Every year, people walk from all over the country for the famous pilgrimage to Cartago. In honor of Costa Rica’s patron saint, the Virgin de Los Angeles. The most popular route is to walk the 13 mile trek from San Jose to Cartago.
In 1635, a poor girl of mixed race, Juana Pereira. She found a small statue of the Virgin of Los Angeles in a forest on the grounds. Where the Basilica was eventually built. She brought the statute home and returned to the spot where she found the first statue the next day, and was surprised to find another statue. The third day, the same thing happened. She told her local priest, and he put the statues in a safe place in the church, the tabernacle, but by the next day, they had disappeared!
They were later found in the same place in the forest where they had first appeared. The people of the town believed that The Virgin of Los Angeles had chosen to appear in the forest and that was where she wanted to remain, so they built a chapel for her in that exact spot in her honor. The chapel has been re-built several times over the years. The Basilica that stands there now was reconstructed in 1912 after an earthquake had damaged the previous one. Within the Basilica, you can see Juana Periera’s famous statue. Next to the Basilica is a natural spring where she found the statue in the forest, and it is thought to run with holy water.
The Virgin of Los Angeles was an apparition of the Virgin Mary, the faith of which was brought to Costa Rica by the Spanish in the 1600s. Thereafter, she became very popular in Costa Rica after appearing in statues to a poor girl, and eventually was made the official patroness of Costa Rica by Pope John Paul II. Many miracles have been attributed to the Virgin. It is said that if one participates in the Aug. 2 pilgrimage to Cartago and asks the Virgin for something, it will come true. Among the main petitions are prayers for the health of loved ones.
For over 200 years, it has been a Costa Rican tradition to walk en masse to the Basilica de Nuesta Senora Los Angeles of Cartago, to either give thanks to the saint or to petition her for advice. People of all ages come from all over the country for this annual blessing. Although the official day for the pilgrimage to Cartago is Aug. 2, many people start walking as early as July 25 to allow time to make the journey, setting up tents and camps along the way. It’s not an easy walk, and due to the mountainous terrain and long distance. There are Red Cross stations along the way. As well as supporters on every corner rallying the pilgrims to continue. Welcoming the pilgrims at the Basilica are performers playing lively religious music and food stands selling local delicacies. It’s a joyous, inspiring and uniting community experience!
In almost every home in Costa Rica, you will most likely find at least one replica of the Virgin of Los Angeles, sometimes lovingly called “the Negrita.” And although practicing Catholics may be diminishing in the country, the older generation still keeps the tradition of the Romeria strong. Indeed it is considered one of the most important traditions within the Costa Rican Culture.