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Bolivia’s Virgen del Socavón or
the Virgen de la Candelaria

Elaine Jordan
During the Carnival that precedes Lent each year in the city of Oruro in Bolivia, thousands of people march in procession through the streets, some in elaborate costumes and brass bands blare.

statue of Virgen del socavon bolivia oruro

The Virgen del Socavón - the largest monument to Our Lady in Latin America

They honor the Virgen del Socavón [Our Lady of the Mineshaft], also known as the Virgen de la Candelaria [Our Lady of Candlemas], the Patroness of this city of roughly 250,000 people.

In February 2013 the devotees of Our Lady were eagerly awaiting the unveiling of an imposing new statue of the Virgin del Socavón. The massive statue - 105 feet high and 23 feet higher than Rio de Janeiro’s famous Christ the Redeemer – can be viewed from nearly every point of the Bolivian mining city.

“There are no words to describe the immense joy and pride we feel to have Our Lady protecting the Oruro area and its people,” said a devotee to the Virgin, Candelaria Ramos, as the fireworks exploded in the air as a gesture of welcome. The project is a testimony of the deep devotion of the people to Our Lady, which could not be quenched even under the communist government of Evo Morales.

A long history

The place Our Lady holds in the hearts of the people has a long history that dates from the colonial missionary period of Bolivia.

Then, legend has it, when Oruro was a small town called Uru Uru, a terrible monster Devil called Wari tried to destroy the people of this small town because he was jealous since the people were turning toward Our Lord and the Virgin. The Devil sent four terrible plagues to this small town and its people, and each time the Virgin interceded on their behalf and slayed the Devil with the flaming candle that she carried. And so the Virgin had a special place in the heart of all the people in that city.

sanctuary virgen of Oruro Socavon

The miraculous image of the Virgen del Socavón

But Our Lady wanted to work another miracle for the people of Oruro. In 1756 a mural of the Virgin Mary in a red robe with a blue mantle and holding a flaming candle miraculously appeared on a mineshaft of an abandoned silver mine.

This mineshaft was used as a hideout by Chiru-Chiru, a notorious bandit. After the bandit was badly wounded by a person he was trying to rob, he retreated to the mine, mortally wounded. As he lay dying, the Virgin appeared to him and he repented of his sins. After his death, her image was discovered on the wall beside his body.

The Sanctuary of the Mineshaft (Sanctuario del Socavón) was constructed in 1781 to shelter the miraculous image, who was given the name Virgen del Socavón. The story of Chiru-Chiru’s conversion is depicted in one of the stained glass windows in the church. Over the doors of the Sanctuary is the following inscription: "You who fall into a life of crime can still be saved; come and prostrate yourselves at the feet of the Virgin and mourn your sins."

The feast day of Our Lady of the Mineshaft migrated from the fixed festival of Candlemas, February 2, to the movable feast of the four days of Carnival before Ash Wednesday.

city of oruro bolivia virgin of socavon

The new statue of the Virgen del Socavón can be seen throughout the city


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Posted January 31, 2015

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