Following the initial wave of religious enthusiasm that inflamed the conquistadors and early settlers in the southern part of the Western Hemisphere, many communities suffered relapses, particularly those which were isolated and thus felt more disheartened by the burden of their strenuous daily struggle. In Sumampa, near the city of Cordova, in the interior of Argentina, a farmer was particularly aware that the religious spirit of the city was slowly dying out and decided to build a small chapel on his land in the village. Then in 1630, this Portuguese settler asked a friend to go to Brazil and to bring back with him a statue of the Blessed Virgin. The friend was not sure what the farmer wanted the statue of the Blessed Virgin to look like, so he sent two statues – one statue of Our Lady was holding the Child Jesus and the other statue was the Immaculate Conception, both very simple statues, about twenty inches high, made of terra cotta, and his trip from Brazil to Buenos Aires was uneventful.
The statues had been shipped by sea at first but in the capital, before starting on the return trip inland, the friend made very elaborate preparations. In those days, no traveller was safe from attacks by the Indians. So he organized a whole caravan of covered wagons to protect himself. Argentina is still a land of vast dimensions, endless plains, romantic mountains, and blessedly fertile soil. Three hundred years ago, when great distances always meant endless long trips, every stopover on a journey was an event to remember. After leaving Buenos Aires the caravan travelled for one day. When it became dark, they camped at the ranch of Don Rosendo de Oramus.
Early the next morning, the carts began to set off one by one, all except the cart that carried the statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary; the driver was unable to get the horses to move the cart! Other men came to help, but all in vain – neither the animals nor the cart would move! Only when the statue of the Immaculate Conception was removed from the cart, did the horse start pulling. The statue of Our Lady with the Child Jesus continued its journey and arrived safely in Sumampa, where it is still venerated today. The statue that remained behind became the most famous in Latin America: Our Lady of Lujan
Now the story takes another turn. An eight year old African slave boy from Angola, named Manuel, who was travelling with the caravan, stood in awe when the animals would not move. When the statue of the Immaculate Conception was removed, he begged to remain at Don Rosendo’s Ranch, as a servant to Our Lady. Don Rosendo made arrangements with Manuel’s owner, and kept him at the ranch. Here the statue was enshrined and here Manuel worked as a sacristan for many years, amazing everyone by his charity and piety. As he grew, he devoted his time to the care of the sick, the poor and those in need.
When Don Rosendo died in 1670, a pious lady, named Dona Ana de Mattos, obtained permission to move the shrine from Don Rosendo’s Ranch to a chapel on her own property, some fifteen miles away. The ranch was too much out of the way and it was in constant danger of Indian attack! Even so, Manuel was left behind to care for the property.
When the statue of the Immaculate Conception arrived at the home of Dona Ana, it was taken to the chapel and enshrined there. Following prayers of welcome to Our Lady, the shrine was locked up tight for the night. But the next morning, it was discovered that the statue of Our Lady had disappeared! When some men went in search of the statue of Our Lady, they found it at Don Rosendo’s Ranch, in the chapel on the pedestal, where it had always stood.
Once more the statue of Our Lady was carried to Dona Ana’s chapel. But this time, in addition to locking the doors of the chapel, a guard was placed to keep watch. And again, the statue of Our Lady disappeared and was found in the chapel at Don Rosendo’s Ranch!
At first, Manuel was blamed for taking the statue of Our Lady back to the ranch, but later it was proved that there was no way he could have got into Dona Ana’s locked chapel and taken the statue of Our Lady! Dona Ana then asked the Bishop and the Governor of the Province what she should do. They decided to carry the statue of Our Lady in solemn procession form Don Rosendo’s Ranch to Dona Ana’s chapel. This time Manuel went with the statue in procession to Dona Ana’s and from then on Manuel remained as the caretaker for his beloved statue of Our Lady. Now that Our Lady had her favourite sacristan with her, she remained in her new location.
The new shrine became so popular that it soon had to be enlarged. The foundation stone for the new church was laid in 1677, by Fra Gabriel, a Carmelite Friar. It was during this year that the first recorded miracle took place. Other miracles had taken place before this date, but they had not been carefully written down.
Our Lady told Manuel when he was going to die and promised him that he would go to Heaven. Manuel died a holy death on the date Our Lady had promised and he was buried in a tomb at the foot of the altar, where the miraculous statue of Our Lady was enshrined.
In 1710, another recorded miracle took place. Fr. Bernabe had a tumour in his throat. He rubbed some oil from the lamp at Our Lady’s shrine on his throat, and was cured.
The pilgrims increased in number, and a church which was started in 1730, was soon abandoned in favour of another church built in 1763. This was the year Our Lady of Lujan was declared patroness of Buenos Aires. For the next hundred years, several different orders of priests laboured at the shrine, the Carmelites, the Dominicans, the Jesuits, the Franciscans and the shrine gradually became famous throughout the world.
Another great miracle occurred on 28th August, 1780. On that date, news arrived at the shrine that a large group of Indians were killing all the people in their path, as they advanced ever closer to Lujan! People panicked when they heard the news and they fled to the shrine, begging Our Lady to protect them. Suddenly, while they were praying, a mysterious thick fog gathered quickly throughout the town, completely hiding it from the enemy. The warring Indians lost their way and travelled elsewhere. And the faithful pilgrims, who prayed to Our Lady of Lujan, believed that she had saved them.
Another time when parts of Argentina were afflicted with cholera, the Archbishop vowed to make a pilgrimage to Lujan if his Archdiocese was spared. Then while other cities suffered, Buenos Aires, both city and province, and Lujan, were spared from the terrible cholera sickness. Our Lady had heard their prayers again!
Because the shrine was so popular, in 1886, Pope Leo XIII decided to honour the miraculous statue of Our Lady of Lujan with a papal coronation. He blessed a crown which was made of gold, and set with almost 500 pearls, diamonds, rubies, emeralds and sapphires. This crown was used for the papal coronation of Our Lady of Lujan, which took place on 8th May, 1887. Many other popes honoured the shrine of Our Lady of Lujan as well.
By 1904, the Lazarist Fathers, who were running the shrine at the time, started the building of the grand basilica which still stands today. The miraculous image of Our Lady was transferred to this basilica where it was placed in a shrine behind the main altar. Our Lady stands atop a crescent moon and her hands are joined on her breast. She wears a halo of twelve stars around her head and her robe and mantle are embroidered with golden thread and jewels. The shrine is covered with votive offerings in the form of silver hearts, as well as miniature arms, legs, and body parts, all proofs of the miracles of healing granted by Our Lady. The Basilica was completed in 1910.
By the end of the eighteenth century Lujan became the most important national pilgrimage site in Argentina. During the fight for independence, she became the symbol of victory and the captured flags were placed in the sanctuary. General San Martin, who passed through the Andes with his army following his successful campaign, laid his sword down forever in the cathedral in honour of Our Lady of Lujan. In 1930, on the occasion of the three hundredth anniversary of the foundation of the sanctuary, the church housing the image was elevated to the rank of a Basilica. At the same time, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay recognized Our Lady of Lujan as their protectress.
Recently the Argentine Army chose the Virgin of Lujan as its patroness. And according to an old custom a regiment of the army was dedicated to her services. This regiment becomes her “property” and the members of the regiment call her “La generala de Lujan.”
Our Lady of Lujan, Pray for Us!