January 21

marian calendar

Virgen de Altagracia, Higuey, La Altagracia, Dominican Republic

In the early 1500s, Spanish gentlemen Alonso and Antonio de Trexo built haciendas near the new town of Salvaleón de Higüey, on the island of Hispaniola, some 100 miles from Santo Domingo. They brought with them a 13" x 18" painting on linen, called the Virgin of Highgrace after a beloved madonna of their homeland, but unlike the standing statue of Altagracia in Extremadura, the Dominican image depicts a Nativity scene with St. Mary gazing lovingly at the baby in the foreground and St. Joseph looking on from the background. The work has been ascribed to an unknown primitive Spanish painter of around 1500. The brothers donated this painting to the parish church, where its reputation for miracles attracted the attention of the Archbishop and Cathedral Chapter, who had it carried to Santo Domingo in a sealed trunk. But it disappeared en route,  reappearing at the same time in Higüey church, where it has stayed. Travelers passing through the port of Higüey would stop to ask Our Lady of Highgrace to protect them from pirates and soon spread the devotion to Puerto Rico. In time, people forgot the de Trexos' contribution. The Virgin of Highgrace was given a fairytale origin reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast: a merchant of Higüey asks his daughters what he may bring them from his the capital; the elder requests finery, but "Girl," the younger, influenced by a dream, asks for the Virgin of Altagracia, a puzzling title of which the father has never heard. On his way home, laden with gifts for the elder daughter only, he stops to stay with some friends, who give food and lodging to a stranger the same night. Over supper the merchant tells his friends about his trouble fulfilling Girl's request. He's even asked the archbishop to no avail. The stranger, dining apart, pulls a scroll from his pack, opens it to reveal the Virgin of Highgrace, and gives it to the astonished merchant. In the morning, before anyone can thank or repay him, the mysterious stranger is gone. The Virgin of Highgrace is the Protector of the Dominican People (though the national patron is Our Lady of Mercy). Originally celebrated on the Feast of the Assumption, August 15, Our Lady of Highgrace's festival was moved to January 21 after 1690, when the Spanish defeated the French at Sabana Real on that date. On January 21, 1952, the first stone of a new Basilica was laid. The image was canonically crowned on August 15, 1922, and again on January 25, 1979 by Pope John Paul II, who personally presented the Virgin of Highgrace with a gold-plated silver diadem.    

Image from the Basilica's site, basilicahiguey.com. Information from "Virgen de la Altagracia," Educación Ambiental en República Dominicana, www.jmarcano.com; and other sources. 

Also celebrated this date:

bulletNotre Dame de la Mission, Paris, France. Daughters of Charity Motherhouse reopened and statue returned to courtyard, 1801.
bulletSchmerzhafte Mutter Gottes der Herzogspital, Munich, Bavaria, Germany (Sorrowful Mother of God in St. Elizabeth's Hospital). Statue's eyes seen to move, 1690.
bulletMadonna Addolorata, Asola, Mantova, Lombardy, Italy (Sorrowful Madonna). Barchi district festa fulfills vow made during plague.
bulletMaria Santissima Avvocatella, Badia di Cava, Salerno, Campania, Italy (Most Holy Mary the Advocate). Statue crowned, 1981.
bulletNuestra Señora de Altagracia, Quibor, Lara, Venezuela

Where We Walked ~~~ Mary Ann Daly