From Canada to Chile, devotion to the Blessed Mother runs deep in the Americas. You know that under her title the Immaculate Conception Mary is the patroness of the United States, and certainly you’ve heard the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe. But there are many more Madonnas in the Americas. What follows, then, is a selection of national patrons.
It is interesting to note that often devotion to Mary under a particular title began among humble people and outcasts, then, from such lowly beginnings, spread to all levels of society until Our Lady became the patron of the nation.
Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception of Luján
In 1630, a Brazilian potter received from a customer in Argentina an order for a 2-foot-high statue of the Blessed Virgin. When he finished the work, he packed it into a wooden crate and sent it by oxcart to his client in the town of Santiago del Estero, Argentina. But when the cart reached Luján, the oxen stopped and refused to move. The teamsters and the townspeople took this as a sign that Our Lady wanted her statue venerated at Luján. It is still there, in a magnificent sanctuary. To protect the fragile terra cotta, the statue is sheathed in silver, over which are robes of white and pale blue — the national colors of Argentina.
Feast day: Dec. 8.
Our Lady of La Candelaria of Copacabana
In 1582, Francisco Tito Yupanqui, a member of the Imperial Family of the Incas, felt inspired to fashion a statue of the Virgin and Child. He had no experience as a sculptor, yet after several false starts he created a beautiful image, 4 feet high, made of plaster and maguey fiber.
In 1583, Yupanqui’s statue was placed in an adobe church on the peninsula of Copacabana, where it became beloved by Incas who lived in the region. Over the centuries the image became known as the Most Blessed Virgen de la Candelaria, Our Lady of Copacabana and was venerated as the patron of Bolivia. (Candelaria is Spanish for Candlemas, the feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin on Feb. 2). To preserve the original sculpture, it has been plated with gold, except for the hands and faces of Mary and the Christ Child.
Feast days: Feb. 2 and Aug. 5.
Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception of Aparecida
In 1717, three poor fishermen were working the Paraiba River. They had fished all night and caught nothing, so one of them invoked the help of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. They cast their net into the water, and pulled up a statue of the Immaculate Conception. Filled with confidence, they cast in their nets again, and this time the net was teeming with fish. The local people venerated this statue of Mary as Aparecida, or “She who appeared.”
In 1930, Pope Pius XI proclaimed Our Lady of Aparecida patroness of Brazil.
Feast day: Oct. 12.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel of the Maipú
During Chile’s struggle for independence from Spain, the leaders of the independence movement placed their cause under the protection of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. On April 5, 1818, at the Battle of Maipú, Gen. Jose de San Martin assured the Chilean troops, “Our Patroness, the most Blessed Virgin of Carmel, will give us victory!” The Chileans won the battle and their independence, and in thanksgiving to Mary, they built a church on the Maipú battlefield, and enshrined inside it an 18th-century sculpture of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
Feast day: last Sunday of September.
Our Lady of the Rosary
We know that Father Lopez de Montoya, a Dominican priest, commissioned this statue of Our Lady of the Rosary, but we do not know the names of the artists who made it. The statue of the Blessed Mother holding the Christ Child in her arms is made of silver. According to a popular legend in Guatemala, centuries ago Our Lady and her Son traveled through the Americas. When they reached Guatemala, the Infant Jesus fell asleep in his mother’s arms, and so they stayed there.
In 1821, Guatemalan patriots adopted Our Lady of the Rosary as the patron of the national independence movement; in 1833, they crowned her Queen of Guatemala. One of the crowns made for this image is studded with 121 emeralds, 80 pearls and 44 diamonds.
Feast day: In Guatemala, Our Lady of the Rosary does not have a one-day celebration; instead the entire month of October is dedicated to her.
Our Lady of Perpetual Help
In 1882, a devastating epidemic swept across Haiti, taking the lives of thousands. With no sign of the disease abating, the bishops of Haiti gathered at the Chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Bel Air and invoked the aid of the Mother of God. That day, everyone sick with the disease was healed. In 1942, the bishops of Haiti formally proclaimed Our Lady of Perpetual Help patron of the nation.
Feast day: June 27.
Our Lady of the Miracles of Caacupé
In the 16th century, a Christian Guarani Indian was hiding in the forest from an enemy tribe. He promised Our Lady he would carve a statue of her if she saved his life; the man’s enemies passed by without seeing him, and he fulfilled his vow. The sculpture of Mary was enshrined in Caacupé. So many prayers were answered through Mary’s intercession the image became known as “Our Lady of the Miracles of Caacupé.” Since the statue is usually dressed in a blue cloak, she is also known as “the Blue Virgin of Paraguay.”
Feast day: Dec. 8.
Our Lady of Mercy
Mercedarian friars had accompanied the Spanish army into Peru. By 1535 the friars had built a chapel, which was Lima’s first parish church. Eventually, they placed within the church a statue of Our Lady of Mercy, the patroness of their order. The current statue in the Basilica of Our Lady of Mercy dates from the 17th century, when Mary, under this title, was proclaimed patroness of Lima. As devotion to Our Lady of Mercy intensified across Peru, she was given the title Patroness of the Peruvian Lands. During Peru’s war for independence from Spain, the army implored her help. In 1823, after Peru’s victory, Our Lady of Mercy was named Patroness of the Armies of the Republic. The Peruvian military continues to be devoted to the Madonna of Mercy: The president of Peru conferred upon her the Great Peruvian Cross of Naval Merit, and she was given the rank Grand Marshal of Peru.
Feast day: Sept. 24.
Our Lady of Coromoto
With arrival of the Spanish in the late 16th century, the Coromoto tribe fled into the forests of Venezuela. In 1651, the Virgin Mary, carrying the Infant Jesus, appeared to the Coromoto chief and his wife and instructed them to lead all their people to a Spanish settlement and become Christians. She handed the chief an image of herself on a small holy card, then vanished. The Coromotos obeyed Our Lady’s instructions. Today, the holy card is displayed in a monstrance in the shrine church of Coromoto. In 1944, Pope Pius XII declared Our Lady of Coromoto patroness of Venezuela.
Feast days: Feb. 2, Sept. 8 and Sept. 11.
Thomas J. Craughwell is the author of “Saints Behaving Badly” (Doubleday, $15.95) and OSV’s Catholic Cardlinks series.
More Patron Virgins of the Americas (sidebar)
Canada: Our Lady of the Cape
Colombia: Our Lady of the Rosary of Chiquinquira
Costa Rica: Our Lady of the Angels
Cuba: Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre
Dominican Republic: Our Lady of La Altagracia
Ecuador: Our Lady of Quinche
El Salvador: Our Lady of Peace
Honduras: Our Lady of Suyapa
Mexico: Our Lady of Guadalupe
Nicaragua: Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception of El Viejo
Panama: Our Lady of La Antigua
Puerto Rico: Our Lady of Divine Providence
United States: The Immaculate Conception
Uruguay: Our Lady of the 33