Fiesta of the Virgin of Los Angeles, Cartago, Costa Rica
La Fiesta of the Virgin of Los Angeles is celebrated in Cartago, Costa Rica on August 2nd, and it is one of the most significant religious celebrations you’ll ever witness in Central America.
Only Christmas and the Holy Week Celebrations are more important in Costa Rica in terms of religious festivities, but if you’re interested in experiencing the soul and culture of the Costa Rican people, you should plan your summer vacation around July and August.
Origin of the Fiesta of the Virgin of Los Angeles
During the Colonial period, Cartago was one of the major Spanish settlements in Costa Rica. People of African descent constituted approximately 20% of the population and lived separately from the Spaniards. The Catholic Church controlled these official settlements, and the capital had signposts that read la Cruz de Caravaca (The Cross of Caravaca) to divide and segregate its inhabitants.
The story of the Virgin of Los Angeles starts with the discovery of La Negrita (The little Black) at the beginning of the 17th century, in Puebla de Los Pardos.
Costa Ricans believe that on August 2nd, around 1635, a young indigenous woman came across a small stamped stone in the middle of the forest while collecting firewood. The figure depicted a woman with a baby in her arms. She decided to take it home and saved it in a box.
On her return to the forest the next day, she found a second identical stone—also stamped with the same image. She decided to take this one home as well, and save it with the first one. However, when she went to store it in the same box, it was empty.
On the third day, she found the exact same statue, and, once again, the box in her house turned out empty.
So, instead of putting it again into the box, she took it to the local clergyman, Alonso de Sandoval, who kept it in a bigger chest. But guess what? When the priest opened the chest the next day, the stone was not there. However, the young woman found it again on the same rock, next to the spring. She took it again to the priest who guarded the figure in the tabernacle. However, the next day, the figure was gone once again.
Alonso de Sandoval decided that it was enough proof to consider it to be a message from the Virgin Mary. She was expressing she wanted to be in the forest, in the Pueblo de los Pardos, together with the impoverished and humble. And so, he built a small temple there and dedicated it to the Virgin. It’s the same place where you can find la Basílica de los Ángeles.
People baptized the statue with the name Virgen Morena. Later, it acquired a different name, Virgen de los Ángeles, because the Franciscans celebrated la Fiesta de Nuestra Señora de Los Ángeles (The feast of Our Lady of the Angels) on August 2nd.
In 1635, Costa Rica officially established La Negrita as the country’s patron Saint. The same year, the Catholic Church established La Cofradía, a lay organization of Los Pardos (Free Blacks), responsible for the veneration of the Virgin.
You are probably wondering who was the girl who found the statue. Nobody knows her real name, but some investigations showed that the most used first name and surname at the time were Juana and Pereira. So, that became the girl’s official name—as a tribute to all the Afro-descendant indigenous women from the area.
You can watch the whole story in an official video by the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Los Ángeles. There aren’t many dialogues so it’s easy to understand. You also have the option to turn on automatically generated subtitles for more guidance.
How to Celebrate the Fiesta of the Virgin of Los Angeles
It all starts in July. Depending on how far they live, the pilgrims embark on their way to the city of Cartago to celebrate the Fiesta of the Virgin of Los Ángeles on August 2nd. The name for the religious pilgrimage is the annual Romería.
Everybody gets to the Fiesta of the Virgin whatever means they can—by car, walking (sometimes barefoot), on a horse. Sometimes, when the pilgrims get to San José, about 10 miles away from the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles, they start to crawl on their hands and knees as a sign of their devotion. Some do it upon arriving at the Basilica.
On August 2nd, people come to the Fiesta of the Virgin to thank La Negrita for favors, and pray for help to overcome illnesses and serious obstacles. Visitors can also visit and beseech her protection by the rock where the statue was found. Some people drink from the stream nearby, splash themselves with the water they consider miraculous, and collect some to take home. People believe the water has healing powers.
The Description of the Figure of the Virgin of Los Angeles
One of the most curious things about the statute of La Negrita is its composition. Its materials constitute a mixture of jade, volcanic stone at the base, and graphite that adds to its color. Archaeologists that examined the statue say that it is very difficult, almost impossible to mix those three minerals together.
What’s also interesting is that there was no graphite in Costa Rica, only in Europe, at that time. Conversely, the Old Continent did not have jade or volcanic stone.Therefore, people say that the figure connects both continents.
The 20 cm tall statue of the Virgin shows mulatto features and is of greenish-gray color. Her face is looking forward while she holds her baby in her arms, who is looking into her eyes and touching her heart.
2021 Celebrations of the Fiesta of the Virgin
Costa Rica suspended the Romería for the second consecutive year in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The authorities have asked people to not peregrinate for the Fiesta of the Virgin this year. They will open the Basilica only for official masses and celebrations that start on July 23rd, nine days before the festivity of the Virgin of Los Ángeles. However, in order to assist, you need to reserve your space beforehand on the official site of the Basilica. You won’t be surprised that all the tickets for the masses on August 2 have already sold out, but you can still make reservations for some days before.
You can download the images with the full schedule of the masses from the Google Drive Folder by the Basilica. Save the file and open it in a pdf reader for full resolution of the program of the fiesta of the Virgin for this year.
Another interesting and recent solution for the ones who want to peregrinate but are not able to is a phone app called La Negrita. You can register your location, and the app will calculate and count the number of steps you need to take to “get” to the Basilica. When you reach your virtual destination, you can choose a song from the available selection and visit the Basilica from your phone. You can also choose what you want the Virgin to intercede for.
The app is now only available for Android at the Play Store and an IOS version for iPhone might be available this month.
Practice Spanish Before You Travel to Latin America
It is much more enjoyable to travel to Spanish-speaking countries when you know the language. You can look for great accommodation deals visiting the local sites yourself and forget about intermediaries. You get to better organize your transportation and customize your schedule easily. You can go to local eateries, order, and taste the locals’ specialties. You can engage in conversations about the country’s culture in their native language. Moreover, becoming bilingual by speaking Spanish improves your cognition and decision-making abilities.
Even if you’ve just started your Spanish language journey or if you already have a solid foundation on the language, dare to try a free class to polish your conversational skills before arriving at the Fiesta of the Virgin of Los Angeles in Costa Rica.
Our professional, certified teachers from Guatemala will be more than happy to uplevel your Spanish skills right before your vacation to any Spanish-speaking country.
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