The Story Of Our Lady Of Las Lajas

I just love learning Mary stories from around the world in all different cultures! I think when it comes to Latin Marian apparitions, often people know the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe, but none of the others.  This well known title of Our Lady from Latin America, Our Lady of Los Lajas (pronunciation here) comes with an amazing story, sure to captivate you and your children! In Spanish, she is lovingly known as “Nuestra Señora de Los Lajas”. Her feast day is on September 16. This story comes from the country of Colombia in South America. So let’s take a look at the story of Our Lady Of Las Lajas.

Deep in the lush Andean highlands of southern Colombia, near the city of Ipiales today, there lies a marvelous Gothic-style church built into the canyon above the Guáitara River. This beautiful building and marvelous feat of engineering was built between 1916 and 1949. The church, now a National Shrine Basilica, is a marvel in itself, but the unique image of the Blessed Mother it houses, known as Our Lady
of Las Lajas, has a fascinating story behind it.

Our Lady of Las Lajas (“lajas” meaning “slab of rock” in Spanish) is an image of Our Lady holding the rosary in one hand and the Child Jesus in the other, with St. Francis of Assisi and St. Dominic de Guzman at her feet. Unlike typical paintings, this image is affixed to a slab of rock, and it is claimed that the image is miraculous and not made by human hands; that it isn’t painted, but rather is part of the rock
itself, and goes several feet deep into the slab.

What is the significance of this image, and how did it originate?

As the legend goes, in 1754, an indigenous woman named Maria Meneses de Quiñones was traveling along the river with her daughter, Rosa, who was deaf and unable to speak. They often traveled this route, but on that particular day, the two were caught in a strong storm, and sought refuge among the lajas of the area, which provided some cave-like shelter. To Maria’s astonishment, she heard her daughter speak for the first time in her life: “There is a woman here with a boy in her arms!” Rosa pointed to a silhouette of a woman and child above the lajas, made visible by the lightning of the storm.

Days later, the child Rosa disappeared from her home, and her mother found her once again among the caves, conversing with the beautiful Lady and playing with the Child. Maria and Rosa resolved not to tell anyone what they experienced, fearing ridicule and disbelief from the townspeople. However, as time passed, Rosa became gravely ill and died. Maria brought her daughter to the miraculous place that had become familiar to them, and begged the Blessed Virgin to restore Rosa to life. The Blessed Mother, moved by Maria’s earnest supplication, granted a miraculous healing to Rosa. Maria ran to the town and told everyone what had happened. When they returned to the cave, the townspeople could see miraculous lights streaming from it, and the image that we see today was found on the stone.

Once news spread of this miraculous image, it quickly became a popular place of pilgrimage, and many miraculous healings began to be reported. A small shrine was built around the lajas a few years after Maria and Rosa’s miraculous encounter, and in 1802 an even larger shrine was built, with an added bridge over the river to connect both sides of the canyon. Finally, plans were made to build a large church, and in 1916, construction on the large Gothic-style cathedral was started.

On September 15, 1952, the image was granted papal decree of canonical coronation by Pope Pius XII, during which an actual crown of precious metals and jewels is affixed to a statue or holy image. This popular crowning ceremony has been a part of Catholic piety for centuries, and can be seen with many other statues or holy images all over the world, such as the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Rome, and the statue of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary which stands in the public square in Lourdes, France. Later, earrings and a necklace were added to the image, as a gesture of love and affection for the Blessed Mother.

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Every year, on September 16, thousands of pilgrims make the journey to the church to honor the Blessed Virgin Mary and ask for her intercession.

The image itself is quite unique among representations of Our Lady, most especially in that she is accompanied by the two famous mendicant Saints, St. Dominic on the left, and St. Francis on the right. In her right hand, she’s holding a holy rosary above St. Dominic, who also has a rosary attached to his religious habit. St. Dominic is the one attributed with popularizing the devotion of the holy rosary. The Child Jesus in the Blessed Mother’s arms is holding out a rope with three knots to St. Francis, who has the same knotted rope around his waist as a belt. The knotted rope is worn by all Franciscans, and the three knots represent the vows that these religious Brothers and Sisters make: poverty, chastity, and obedience.

The garments themselves are typical of imagery of the Blessed Mother. She’s wearing a blue mantle decked with stars; blue represents Heaven in iconography, and the stars are reminiscent of the “woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Revelation 12:1). Her red dress is covered in rich patterning: the red represents earth, and those of us
in this “valley of tears” who cry out for her intercession on our behalf, and the rich decorations represent the veneration we give to the Saints in honor of their great example of holiness.

Mary is depicted as a “Mestiza,” a woman of mixed Spanish and indigenous American descent. As is common with Marian apparitions and Marian imagery throughout the world, the people of different cultures often depict holy figures, especially Christ and the Blessed Mother, to look the same way they do. It is well-known that Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to St. Juan Diego as a woman of mixed Spanish and indigenous American descent, and spoke his indigenous language, náhuatl. Even if these representations are not historically accurate to the actual ancestry of those holy figures, they are important for people of different lands and cultures. These depictions help us to feel a closeness and particular affection for Our Lord and Our Lady. They fill us with hope and inspiration, knowing that our Catholic faith transcends any divisions we may create amongst ourselves, and that salvation in Christ is for everyone the world over.

Free Las Lajas Printable Pack!

You can now download a free printable pack that has art cards and coloring pages of Our Lady of Las Lajas here. These resources both have English and Spanish options available.


Author Of This Article:

Carrie Chuff is a wife and homeschooling mother of six children. As a young woman, she spent five years of formation in a Roman Catholic convent of active/contemplative religious Sisters whose apostolate included retreats and catechesis. After realizing God had other plans, she left and later met and married her husband, Derek. Eventually, they both rediscovered their Eastern Catholic heritage and embraced it fully as members of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, a Byzantine Rite Eastern Catholic Church which is in full Communion with Rome. She resides with her family in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania.

You can find Carrie’s charming videos about her time in the convent and more on her TikTok page and you can follow her Instagram here.

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