Sunday, September 6, 2015

Venezuela's Mini Miracle - The Coromoto Virgin

Venezuela celebrates a miracle in the first week of September with pilgrimages and processions in honour of Our Lady of Coromoto (Nuestra SeƱora de Coromoto), the Patroness of Venezuela. The main focus for the faithful is a tiny yet miraculous piece of papyrus - just 2.5 cm high by 2 cm wide - that is as revered in Venezuela as the Guadalupe Virgin is in Mexico. According to believers, this is a true image of the Virgin Mary that was given to an indigenous chief in the 17th century to convince him to convert.
Colonial Conquest and Conversion
According to local lore - handed down for generations - on 8 September 1652 the Virgin Mary, holding a young child in her arms, appeared before the Cacique, or chief, of the Cospes Indians near Guanare. the capital of present day Portuguesa State.
The Cospes had fiercely resisted the Spanish conquest and conversion to Catholicism for over 100 years. The radiant young lady told Coromoto to go to the church and accept conversion. The chief, awed by this apparition, took his tribe to be converted but stubbornly refused to be baptized himself.
Second Apparition of the Virgin
That night, as he rested in his hammock, Coromoto was again visited by the Virgin. At first he grabbed his bow and arrows, but when the Virgin held out her arm as if to embrace him, he dropped them, leaning forward to push her out of the door of the hut. As he tried to grab at the sleeve of the radiant image his hand began to burn, as if on fire, and the Virgin suddenly vanished. Left in his clenched fist was a small image of the Virgin and child on cotton paper. The unlucky chief, startled by the strange events ran hurtling through the dark forest until he fell headlong into bushes where he was bitten by a venomous snake.
Knowing his days were numbered he made his way to a path, where a passing Spaniard agreed to baptise him before he expired. Coromoto's final wish was that his people should build a shrine and forever venerate the Virgin Mary and the miraculous image she had left behind.

Modern Sanctuary
Today, the tiny, sacred image of the Virgin Mary is preserved in a gold reliquary in a purpose-built church, the Basilica Sanctuary of the Virgin of Coromoto. An uncompromising combination of concrete and stained glass, the sanctuary has a spacious central aisle that can hold some 2,500 worshippers. Designed by Venezuelan architect Erasmo Calvani, this space-age sanctuary was inaugurated by Pope John Paul II who on 10 February 1996 held a Mass here to bless the Virgin. Every year, thousands of believers make the pilgrimage to Portuguesa State on the days leading up to and after 8 September to pay their respect to the Patroness of Venezuela.

Getting There
The sanctuary is located 12 km from the city of Guanare, capital of Portuguesa State. Buses and taxis from Guanare regularly make the 20-minute journey.

Where to Stay
The best accomodation option in Guanare is the comfortable Nuevo Hotel Coromoto, which has a good restaurant, coffee bar and swimming pool. For more information visit the hotel's website or Twitter account.

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