Monday, September 8, 2014

Margarita Pays Homage to the Virgen del Valle

The Basilica of the Virgen del Valle in the Valley of Espiritu Santo in Venezuela's Margarita Island is a pastel-pink chapel that houses an image of the Virgin Mary that dates back to the 1530s. (All photographs copyright Russell Maddicks).

In Margarita Island the biggest religious celebration of the year comes on 8 September when the Catholic faithful turn out en masse to pay homage to the Virgen del Valle, the patroness of Margarita, Coche, Cubagua, Los Roques, Chichirriviche and many other places in eastern Venezuela.

Nuestra Señora del Valle del Espíritu Santo, to give her full title, is also considered the protector of fishermen and sailors and the Venezuelan Navy includes an image of the virgin on all its vessels.
Pilgrims throng to the Virgen del Valle's pale pink and white Neo-Gothic shrine on 8 September, her annual feast day, which is a public holiday in Nueva Esparta State and is marked by fishing communities along the whole Caribbean coast. 
The origin of the small wooden statue of the virgin is shrouded in mystery. The story depicted in the stained glass windows of the Basilica follows the version by historian Father Nectario María, who wrote that the statue was brought from Spain to the New World in 1529 for a church in Nueva Cadiz on the island of Cubagua, one the first Spanish cities in South America.

Overfishing of the pearl beds led to the decline of Cubagua in the late 1530s. In 1541, when a hurricane destroyed Nueva Cadiz, the statue of the Virgin was taken to El Valle where the first shrine was built and the cult of the Virgen del Valle began. 
The twin-spired Basilica, which is always painted in soft pastel colours, was built in 1909 and is surrounded by Plaza Mariño, filled with vendors of religious souvenirs, and refreshment stalls. 
A museum called the Museo Diocesano de la Virgen del Valle on the south side of the Basilica is filled with objects donated by pilgrims who have asked the virgin for help, including graduation rings, sports trophies and miniature objects in silver and gold to represent favours granted by the Virgin to heal wounds, or secure jobs, cars or houses.

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