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.