The Basilica de Nuestra Senora de los Angeles is located in Cartago, a historic city of over 150,000 residents which was once the capital of Costa Rica and is still the provincial capital. The basilica is the most important site in Cartago and is Costa Rica’s most revered religious shrine. The original building can be traced all the way back to 1639 but was partially destroyed in an earthquake. Its restoration was completed in the late 1930s. This graceful building is a mix of colonial and 19th century Byzantine architecture.
The basilica is also home to Costa Rica’s patron saint known as the Virgin of Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles, a small figure of the virgin Mary also known affectionately as ”La Negrita” due to its dark complexion. Legend has it that the woman who initially discovered the statuette tried to take it with her on two different occasions, but each time the virgin miraculously appeared back where she found it. Consquently, the townspeople built a shrine around her and she became the country’s patron virgin in 1824. The statuette now resides on an ornate gold bejeweled platform in the basicila’s main altar.
In the days leading up to August 2nd (the anniversary of the virgin’s discovery), the basilica becomes the destination for over a million vistors who walk to the church from various points in the country. Locally, the pilgrimage is known as ”the Romeria” and is one of the most enduring of Costa Rican traditions. As a demonstration of their piety, many pilgrims crawl part of or even the complete journey on their hands and knees. At the basilica they, wash themselves and drink the water from the rock on which the statue was found. Scientists have since found this water to be safe to drink even though no filtration or chemicals are used to purify it. In addition, people leave small silver medals in the shape of body parts they hope will be cured by the virgin. Some others collect this water as they believe to be sacred. After a time, these medals are collected and stored and a selection are displayed in the basilica’s on site museum. Admission to the basilica and museum are free and they are open all day long, seven days a week.
While in Cartago, you can also enjoy the Mercado Central, the province’s largest traditional covered market. It is located just 1 km east of the basilica on Avenida Central. Shoppers will enjoy wandering the maze of aisles and will find fresh produce and food items of all kinds. The mercado’s hours are 6:00 a.m. To 5:30 p.m. Monday to Saturday and until noon on Sunday.
Cartago is located just 11 miles from Orosi and the trip takes about 35 minutes by car. The direct bus from Orosi leaves from the corner at which Hotel Reventazon is located. The trip takes 45 minutes and the cost is only $1.00 USD.