When I turn from blogging to video production and do my own version of the Lord of the Rings, I will, of course, need to find a suitable Rivendell, fair and holy as the new Jerusalem, and filled with long green vistas and the splash of the Bruin.
This Christmas, I learned my location, in South America, — the sanctuary of Las Lajas, near Ipiales, in Columbia.
A minor basilica of stunning beauty marks the site of a sweet apparition of our Lady to a poor woman who was traveling from her own small town of Potosi to Ipiales and back again, through the mountains and through the spectacular gorge of the Guaitara River. On her back she carried her little deaf-mute daughter and in her heart she carried the old fear of the haunted cave she must pass. Nevertheless, after her climb, she must stop to rest by the famous rock slabs (Las Lajas) not far from the cave, and her little girl jumped down to play.
A bit later, the child came running out of the cave crying, “Mama, there is a beautiful lady in here, with a boy in her arms.”
Maria Mueses de Quinones grabbed her child and hurried home. She told the story to her friends, unbelievable as it was, but on the other hand, little Rosa was talking for the first time in her life, so people wondered what to make of that… And when Rosa disappeared a few days later, Maria hurried to the cave and indeed found her playing with a little boy whose lovely, smiling mother stood nearby.
Eventually (storied differ in their details) the townspeople came to see the cave themselves, and though the miraculous mother and her little boy were not to be seen in the flesh, their image was there on the wall, along with Sts. Francis and Dominic. It is a deeply beautiful image, even with the clumsy addition of two crowns made with more love than skill by a grateful pilgrim of later years: one for the lady, and one for her child.
There is more.
The townspeople built a small chapel, and then, in the early 20th century, set about replacing it with a breathtakingly lovely neo-gothic church, complete with stained glass windows depicting various other apparitions. It stands on an arched causeway that crosses the gorge, and was designated a minor basilica by Pope Pius XII, probably one of the most light-hearted acts of his difficult papacy.
And the image remains.
But how was it made? With what paint and by whose angelic skill in that old out-of-the way cave — in 1754?
No paint; no painter.
Look at the image again. Except for the sweetly incongruous crowns, the colors are the normal colors of red and golden sandstone and various brown and blue-gray shales; indeed, that may be exactly what they are, yet the image is no surface drawing or mosaic, but is as deep-set into the rock as if it had been formed by the action of the same geological forces that occasionally leave dramatic swirls and pseudo landscapes printed in the sedimentary rocks all over the world. Yet this image is no vague outline filled in with happy imagination; it is as detailed and specific as the unpainted image of our Lady of Guadalupe.
It is truly a word of love there in the rock. The earth is not our mother, but our mother can print her love in the earth for she really is its queen.