PARAGUAY/Caacupe, has long been considered Paraguay’s, “Religious Capital”. It is the seat of the Catholic Diocese of Caacupe and the center of town is dominated by a massive Cathedral called the Nuestra Senora de los Milagros. There’s an abundance of religious monuments and statues in Caacupe, but most important of all, it’s the home of the Virgin of Miracles.
According to history, in the sixteenth century, an Indian Christian, who was a sculptor, was out in the bush searching for mud. He was alone and came upon a group of men who were enemies from another village. The sculptor feared for his life and hid behind a large, thick trunk. Trembling and shaking, the converted Indian prayed to the Virgin Mary to keep him safe.
He promised the Virgin Mary that if she kept him safe from harm, he’d carve a statue of her out of the trunk that was keeping him safely hid. Escaping without harm, the sculptor kept his word and returned to get the needed wood from the trunk. He carved a beautiful statue of the Virgin that was taken to the church of Tobati, and he carved a smaller one that he kept for himself.
Over the years, there have been many miracles that have been attributed to this amazing statue. In 1603, the Tapaicua Lake flooded the entire valley and swept everything in it’s path away, including the statue. But, as the water receded, the statue miraculously appeared. From then on, the statue was called the Virgin of Miracles.
After the statue survived the flood, a carpenter constructed a hermitage in which to house the statue. And, almost immediately, pilgrims started making their way to the statue. Today, the statue is kept in the Cathedral in the town center, although it is widely debated whether the one on display is actually the original.
Every year, on December 8, believers gather in Caacupe to participate in the religious festival to honor of The Virgin of Caacupe. Hundreds of thousands of people make the pilgrimage each year and most come on foot, as is the tradition, from as much as 100 miles away. The festival held during this national holiday, spans several days.
The statue has a delicate oval shaped face and blue eyes. Her hands are joined in prayer, she wears an elegant snow white tunic and has a sky blue cloak around her shoulder, both of which are adrorned with gold embroidery. The statue stands on a sphere that rests upon a large half moon.
During the festival, a copy of the statue is used to prevent any damage to the original. For quite some time, to be able to adorn the statue with rich garments, the copy was enlarged disproportionately. The Church authorities finally decided that the copy should be given the same size as the original statue.
Devout believers, people in need and those who are sick or injured make the pilgrimage to Caacupe to lay petitions and prayers before the statue. The cobble stoned plaza in front of the basilica is large enough to accomodate around 300,000 people and each year it is over filled. During the night, many people sleep on the sidewalks, patches of grass, bushes, and anywhere else they can find a spot.
During the festival masses are held around the clock. There is a giant market all through the town with hundreds of souvenir vendors and people selling food. The town hosts a large fireworks display and thousands of people join in a candlelight procession. It’s a festival of celebration, giving thanks for answered prayers, praying for prayers to be answered and most of all, showing their devotion and love to Mary.