The Amazing Stories of Las Lajas Sanctuary, the “Most Beautiful Church in the World”

Santuario de Nuestra Señora del Rosario de las Lajas. Imagen en Flickr del usuario Jonathan Wood (CC BY-ND 2.0).

Las Lajas Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Rosary. Image on Flickr by user Jonathan Wood (CC BY-ND 2.0).

All across Latin America, stories of miracles and fantastic events travel through the region and many times stop at the churches. In Colombia, many of these stories surrround the Las Lajas (stone similar to shale) Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Rosary. Known as the “most beautiful church on earth,” the sanctuary is located about 800 kilometers south of Bogotá (a little less than 500 miles) and 10 kilometres (about six miles) from the border with Ecuador, in the Colombian city of Ipiales in Nariño department. Las Lajas Sanctuary received canonical coronation from the Vatican in 1951 and the sanctuary was declared a basilica in 1954.

There are many stories and origins it protectes, however, that date back from at least the 18th century. One of the best known tells the story of Maria Mueses de Quiñones, and the miracles the Virgin granted to her daughter:

[Las] protagonistas [de esta historia] son la india María Mueses de Quiñones, descendiente de antiguos caciques [jefes de tribu] y su pequeña hija Rosa, sordomuda de nacimiento. El lugar de los hechos se sitúa en los andes ecuatoriales a 2.600 metros de altitud, a media cuesta de una profunda quebrada sobre el río Guáitara, en el municipio de Ipiales, en el extremo sur de la actual Colombia, a diez kilómetros de la frontera con Ecuador. […] Al llegar a la cueva del Pastarán, [María] se detiene para descansar. La niña [su hija Rosa] entonces se desliza suavemente de la madre y empieza a trepar por las lajas. De pronto María escucha que su hija le habla: “Mamita, vea a esta mestiza que se ha despeñado con un mesticito en los brazos y dos mestizos a los lados”. Desconcertada, [María] no atina sino a coger a la niña y huir del lugar.

[The] main characters [in this story] are Maria Mueses, an indigenous woman from Quiñones, who was descended from old caciques [tribe leaders] and her small daughter Rosa, deaf and mute from birth. The place where the events took place is located in the Equatorial Andes, 2.600 meters above sea level (about 8,500 feet), in the middle of a deep gorge over Guaitara river, in the municipality of Ipiales, on the southern end of modern-day Colombia, ten kilometers from the border with Ecuador. […] Upon arrival to the Pastaran cave, [Maria] stops to rest. Then, the girl [her daughter Rosa] slips from her mother and starts to climb the shales. Soon Maria hears her daughter saying: ‘Mommy, look at this mestiza [mixed race] that has come down holding a baby with two other mestizos by her side.’ Bewildered, [Maria] is only able to grab the girl and run away from the place.

And the story goes on with an even more astonishing event, not only because Rosa is able to talk:

Rosa cayó gravemente enferma y murió. La desconsolada madre, concibió entonces la idea de llevar el cuerpecito sin vida de su entrañable hija a los pies de la Señora del Pastarán, para recordarle las flores y velas con que la niña solía obsequiarla y pedirle encarecidamente que le restituyera la vida. Ante los ruegos insistentes y las copiosas lágrimas, ante la fe que no se doblega, la Virgen no resistió y obtuvo de su Divino Hijo la gracia de la resurrección de la pequeña Rosa.

Rosa got seriously ill and died. The disconsolate mother then had the idea to take the little dead body of her beloved daughter to the Lady of Pastarán's feet, for her to remember the flowers and candles the girl used to take her and to strongly plead for the girl to come back to life. Listening to the endless prayers, being aware of the abundant tears and witnessing the unbreakable faith, the Virgin could not resist and got from her Divine Son the grace of resurrection for Rosa.

In December 2015, British newspaper The Telegraph ranked Las Lajas Sanctuary as the world's most beautiful church:

El santuario de las Lajas, considerado “el milagro de Dios sobre el abismo”, es visitado cada año por 750.000 feligreses, principalmente colombianos y ecuatorianos.
Para ‘The Telegraph’ resulta impactante su estilo gótico y que se haya levantado sobre un cañón, a una altura de 100 metros sobre el río Guáitara, en la frontera con el Ecuador.

Las Lajas Sanctuary, considered ‘God's miracle over the abyss,’ is visited annually by 750.000 parishioners, mostly Colombians and Ecuadorians.
For ‘The Telegraph’ its Gothic style is impressive, as well as the fact that it has been built over a canyon, over 100 meters (328 feet) above Guáitara river, on the border with Ecuador.

The name of the sanctuary is inspired by the material used to build it:

The name Laja comes from the name of a type of flat sedimentary rock similar to floor tiles found in the Andes Mountains.

More images can be found thanks to Twitter users:

Las Lajas Sanctuary, Colombia.

Detail of rose window at Las Lajas Basilica, Nariño (Colombia). Amazing.

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