Greetings from Boyaca, Colombia !
The weekend of July 18-20, I had the opportunity to visit the Basilica of the Patroness of Colombia, Nuestro Señora del Rosario de Chiquinquirá. Chiquinquirá is a town about 100 miles (or 3 hours) from Bogotá, that dates back to the 16th century. This village is one of the most popular tourist sites in Colombia, and the most famous pilgrimage site. This small village is overwhelmed by pilgrims every July 9 (the Feast Day for the Basilica). I chose to wait until a week after the Feast to visit and still found every Mass to be standing room only (there literally was no open space, anywhere in the Basilica during Mass.)
Who is Nuestra Señora del Rosario de Chiquinquirá?
In 1555, Don Antonio de Santana, had an oratory built in his home (near present day Tunja, Colombia) and asked the Dominican cooperator brother, Fray Andres Jadraque, to have an image of the Holy Virgin painted. The silversmith and painter, Alonzo de Narvaez did the work. Fray Andres asked that the Virgin bear a rosary and asked that Saint Anthony of Padua be put at her right and Saint Andrew the Apostle at her left (in honor of patrons of Don Antonio and Fray Andrés).
Since the chapel was of straw, the paint quickly faded from exposure to the sun, the air and the rain. The damage soon became serious enough that the town priest removed the image from the altar. The canvas was then taken to Chiquinquirá and was used as a cloth upon which to dry grain in the sun.
Seven years later, Doña Maria Ramos arrived from Spain and discovered that the chapel used for animals. Maria soon cleaned the chapel up and began to use it for her devotionals to the Virgin Mary. She also found the cloth with the faded image of the Virgin and brought the image back into the chapel. On Friday, December 26, 1586, at 9:00 o’clock in the morning, while Maria was praying, the canvas was suddenly brightened by the Holy Virgin. Maria was in pious astonishment, almost in a trance, and soon the miracle drew crowds of people.
This miracle was soon followed by a numerous of cures. The Church authorities ordered an investigation to be made of the Virgin of Chiquinquirá to verify the truth of the miracle and in the year 1630, the Dominican Order, authorized by the archbishop of Bogota, took charge of the sanctuary, and built a church which was replaced by the present Basilica in 1801. Soon after the construction of the sanctuary, the Holy See granted permission for the celebration of a feast day in honor of the Queen of the Rosary of Chiquinquirá.
In 1919, by order of the Holy See, the Holy Image was crowned the Patroness of Colombia in the Cathedral in Bogota. In 1986, Pope John Paul II visited the Basilica and added a rosary to the image.
I addition to exploring Basilica and its many side altars, I also visited a museum of religious/Dominican art, a museum dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and the cell of St. John Paul II from his stay in 1986.
The following day, I along with my guide, Br. Jaime, took a bus for about an hour to Villa de Leyva, Colombia. Villa de Leyva is a quintessential tourist town- there are resorts galore in the town, areas for road biking, mountain biking, four-wheeling and more than the requisite amount of craft and knick knack shops. The remainder of store fronts in town house coffee shops and organic food restaurants. This town also feature a Dominican parish and two Dominican priories. The parish and its priory date back to the early 17th Century, and have witnessed numerous important events in the history of the Republic of Colombia.
The second priory, Ecce Homo, dates back to the 16th Century, and is currently a museum, although there is a retreat center with a friar on the same property. Ecce Homo was initially a central gathering place for missionary friars in Colombia. The friars would come to the priory to rest, pray and prepare to go out to evangelize the native peoples of this area. I found the priory majestic and yet very simple and I could definitely tell that this place was special.
While it was neat to meet the different different Dominican brothers at the various priories and I enjoyed seeing all of the old art and architecture, the most enjoyable part of my trip was learning about the major impact that the friars have had and are having upon the culture of Colombia. The outreach of the Basilica is enormous- there are nine masses a day during the week and ten on Saturdays, Sundays and Feast Days. The ministry of confession employs anywhere from 3-8 friars at a time daily from 5am-10pm. The friars as well try to make themselves very present to the pilgrims. A big part of this are the Dominican novices, who live adjacent to the priory. On the weekends, they are present in the plaza in front of the Basilica as well as scattered throughout the Basilica.
Ecce Homo impressed me because of its long history (since 1620) and the dedication of the friars who traveled through this extremely hilly region by foot and by mule to preach to the natives. In the museum were various artifacts that showed the efforts of the friars to adapt the teachings of the faith to the culture of these different indigenous groups through music, images and physical item.
If you get a chance, I highly recommend visiting both the Basilica in Chiquinquira and Villa de Leyva.