Each year on the feast of the Annunciation, the Catholic Church celebrates Mary's big "yes" to God, but -- pious traditions hold -- like any good mother, sometimes Our Lady has said, "No, no, no, no!"

Apparently, Mary knew she was where she belonged, and not even horses -- or a team of oxen -- could drag her one step farther. Not. One. Step.

Hold your horses

If Prince Ladislaus of Poland had had his way, the famous Our Lady of Czestochowa icon would be known as Our Lady of Opala. That was his hometown, and that was where the 14th-century nobleman -- and, later, saint -- planned to move the painting for safekeeping.

Mary, it seemed, had other plans.

Art historians think Our Lady of Czestochowa was initially a Byzantine icon dating back to between the sixth and ninth centuries. According to pious legend, this portrait depicting Mary with the Christ Child was painted by the evangelist Luke some time after the crucifixion.

Legend also says it remained in the Holy Land until it was discovered by St. Helena in the fourth century and taken to Constantinople. The painting remained there for some 500 years until it became part of several dowries and ended up under the protection of Prince Ladislaus in a region of Russia that later became part of Poland.

When that prince's castle was besieged, an enemy shot an arrow through a chapel window and hit the painting, leaving a scar on Mary's neck. (That tear is still there.) Wanting to make sure it wasn't further damaged, Ladislaus planned to move it to Opala. To get there, he needed to travel through Czestochowa, where he decided to spend the night. And while there, the image was taken to Jasna Gora (a name meaning "bright hill") and placed in a small wooden church named for the Assumption.

The next morning, it was put into a wagon to finish its journey to Opala, but the team of horses refused to budge. Ladislaus knew why. He saw it as a sign from heaven and decided to leave the icon at the church. This was on Aug. 26, 1382, a date still marked as the feast of Our Lady of Czestochowa.

Prince Ladislaus ordered the painting be guarded by holy men, and so a church and monastery were built for the Pauline Fathers. The image has been under their care for the past six centuries.

In 1430, robbers attacked and plundered the monastery. Again, according to legend, they stole the Marian image, but after traveling only a short distance, the wagon's team of horses refused to move. Aware of what had happened almost five decades earlier, the men threw the icon on the ground, breaking it into three pieces, and one man slashed Mary's face twice with a sword but died before he could do it a third time.

After the painting was returned to Jasna Gora, Mary was credited with interceding to protect the monastery from an attack in 1655. The next year, King Casimir declared her Krolowa Polski, the Queen of Poland.

Stronger than oxen

While Our Lady of Lujan isn't as well known internationally as the painting of Our Lady of Czestochowa, the people of South America have a strong devotion to the 2-foot-tall terra-cotta statue of the Immaculate Conception.

In fact, she's the patroness of Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. And, her admirers could note, not even a team of oxen could get her to leave Lujan.

Art historians say the image was made in Brazil and sent to Argentina in 1630. It was given a solid silver covering in 1887 to keep it from decaying and now is usually clothed in a white robe and a light blue cloak, the colors of the Argentina's flag. Only the dark face with large blue eyes and the hands folded in prayer are visible now.

But what about those oxen? Tradition holds that the ox-drawn wagon taking the statue from Buenos Aires to Santiago del Estero stopped for some unknown reason by the Lujan River, near the home of Don Rosendo Oramas. The team was replaced and the wagon was unloaded, but the new team refused to cross the river. That was when those trying to goad the animals across the water noticed two small boxes had been left in the back of the wagon. Each contained a Marian image; one was the Immaculate Conception and the other was the Blessed Mother holding the Christ Child.

The statue of Mary and her Son were unloaded, but still the ox couldn't be moved. It was returned to the wagon and the box containing the other statue was taken out. Immediately the animals began to pull forward. The amazed witnesses repeated the transfers several times with the same result until they came to realize Our Lady wished to stay in Lujan.

At first the statue was taken to Oramas' home, where he built a simple chapel for it. Our Lady was venerated there for 40 years. A larger shrine was completed in 1685, and the final sanctuary was built in the 19th century

While the feast of the Immaculate Conception is Dec. 8, Argentina celebrates the festival of Our Lady of Lujan on Oct. 1.

Refusing to stay put

Unlike the icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa and the statue of Our Lady of Lujan, it was easy to move the tiny carving of Our Lady of the Angels in Costa Rica. It was just that Mary would not stay put!

The dark stone image -- only 3 inches high -- is also known as La Negrita (which means the little black one).

Pious tradition holds that while searching for firewood on Aug. 2, 1635, a poor native woman named Juana Pereira found the carving on a path outside Cartago, Costa Rica. Although she took it home with her, it soon disappeared and was later rediscovered at the same spot on the trail. After that strange occurrence had happened five times, local residents understood it to mean Our Lady wanted a shrine built there.

It soon became a pilgrimage destination, especially for the poor. In 1935, Pope Pius XI declared the shrine a basilica. Our Lady of the Angels is the patroness of Costa Rica and her feast day is Aug. 2.

Weathering the storm

Like Our Lady of Lujan, Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception of El Viejo, Nicaragua, is . . . well . . . an image of the Immaculate Conception. And like Our Lady of Czestochowa, it's associated with a saint. Tradition holds the image and devotion date back to the 16th century, when the statue was brought to Central America by a relative of St. Teresa of Avila.

Some say it was her brother, Rodrigo de Cepeda Ahumada, who -- never traveling without it -- had it with him when he arrived in the port city of Realejo and later moved to the Franciscan mission of El Viejo.

There, a room in his house became an oratory visited by neighbors who were attracted by the beautiful expression on the statue's face. When Cepeda received orders to transfer to Peru, he planned on taking the image with him, but bad weather kept postponing the move.

Eventually, Cepeda realized it was God's will that he give up his beloved Immaculata and that she stay among the people who had also come to love her. The Virgin has never left Nicaragua and is now in a basilica named for her.

The image of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception of El Viejo is a wood carving about 33 inches tall. Mary is dressed in beautiful robes, which are changed often.

In Nicaragua, where La Purísima is patroness, Mary's Dec. 8 feast is a national celebration.

Popular piety

Must a Catholic believe pious traditions such as these? Of course not. None is the same as a Church doctrine, like Mary being the Mother of God or her Immaculate Conception, perpetual virginity and assumption into heaven.

Can a Catholic believe them? Of course! In the 2001 "Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy," the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments noted that "some of the earliest forms of veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary also reflect popular piety."

Rooted in what the Church teaches, popular piety springs from the people's experience. And in Poland, Argentina, Costa Rica and Nicaragua, that has included a profound, a particular and a personal love for Mary. And from her.

Through each image and devotion, she's a mother who continues to say to them, "I'm with you now, and I'm not going anywhere."

Bill Dodds and his wife, Monica, are the author of "Encyclopedia of Mary" (Our Sunday Visitor, $24.95) and editors of My Daily Visitor magazine.