The Santuario de Las Lajas, translated as Las Lajas Sanctuary in English, is long believed to be one of the most aesthetically pleasing churches globally. I was even hailed as the most beautiful church in an article published by The Telegraph in 2015.
The majestic sanctuary is a minor basilica located in the elevated municipality of Ipiales in Nariño, Colombia. It sits on a towering 130-feet bridge built over the scenic Guáitara River.
The church is popular for its Gothic Revival architecture design. Its strategic location inside the river’s canyon made it one of the most talked-about jewels of engineering. It is constructed to honor Our Lady of Las Lajas Ipiales.
While the sanctuary has been one of the most visited tourist attractions in Colombia, some people would still wonder why the locals decided to build a church in its current location. Some of the visitors have no idea about the church’s miraculous origin.
The History Of Las Lajas Sanctuary
Local stories claimed that an Amerindian woman named Maria Meneses de Quiñonez and her deaf-mute daughter Rosa had to take cover during a brutal storm when they were passing the Guáitara River in 1754. That incident led them to an apparition of the Virgin Mary in the spot where people can find the church today.
According to legends, the two women felt a strong force urging them to get inside a cave when looking for a place to stay during the storm. Once inside the cave, Rosa started to shout to her mother to point the Virgin Mary’s image in one of the cave walls. The apparition allegedly cured Rosa.
The news about the alleged apparition quickly spread across the municipality. The locals started talking about it and wanted to find out if the report was real.
Because of the news, an old blind man visited various Colombian villages to ask the people to help him build a church where the Virgin Mary reportedly appeared. After collecting an adequate amount of money, another miracle allegedly happened when the old man got his eyesight back. People reported more miraculous healing incidents in the area.
The first church was reportedly built several years after the apparition. It was initially built using wood and straw materials. In 1802, worshipers built a larger structure in the same area. The current church took 33 years to build.
The Mysterious Virgin Mary Image
Aside from the alleged apparition, some of the pilgrims choose to visit the sanctuary to see the mysterious image of the Virgin Mary and Jesus behind the altar at the church’s tip.
Several accounts claimed that the image first appeared when Maria intended to show a priest and other locals where she and her daughter saw the Virgin Mary. Upon arriving in the spot, the worshipers immediately saw the image carved in the stonewall.
Nobody knows who carved the image and how it ended in the cave until now. It is one of the reasons why thousands of pilgrims visit the sanctuary annually.