Our Lady of Altagracia (1571)
Our Lady of Altagracia, whose feast is celebrated on Jan. 21, has been called the Patroness of Hispaniola.
Tradition recounts that in the 16th century, a merchant’s daughter asked him to bring her a picture of the Blessed Mother that she described as she saw in a dream, as he always brought her a gift from his travels upon returning to Higüey where he lived. Her father could not find the image as described and shared his concern with people at an inn where he stayed on his way home. An elderly man overheard the story and gave the merchant an icon of Our Lady of Altagracia. The merchant took the icon home to his daughter and the icon disappeared. It was recovered in a neighboring orange tree grove. The icon was returned to the young girl and it disappeared again. This continued until a church was erected for the icon in the area of the orange grove.
It is believed that the icon was brought from Spain to the island around 1502. It was placed at St. Dionysus Church from 1571 until moved to the newly consecrated Basilica of Our Lady of Altagracia in the 1970’s. The Basilica is a pilgrimage site for hundreds of thousands of people annually. Many cures have been reported through the intercession of Our Lady of Altagracia.
The icon has the Holy Family in a Nativity scene:
- Jesus in the manger (naked and poor in his humanity; asleep, but he will rise)
• Mother Mary with a ray of light “white as snow” (adorned with stars and crowned; veiled as the virgin bride) with hands in prayer, clearly plays the central role
• Saint Joseph with a candle (in the background as he is only the adopted father of Jesus; haloed for his sanctity; offering light as a service)
• The star of the Magi (God; light; guide) and
• The dark, cave-like background (the world in sin).
Our Lady of Altagracia grew to become the patroness of the Dominican Republic and loved and venerated by Haitians as well. It should be noted that the Dominican Republic shares 2/3 and Haiti 1/3 of the island of Hispaniola. Countless pilgrims annually travel to the Basilica of Our Lady of Altagracia in Higüey.