The Catholic Church is home to some of humankind’s utmost achievements in architecture. Constantly evolving over the past two millennia, the Church has produced many of the world’s greats: The Sistine Chapel, Saint Peter’s Basilica, and the Notre-Dame Cathedral to name just a handful of the many. From Romanesque Abbeys, to Gothic Cathedrals or Renaissance Basilicas, there has been a multitude of architectural styles throughout the ages. One of the most renowned for its structural and architectural design is the Las Lajas Sanctuary, a Colombian church known for its miraculous origins.
The Las Lajas Sanctuary is a basilica church built in the canyon of the Guáitara River, in the Colombian department of Nariño. The name literally means “the slabs” in Spanish because of the type of sedimentary rock it is built into. It originally replaced a small shrine that was built in the mid-eighteenth century. The current church was built beginning from January 1st, 1916 to August 20, 1949, funded entirely by donations from the local churchgoers. It stands 350 feet tall from the bottom of the river canyon, and is connected to the opposite side of the canyon via bridge standing 150 feet tall. The Las Lajas Sanctuary is renowned for being one of the most delicately engineered and stunning Catholic churches.
The construction of the church was commissioned after a miraculous event that occurred in 1754. A Native American woman by the name of Maria Mueces and her young daughter Rosa were traveling down the Guáitara River when they found themselves trapped in the midst of a fierce storm. They found refuge from the storm hiding in a cave between the lajas or slabs of sedimentary rock. Despite Rosa being deaf and mute, she suddenly called out “Mother, the Virgin is calling me!,” pointing to an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Eventually the storm passed, and her mother decided to remain silent about what she and her daughter had seen.
Sometime after the first miracle appearance of the Virgin Mary, Rosa became gravely ill and passed quickly. Maria returned with her child to the slabs where they waited out the storm and prayed for her daughter’s soul, intending to bury her nearby. Rosa was miraculously brought back to life and this time Maria could not stay quiet.
It is said that when Maria brought a priest to the site where her daughter was revived, a miraculous image was found carved into the stone wall upon their return. The image showed Our Lady, with Saint Dominic and Saint Francis to her sides. The image still exists today, behind the shrine’s altar.
Geologists from Germany bored core samples from several spots in the image. They found no paint, no dye, nor any other pigment on the surface of the rock. The colors are the colors of the rock itself. Even more incredible, the rock is perfectly colored to a depth of several feet!
Fifty years later, the shrine was expanded and a bridge built to allow worshipers to cross the canyon and pray. In 1952, the Las Lajas Sanctuary received a formal canonical coronation by Pope Pius XII, and was later made a minor basilica in 1994 under Pope Saint John Paul II. Today the church is a popular pilgrimage site for Catholics with hundreds of thousands of visitors coming each year to witness its beauty.