The story of Our Lady de Altagracia dates back to when Spain first colonized the island of Hispaniola. Two men, Alonso y Antonio de Trejo, brought a painting of the Virgin to Hispaniola from their home in Placencia, in the region of Extremadura in 1502.
The legend states that the image of the Virgin mysteriously disappeared from the house of the brothers Trejo. The painting later reappeared in an orange bush. The location of this bush is where the first church of Higuey was built. Now thousands of devoted visitors make the trek here to deposit offerings and to ask favors of the Mother of Christ. Dominicans pray to her for miracles and cures and for intercession for whatever troubles them. Las Noches de Vela/ the Nights of Prayer is celebrated the night before Altagracia Day.
The painting (shown here) of the patron saint of Dominican Republic that is found in the Basilica in Higuey (see the picture slide show of La Basilica de Higuey) is said to have been painted in the late 15th century in Spain. It was mysteriously delivered by a shrouded old man who dropped the painting and disappeared. This painting shows the scene of the birth of Jesus. The frame is made from Dominican gold and inlaid with fine enamels, precious stones and jewels. The painting has been completely restored.
Another miracle story is about how Dominican soldiers appealed to the Virgin to help them win victory over the French in the 1691 battle in La Limonade, near Cap-Haitien in northern Haiti. They won the battle.
Virgen de la Altagracia/ Virgin of the Highest Grace. Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia, Patrona de La República Dominicana. The country's official patron saint and Queen Protector of the heart of Dominicans.
Virgen de la Altagracia was crowned the spiritual mother of Higuey by pontificate of Pius XI in August 15, 1922. The ceremony was held in Santo Domingo at the Puerta del Conde. It was declared that January 21st would be a National holiday by the President of the Dominican Republic, Doctor Joaquin Antonio Balaguer Ricardo. Many important people of the Catholic Church attended this ceremony.
This celebration is now a blend of African religions and Catholicism. Dominicans recite prayers, play African influenced music, sing hymns and dance.
"The hour is, then, causes so that we swear on the foot of this Basilica, in the presence of the Delegate of his Sanctity, His Eminence the Cardinal Jose Humberto Quintero, who from today and onward we will work together by the good of the Mother country and the union and the concord of the national family" / "La hora es, pues, propicia para que juremos al pie de esta Basílica, en presencia del Delegado de Su Santidad, Su Eminencia el cardenal José Humberto Quintero, que desde hoy en adelante trabajaremos juntos por el bien de la Patria y por la unión y la concordia de la familia nacional" proclaimed Balaguer, when giving the Basilica to the Ecclesiastical authorities.
Did you know?
*1 in every 12 Dominicans are named Altagracia in honor of the patron saint.
*Every year more than 800,000 people make the pilgrimage to the Basílica of Altagracia in Higuey.
*Pope John Paul II visited the Basilica in Higuey when he came to the island January 25, 1979,
Our Lady of Mercy/ Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes. Patrona de la República Dominicana
According to the legend on March 1495, Christopher Columbus, accompanied by a few Spanish men had to face the Chief and a large number of Indians in a battle for gold. They built a trench from which to do battle and planted a large wooden cross next to this trench. It is said that the Virgin appeared on the cross. The Indians made the Spanish run from their trench, retreating to a hill. The Indians tried to destroy the cross and even tried to burn it but they could not destroy it. Because of the aggressiveness of the Indians Columbus and most of the troops decided to leave. Fray Juan Infante, who carried a statue of Our Lady of Mercy, urged the Spanish to continue fighting and promised them victory on behalf of the Virgin. The next day the forces of Columbus had victory over the native peoples of the island, taking what belonged to these original peoples of the island.
Columbus told his son Diego that he wanted to build a church in this spot in the Virgins honor. In 1527 atop the hill was established in the first convent of the Order of Mercy. After this incident there was a shrine built to honor Our Lady of Mercy at the very top of the hill where Columbus planted the miraculous cross.
The church that sits on this spot now was built in 1880. This shrine of Holy Hill/ Santo Cerro is atop a hill that is about 8 miles from the town of La Vega. Every year on September 24 thousands of the faithful make a procession there to honor this patron saint. There is a museum here and from the veranda, atop the holy hill El Santo Cerro, there is a spectacular view of Valle De La Vega Real in the Cordillera Septentrional.
The Virgen de la Mercedes is well known and loved in many countries including Peru, Argentina and many other countries.
+click to enlarge
Church at Santo Cerro
Since 1259 padres Mercedarios begin to spread devotion to Our Lady of Mercy (or Mercedes) that extends around the world. San Pedro Nolasco, inspired by the Blessed Virgin/ Santísima Virgen, founded an order dedicated to the mercy/ la merced (which means works of mercy/ obras de misericordia). San Pedro Nolasco and his friars were very devoted to the Virgin Mary. They took her as their patron saint and guide. Los mercedarios were knights of the Virgin Mary/ caballeros de la Virgen María in the service of his redeeming work and honor as Mother of Mercy or Virgin Redeemer/ Madre de la Merced o Virgen Redentora.