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The Story of Costa Rica's Black Madonna

It's an early morning in 1635. The weather is light and sunny with an impeding sense of rain. This new land, they're calling it Costa Rica, has been under Spanish rule for just over 100 years. The grandmothers and grandfathers still remember the stories of their own grandmothers and grandfathers-- stories of peace and freedom. Simplicity.

With the Spanish has come new diseases, new structures called cities and something called "religion." The indigenous Costa Ricans aren't used to living in such close quarters or in houses designed to stay put and not move with the seasons. They're also not used to mandatory worship of a small pale statue inside a dark and musty building. The statue looks like he is suffering, his arms spread out and nailed down. His side slashed open. What is this strange ceremony that worships death and destruction while proclaiming everlasting life?

Death. Destruction. Life. To the indigenous Costa Ricans, this sounds a lot like the birthing process.

Costa Rica itself is in a time of upheaval, adaptation and the birthing of a new world.

And every birth needs a Mother.

***

Juana is 8, maybe 10 years old and her mother has sent her into the forest to gather firewood. Her family has recently moved to a big gathering place called a city. They call the city Cartago. Her parents have found it easier to trade for supplies and this thing called money if they are nearer to the Spanish colonizers who need labor and supplies and who seem just as befuddled by this new way of living as the indigenous are.

As Juana is gathering firewood she looks up and notices a small stone carving sitting on top of a rock by the stream. The carving looks just like a doll to Juana. A villager must have been sitting idly by the stream and carved this stone, she thought. She took it home and put it in a safe place so her little brother couldn't take it from her.

The next morning, Juana is back at the stream, gathering firewood, when she sees another stone doll like the first one. How lucky! Now she has two dolls. She takes the stone doll home and puts it in her safe place with the other doll . . . and discovers that the other doll is missing! She looks down at the new doll and realizes that it is the same doll. Okay. Her brother must be playing tricks on her. This time she takes the doll and locks it in a chest, and hangs the key around her neck.

On the third morning, Juana goes back to the stream to gather firewood but this time she's keeping her attention focused on the bushes around her. She wants to catch her brother before he can play another trick on her. But then she sees something that stops her dead in her tracks. She quickly reaches up and feels the cord that is carrying the key around her neck. The key is still there. So how . . .?

The stone doll is back on the rock.

This sounds like one of those "witchcraft" things the man in the black robe has warned them all about. She doesn't want to get in trouble so she grabs the doll and takes it to the black robed man.

The priest half listens to the girl's story about this small carved stone and locks it in his desk drawer before going about his business. But later, he remembers the doll and goes to his desk to examine it.

The doll is gone.

Curious, he goes to the stream just outside the city and sure enough, there is the doll, by the stream just as the little girl claimed. Something curious was happening indeed. The priest called for other members of the clergy to come see the doll and the stream. He asked Juana to come and tell her story. The churchmen concluded that the doll, an image of the Madonna, wanted to stay by the stream. That this stream was Holy and needed to be protected. Plans for a basilica were began.

***

This is the story of Costa Rica's Black Madonna, the Virgin of The Angels, affectionately called La Negrita. And her story, although remarkable, isn't a new one. Nor was it an unfamiliar story to the Spanish priest who took the "doll" from Juana.

To Be Continued . . .