Virgin's devotees gratefully offered her.

The image of Our Lady of Altagracia had the privilege of being crowned twice: on August 15, 1922 - during the pontificate of Pius XI - and by Pope John Paul II, who on January 25, 1979, during his visit to Santo Domingo, personally crowned the image with a golden silver tiara, his personal gift to the Virgin, the first evangelizer of the Americas.

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Ecuador: Our Lady of Quinche

Our Lady of the Presentation of Quinche is a handsome wood sculpture carved in the sixteenth century by Don Diego de Robles, an extraordinary artist who is also credited with other popular and venerated images of Mary. History tells us that those who had ordered the image couldn't or wouldn't pay the sculptor for it, and he traded it to the oyacachi Indians for some large cedar boards he needed.

At a later time, popular fancy enriched the facts with the legend that the Virgin had appeared earlier to the Indians in a cave and had promised to deliver them from the dangerous bears which devoured the children.

The Indian chiefs were astonished when they saw Diego Robles arrive carrying the image of the Virgin, whom they recognized as having the same features as the Lady who had appeared to them in the cave and had spoken to them.

[Our
Lady of Quinche]
[Our Lady of Quinche]


The statue remained under the care of the Indians fifteen years, when the bishop of the place ordered it moved to the village of Quinche from which it finally took its name in 1604.

The image is a fine carving in cedarwood, measuring sixty-two centimeters in height. The handsome sculpture is hidden by large brocade garments, covered with jewels and embroidered with gold and silver threads, which only allow the serene dark face to be seen. The Virgin holds a scepter in her right hand and with the left hand she holds the Child, who lifts a hand in blessing and in the other hand displays a gold globe crowned with a cross.

The pedestal at her feet and the large half moon, both of pure silver, and the heavy crowns made of gold and precious stones which adorn the heads of Jesus and Mary, evidence the generosity of the people of Ecuador who like to see their patroness resplendent, dressed with the best finery.


The face of the Child Jesus has features resembling those of the mestizo children of those mountains. Mestizo is also the color of the mother, synthesis of the Inca and Spanish souls. She has a delicate oval face with a slender nose, thin lips and a small mouth; her slanted eyes and her sad gaze with half closed eyelids give her a unique gentleness. This is why she is so popular in Ecuador, specially among the Indians who affectionately refer to their protector in heaven as "La Pequehita" (the little one).

There are an amazing number of songs in honor of the Virgin of Quinche, in "Quechua," "Jibaro," and many other dialects of the region as well as in Spanish; many have been sung for three hundred and even four hundred years.

The image was crowned in 1943 and her feast is celebrated each year on November 21. The present shrine was declared a National Sanctuary in 1985.


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