Wednesday, May 07, 2008

May 8th: Dominican Republic: Our Lady of Altagracia

Feast Day: January 15th

The Dominican Republic, where the evangelization of the New World began, is under the protection of the Virgin under two titles: Our Lady of Mercy, the principal patroness who was so proclaimed in 1616 during the Spanish colonial rule, and the Virgin of Altagracia, Protector and Queen of the hearts of the Dominicans. "Tatica from Higuey," as the natives of Quisqueya fondly refer to her, has her story and legend. There are historic documents that prove that in 1502, in the island of Santo Domingo, the Most Blessed Virgin was honored under the title of our Lady of la Altagracia, whose portrait had been brought from Spain by Alfonso and Antonio Trejo, brothers who were among the first European settlers of the island. When the brothers moved to the city of Higuey, they took the image with them. Later they offered it to the parish church so that everyone could venerate it. The first shrine was completed in 1572 and in 1971 the present Basilica was consecrated.

Popular piety has it that the devout daughter of a rich merchant had asked him to bring her a portrait of Our Lady of Altagracia from Santo Domingo. The father tried to get it for her, but with no success. Neither clergymen nor tradesmen had ever heard that Marian title.

Back at Higuey, the merchant decided to stay overnight at a friend's house. After dinner, feeling sorry for his daughter's disappointment when he should arrive empty handed, he described to those present his unsuccessful search. As he spoke, an old man with a long beard, who was passing by, took out of his knapsack a rolled up painting and gave it to the merchant saying: "This is what you are looking for." It was the Virgin of Altagracia. At day break the old man had disappeared.

The portrait of Our Lady of Altagracia is 33 centimeters wide by 45 high. Expert opinion has it that it is a primitive work of the Spanish school, painted towards the end of the 15th or beginning of the 16th century. The painting, which depicts a Nativity scene, was restored successfully in Spain in 1978, and its original beauty and color can now be appreciated. The rigor of time, candles' smoke and rubbing by the hands of the devotees had so altered the surface of the portrait that it had become nearly unrecognizable.

The scene of Jesus' birth is painted on a fine cloth. The Virgin, lovely and serene, occupies the center of the picture; she is looking with tenderness at the child who lies nearly naked on the straw of the manger. A blue cloak sprinkled with stars envelops her and a white scapular closes her garments in front.

Maria of Altagracia wears the colors of the Dominican flag; anticipating in this manner the national identity. A radiant crown and twelve stars frame her head which now has a crown on it. The frame which holds the painting is probably the most refined example of Dominican gold work. This marvel made of gold, precious stones and enamel, is the work of an unknown 18th century artist. Possibly he used the jewels that the Virgin's devotees gratefully offered her.

The image of Our Lady of Altagracia had the privilege of being crowned twice: on August 15, 1922 - during the pontificate of Pius XI - and by Pope John Paul II, who on January 25, 1979, during his visit to Santo Domingo, personally crowned the image with a golden silver tiara, his personal gift to the Virgin, the first evangelizer of the Americas. (The Mary Page )
Alice of Cottage Blessings has done most of the work for me here, in two posts she wrote back in January. The first includes a novena to Our Lady of Altagracia, and the second makes suggestions for a tea in honour of Our Lady of Altagracia. This also includes a couple of simple activities.

Again, there is a picture book to enjoy with this title of Our Lady, A Gift of Gracias: The Legend of Altagracia, by Julia Alvarez and Beatriz Vidal.

The shrine of Our Lady of Altagracia was the first place of special devotion to Mary in the Americas. Pope John Paul II visited the shrine in 1992 to celebrate the fifth centenary of the evangelisation of the New World and delivered this homily.

Final Prayer from Novena to Our Lady of Altagracia

Holy Virgin of Altagracia!

From your hands and your maternal heart we receive each day the sustenance that you give to us from Our Father in heaven. You are our defense in danger, our indispensable help in our necessities and our hope in the sacrifices required of the Christian life. Through your Immaculate Heart we desire to pay tribute to God with a hymn of thanksgiving for all the benefits you have distributed.

We promise you, Oh Mother, gratitude and fidelity. You will always reign in our homes and in our town, where all venerate you as Our Lady and Mother, you who make all virtues increase and thrive. We are honored to be called your children.

We hope to finish our lives serving God and you until we reach the highest grace possible, the grace you will help us to attain, the great gift of heaven itself.

Amen (translated by Helen)


Meredith said...

These are so beautiful Kathryn, I need this one for my book :)))

Alice Gunther said...

Great post, Kathryn!

Thank you for the kind mention!

Martianne said...

Thank you for your inspiration. Your post and a few others helped us in celebrating Our Lady of Altagracia last week. I hope you don't mind, but we posted a link to this post at our own Our Lady of Altagracisa post at Thank you and have a blessed day.