If the Philippines has the Black Nazarene, Costa Rica has La Negrita. Also known as the Black Madonna, the Black Virgin or the Black Stone, it is a small, black rock which appears to emanate the image of the Virgin Mary.
La Negrita is the Patron Saint of Costa Rica and is now kept inside a shrine in Basílica de Nuestra Señora de los Angeles in Cartago, San Jose. Every 2nd of August, this believed to be miraculous figure brings over millions of citizens, tourists, pilgrims, even the president of Costa Rica and all other people from different walks of life down on their knees– in praise, worship and in desire for intercession.
The Historical Pilgrimage
In the year 1635, three events in Costa Rica that can be linked to pilgrimages and religion happened with of course, the discovery of the stone being one and most prominent of them.
The first happened in the northern part of Costa Rica. Massachusetts Bay Colony banished a man named Roger Williams who deeply believed in religious freedom and in saving the native lands of the Indians. This man was the founder of Rhode Island and the Baptist Church.
The second was the death of Quebec’s founder, Samuel de Champlain and the survival of his three Indian daughters: Faith, Hope and Charity.
The third and most significant of them all is the story of a young mestiza girl named Juana Pereira who was looking for firewood and led herself to a stream. There, atop a boulder she found a stone that seemingly looked like a doll. She brought it home but it disappeared. She then went back to the steam and there she found it on top of the boulder. She took it back home once again and repeatedly, it disappeared and was found on the same boulder again and again.
Thinking it was supernatural, Juana then brought it to their local priest named Father Baltazar de Grado. Because of this event that they called a ‘miracle’, a church was built around the boulder where the little Juana first found La Negrita. Even if it has been transferred to the Basilica, the boulder remains where it is up to this very day.
It became the Patron Saint of Costa Rica in the year 1824 and was visited by the late Pope John Paul II in 1983.
The Devotion to La Negrita
People from all parts of the country walk on their knees, on foot and some even crawl as they make their way to the Basilica in honor of La Negrita. A mass is conducted by a reggaeton-singing priest and swarmed by millions of devotees worldwide to join in both the jolly and solemn celebration.
It is believed to be miraculous that’s why it is flocked by worshippers every year, hoping to be cured of their illnesses or to pray for a sick loved one or simply help them find solutions to their problems.
Millions of tokens below the church shrine have been left in thanksgiving to La Negrita. Charms in forms of lungs, hands, kidneys, hearts, even trophies as well as awards were left to show their gratitude to the little sacred stone.
Considering the heavy influence of Catholicism brought by the Spanish colonization, this day of the year is considered a holiday and a holy day for all who yearn to be blessed, to be thankful and to beg for prayers unanswered.
The Basilica is about 22 km from the center of San Jose. Public buses, taxis and car rentals can take you there. Surely if you’re one of the devotees, getting there by foot or on your knees is the primary choice of travel.
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