They call her La Negrita, or the Black Madonna, and she’s the Patron Saint of Costa Rica. In many ways, you might call her a “real doll.”
In 1635, a young Tico, or native, girl looking for firewood in the forest saw a peculiar black rock in the shape of a doll that was sitting on top of a large boulder. A mysterious image of a woman and child was engraved on it. The image appeared to be that of the Blessed Virgin Mary holding Baby Jesus. Thinking that it was a wonderful toy, the girl took the rock home with her and placed it among her belongings. The next day, and she was gathering firewood, she discovered the “doll” sitting on the rock where she had originally found it.
This strange occurrence happened three times in the young girl consulted her parish priest, Father Baltazar de Grado, about the oddity. Fr. de Grado took the stone to the church but the same thing happened to him: the statue miraculously returned to its original place. Understanding the significance of this, the priest petitioned Church officials and they authorized the building of a church over the boulder where the statue was found. Later, a basilica was built there named the Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels and the statue was moved to the Basilica.
From the beginning, La Negrita was believed to have great healing powers and there are countless testimonies of miracles performed through her intercession. Visitors from throughout Costa Rica and beyond come daily to see and pray before La Negrita,venerating the relic and petitioning her for miracles. Each year – on August 2, the feast day of Our Lady of the Angels – a celebration is held and more than a million faithful pilgrimage to the Basilica, many walking for miles and miles to get there. the feast day has become a national holiday that all Costa Ricans celebrate.
I traveled to Costa Rica recently to attend an international meeting of marriage educators for the Apostolic Movement of Schoenstatt. While there, I had the gift of visiting the Basilica of Our Lady of the Angeles and to see La Negrita firsthand.
The Basilica is indeed marvelous – colorful, inviting, and filled with beautiful artwork throughout. La Negrita rests above the main altar in a case that’s surrounded by ornate and brilliant gold metalwork. She’s small and in order to see her well, I had to kneel at the Communion rail and look through my camera lens with the zoom on. But even if I couldn’t have seen her, I knew she was there. I could feel her there. By their postures and expressions, the other visitors that day could feel her, too.
To the left of the Sanctuary there’s a Eucharistic Adoration Chapel with a gorgeous Monstrance that boldly speaks of love and power. As I knelt before our Lord, I thought about how perfect the arrangement. Our Blessed Mother rests so near to her Son, and as she always does, she points to Jesus and beckons her children to seek only Him.
After a time, I wandered down to the basement of the Basilica. Frankly, I did it because I saw other people going there and I was curious. I’m glad I went. Downstairs, there’s a corridor with cases upon cases of artifacts and silver charms (yes, charms as in charm bracelets) that are in the shape of human body parts – hearts, heads, arms, legs, feet and so on. Before you let yourself get creeped-out (I was at first glance), read on. The charms represent the miracles that were received at La Negrita’s
intercession and signify the area of the body in which the miracle transpired. There’s a gift shop across the street from the Basilica that sells these charms. When a miracle is granted, the person or family purchases the appropriate charm and deposits it at the Basilica as a symbol of their love and gratitude. It’s remarkable.
I’ve been to many, many Marian shrines in my work and personal life, and I’ve loved every single one of them. I have to say, however, that La Negrita in the Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels in Cartago, Costa Rica, is the most unusual one I’ve been to so far. I never cease to marvel at the ways in which Mary reaches out to her children and makes her desires known.
It deeply touches my heart that, in Cartago, she made herself into a child’s toy, so to speak, to carry out her mission. What an astounding act of humility!in our Catholic circles, we speak frequently about the virtue of humility and use the analogy of becoming “small” in its practice. Our Blessed Mother –La Negrita – literally made herself small so that she could show us the way to her Son. It’s an ultimate act of humility.