It’s not hard to believe in miracles once you see the Sanctuario de las Lajas, an incredible feat of faith and engineering in the municipality of Ipiales in southern Colombia.
Legend has it that in 1754, a woman named Maria Mueces and her deaf and mute daughter, Rosa, sought shelter from a thunderstorm in a cave in the valley of the Guáitara River, known for its ﬂat rock formations that resemble lajas, or ﬂoor tiles. A bolt of lightning caused Rosa, who had never spoken before, to say, “Mama, the mestiza is calling me.” The lightening had illuminated an image of the Virgin on the walls of the cave.
The site’s fame was assured when a chapel was built on the spot in the 1800s with funds solicited by a blind priest who walked throughout southern Colombia and northern Ecuador collecting donations.
Between 1916 and 1949, a breathtaking Gothic Revival church was built on the spot with funds donated by local church members. Seeming to grow directly out of the cliff face, the church spans the entire Guáitara gorge. Its fame as a pilgrimage site—and as architectural marvel—grew until, in 1951, the Roman Catholic Church authorized the Nuestra Señora de Las Lajas virgin and made the sanctuary a minor basilica.
The Basilica is now a popular destination for tourists and pilgrims from around the world. And the cliff face on the steep walk down to the church is covered with plaques dating back a hundred years offering thanks to Nuestra Señora de Las Lajas for miracles performed there. Other features of the site include a magniﬁcent waterfall that cascades into the river valley across from the church and a huge statue of Saint Michael atop a nearby ridge that looks down on the river gorge.
Ipiales is between Pasto in southern Colombia and Tulcan in northern Ecuador. In fact, Tulcan is the highest city in Ecuador at 9,678 feet and has a topiary cemetery that is a marvel all its own (“Topiary” is the horticultural practice of clipping plants and shrubs into shapes). Buses run to Ipiales from both Pasta and Tulcan, and the border crossing between Ecuador and Colombia is easy and fast.
Editor’s Note: This article was taken from a past issue of International Living’s monthly magazine. To get full access to all past and future articles and to receive the magazine in the mail or online each month, you can subscribe here.