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Las Lajas Sanctuary

Posted: Friday, August 31, 2012
Las Lajas Sanctuary
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  • Las Lajas Sanctuary
  • Las Lajas Sanctuary
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Less than 5 miles from Ipiales, alongside Colombia's Guaitara River, sits the resplendent Las Lajas Sanctuary and its Gothic Revival-style minor basilica church. Fervor, legend, and mystical belief have it that, following a series miraculous events involving a mother and her deaf-mute daughter, a dramatic image of the Virgin Mary spontaneously appeared on a gargantuan rock above the river. During the years since the image's mid-18th century apparition, many shrines have been built in its honor, and many thousands of pilgrims from all over Colombia and Ecuador have journeyed to Las Lajas to pay their respects.

The existing church, designed such that the Virgin Mary's image and her flat sedimentary canvas are its high altar, took over three decades to erect. Funding funneled in over the years from local churchgoers' donations, with a final completion date of August 20, 1949. The homage and prayer retreat rises nearly 330 feet from the bottom of its canyon foundation, and connects to the opposite side of the canyon via a bridge clocking in at 165 feet high. Its decidedly un-South American appearance renders the basilica all the more striking amidst the sweeping water and rock formations, and religious imagery. Truly, Las Lajas looks more like a castle than a house of worship.

But house of worship--and house of divine intervention--it is. Not surprisingly, due to its storied history, many of Las Lajas' visitors leave with accounts of transformative spiritual experiences and miracles. A 10 to 15-minute walk through the grounds reveals a collection of plaques along a cliff wall that the years' pilgrams have left as thanks for revelations and wonders they accredit to the presiding Virgin Mary's influence.

Visiting Las Lajas Sanctuary

Ipiales is a border town, and one many people use to access neighboring Ecuador. Should you be passing from or to the latter, a day trip to Las Lajas is a fairly straightforward taxi jaunt from the Ipiales bus station. One-way fares run around 4000 pesos, or $2.20. Taxi drivers may choose to wait and drive you on the return trip, but if they don't, there will be plenty of other cabs idling at the sanctuary's entry point.

While visiting, expect to co-mingle with an array of vendors peddling candles, pictures of the Virgin, and buckets to fill with holy water. Entry fees run approximately $0.55, a traditional Catholic masses are held (visitors welcome to attend) Monday through Friday at 6:00, 7:00, 9:00, and 11:00 a.m., and 3:00 and 5:00 p.m. On Sunday, masses are held every hour from 6:00 a.m. to noon, and again from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m.

Seekers of overnight accommodations will find several fairly basic hotels and a few restaurants at Las Lajas. Rooms at the convent are also available, and described as ascetic, but cheerful.

If a meal in the area makes the trip's itinerary, the local delicacy of guinea pig and boiled potatoes comes highly recommended.

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