Costa Rica’s annual pilgrimage

An annual Aug. 2 pilgrimage draws some 2.5 million people to visit La Negrita and thank her for miracles performed. Visitors to the basilica can see the rock where she appeared and display cases filled with tokens of appreciation for prayers answered. They also collect containers of holy water from a spring underneath the church.

Nearly 400 years ago, a small black stone statue of a Madonna and child was discovered perched on a boulder in the forest surrounding Costa Rica’s then-capital, Cartago. Attempts to remove her magically failed. Thus began the recognition and celebration of the day of the Virgen de los Angeles, Costa Rica’s patron saint, famous throughout the region for her miracles.

“La Negrita,” or the “Little Black One,” is a crudely carved, 6-inch tall representation of the Virgin Mary. Legend says that a young indigenous girl, Juanita Pereira, found the statue on Aug. 2, 1635, while gathering wood in the forest outside the city, which at the time was racially segregated. Today, the little statute rests on a golden and jeweled platform above the altar at the Basílica Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles in Cartago, east of San José, built over the rock where she first appeared.

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