Our Lady of la Altagracia (our Lady of Grace) A pilgrimage of faith
It is said that over 30% of Dominican women carry the name Altagracia, either as first or as a middle name, and it is no surprise. Considering the devotion given to the “Protective Mother of the Dominican Republic” many may confuse her as the patron of the country, a designation that belongs to Our Lady of Mercy (Our Lady of Las Mercedes).
Visiting the Basilica of Our Lady of Grace every January 21 is a tradi- tion for Catholics, who attribute miracles and favors to her image. This was the first sanctuary of the New World and it is located in the province of Higüey. In here, both visitors and believers can contemplate the painting por- traying the virgin’s image that, according to the story, appeared at the place.
The legend about how the virgin “arrived” to the New World, tells the story of a settler’s daughter that asked her father to get her a picture of the virgin of La Altagracia because she had seen it in her dreams. The man was surprised because he had never heard of such advo- cacy; after a fruitless search, returning from his trip around the island and discouraged for not finding the image, he stayed at a friend’s house. In here, another visitor who heard of his quest mentioned he had this image and offered it. The image showed Virgin Mary in ado- ration of baby Jesus, lying in a crib upon her feet, and St. Joseph in the background.
The next morning the girl’s father went to the visitor to get the image, and the strangest thing is, after this, the visitor never appeared again. When he arrived with the precious gift, his daughter kept it safe, however, the image went missing and they found it at the top of an orange tree nearby the house. People considered this event as an expressed desired of the Virgin to be placed at the parish chapel that was there at the time, and so it was done. A short time after this, as the amount of visiting pilgrims increased, a larger temple was built in 1572, and later the current basilica, inaugurated in 1971 and consecrated a year later.
Another legend tells the image was brought from Spain and that the virgin appeared to a girl over a rock in the province of Extremadura. The date is due to the Spanish triumph at the battle of Sabana Real, on January 21 1690, when the Spanish army defeated the French, as the latter wanted to undertake La Hispaniola as a whole. It is said the Spanish asked the Virgin of La Altagracia to help them win the battle; they succeeded on January 21 and held a grand religious celebration honoring and in devotion to La Altagracia.