Festival to honor Our Lady of Juquila

On Nov. 26, St. Mary Catholic Church in Gilroy will hold a

Thousands of people are expected to attend a special event at
Gilroy’s St. Mary Catholic Church on Nov. 26. This gathering will
be the third annual local celebration honoring

Nuestra Senora de Juquila

(Our Lady of Juquila).
Thousands of people are expected to attend a special event at Gilroy’s St. Mary Catholic Church on Nov. 26. This gathering will be the third annual local celebration honoring “Nuestra Senora de Juquila” (Our Lady of Juquila).

The focal point of the celebration is a faithful replica of a famous religious statue known as “La Morenita” (the Dear Dark One). Legend says that this 11.8-inch wooden statue was brought to Mexico by Juan Jordan de Santa Catarina, a Dominican priest who took it from the Philippines to the village of Amialtepec in the Mexican state of Oaxaca in the early 16th century.

When he moved away in 1558, the priest gave it to his domestic servant, a convert to Christianity, who kept it in his home on an altar.

Its fame grew as people reported miracles credited to her intercessions. In 1663, church authorities built a chapel to house the statue, but a few years later a fire destroyed the entire village, including the chapel. The Virgin was spared from destruction, though her face was “scorched, dark as the indigenous people living around her.”

The miraculous nature of this survival added to her fame, and a priest named Jacinto Escudero arranged to have it moved to his local church in the nearby town of Juquila. Over the next few years, the statue mysteriously moved back to the village and then had to be returned to the town on several occasions. In 1719, the local bishop intervened, and it has remained in Juquila ever since.

Thousands of pilgrims visit the statue each year, beginning the journey at the village of Amialtepec, 5.6 miles from Juquila. They stop and pray at a shrine on a small hill where they leave prayer requests before a large replica of the statue.

Then they continue on to Juquila, many crawling on their knees part of the way. It is traditional for pilgrims to make a promise to the Virgin of Juquila in front of her statue, pledging to do something in return for their prayers being answered, and there are many stories of such answered prayers.

Santa Catarina Juquila is particularly popular with natives of Oaxaca, the Mexican state located on the country’s southwestern coast. Fairly isolated from the rest of the country by mountain peaks reaching some 12,000 feet in elevation, Oaxaca is the fifth largest Mexican state with a population of 3.5 million people. It is well known for the ability of its indigenous people to continue observing their traditional customs.

Many Oaxacans have immigrated to the United States, and they are expected to come from all over California and neighboring states to attend the Gilroy celebration. During last year’s local celebration, more than 2,000 participated. Visitors are invited to attend any of the scheduled events:

– 8 a.m., Mananitas (mariachi music) at the church

– Noon, a procession featuring native costumes, traditional giant puppets and musicians will escort the statue from Eigleberry and 10th streets to the church

– 1 p.m., Mass in the church

– 2:30 p.m., statue moved into St. Mary School gym

– 3-5 p.m., potluck dinner with traditional music

– 5-11 p.m., Oaxacan music and dancing

South County residents are invited to come share in the Oaxacan community’s joy at this festive occasion. The replica of La Juquila, which was crafted in Mexico for use in this celebration, will be permanently installed in a shrine inside the chapel of St. Mary Church as a focus of devotion for all worshippers in the community.

For more information, call (408) 842-2847.

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