Our Lady of Saint John of the Lakes
by Teresa Limjoco
Photo Credit: Beverly Stevens
They flock to her. In central Mexico, northeast of Guadalajara, the second most-visited shrine in Mexico is besieged by millions of Mexicans every year.
Even the most jaded observer is stunned into respectful silence, watching Mexicans –often walking on their knees — beg the intercession and protection of this 16th century statue of the Virgin Mary.
Mere superstition? Then why are the walls covered with ‘ex-votos’ today? What is actually happening here?
In 1542, the Spanish Father Miguel de Bologna brought a statue of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception to Jalisco- known then as San Juan Bautista Mezquititlan, inhabited by Nochiztlecan Indians. A small thatched-roof chapel first housed the statue.
Ana Lucia and the Virgencita
By 1623, a couple of elderly Indians, Pedro Antes and his wife, Ana Lucia, were the custodians of the statue as well as the chapel. Ana Lucia venerated the image, having a great devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. She also claimed she had conversations with Our Lady, which most dismissed as the delusions of an elderly woman.
THE BASILICA’S SACRISTY TODAY WITH PAINTINGS OF THE VIRGENCITA’S MIRACLES: By Ana Lucia’s time, 100 years after the statue came from Spain, however, it had nearly been forgotten. It was no longer placed above the altar but kept in the sacristy, where only old Ana Lucia paid it any attention.
In 1623, a family of circus acrobats visited the town. Like trapeze artists, the father, mother and their two daughters dazzled the audience by seeming to fly through the air with the clever use of ropes. To make the act more suspenseful, swords and daggers were placed on the ground below them with the blades pointing upwards.
One day, while practicing for a performance, their 6-year-old daughter fell and was mortally wounded by a blade. Her parents could not save their child and prepared her body for burial at the chapel of Our Lady of San Juan. At the chapel, seventy-eight-year-old Ana Lucia met the grieving parents. Touched with profound pity, she advised the parents to believe in La Virgencita, who could restore her daughter to them.
Ana took the statue from the sacristy, laid it on the child’s dead body and began to pray. Moments later, some movement was noted beneath the burial cloth. The cloth was unwrapped, and the girl was found to be alive and completely healed.
At the time of the first miracle, the statue, which was made of “pasta de Michoacan”- a mixture of cornstalks and glue- was in a poor state. The grateful father offered to take the statue to Guadalajara to have it restored. The pastor gave his permission and sent two Indians from the village to accompany the statue.
When they arrived in Guadalajara, a man approached them, asking if they needed someone to repair the holy statue. He offered his services as an artist. Because his price was so good, the statue was given to the stranger to repair. A few days later, he returned with the beautifully restored statue. He left soon after, his identity remaining a mystery to all.
EX VOTO THANKING THE VIRGIN FOR THE HEALTH OF A CHILD BORN CRITICALLY ILL: By 1631, devotion to the miraculous image grew so much that a larger sanctuary had to be built.
THE VIRGENCITA APPEARS IN A MODERN HOSPITAL: In 1678, the Bishop of Guadalajara ordered that all the miracles attributed to the image in the last decade be recorded.
LA VIRGENCITA INTERVENES IN A HIGHWAY CRASH: Today, the faithful create ‘ex-votos’ telling the stories of their miracles attributed to the Virgencita.
ALL OF THIS IS HOUSED IN A MAGNIFICENT BASILICA: Designed in the Mexican baroque style with an decorated facade and bell towers, it was completed almost 60 years later.
The miraculous statue is set on a platform with an upturned crescent moon. It measures about a foot tall, and the face is smooth, slightly dark, and delicately sculpted. The hair is dark brown and pulled back from the face. The large, dark brown eyes are quite detailed for such a small image. Her hands are joined in prayer with delicate fingers slightly apart. She is dressed in a white gown under a blue mantle, representing Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception.
On August 15, 1904, the statue was liturgically crowned by the Archbishop of Guadalajara, Don Jose Jesus Ortiz. Based on the great devotion to Our Lady of St John of the Lakes, the age of the statue, and the many miracles attributed to Our Lady’s intercession, authorization for the coronation was granted by Pope St Pius X. The gold crown used in the ceremony weighs six pounds and measures seven inches high. It is encrusted with diamonds, sapphires, and emeralds, almost 200 in all.
Another unusual feature of the statue is its incredible longevity. Made of cornstalks and glue, it should have deteriorated much sooner than the many centuries it has lasted. It remains today in excellent condition.
ALTHOUGH THE BASILICA IS ALMOST ALWAYS FULL, at the end of January every year a large pilgrimage is held which draws more than a million people from all over Mexico to see their Virgencita.