Las Lajas, the cathedral overlooking the canyon

Las Lajas Cathedral in Colombia

Columbia Cathedral Las Lajas

Colombia’s Cathedral of Las Lajas is the most visited temple in this faraway country. Its literal name, spelled in Spanish, is “El santuario de Las Lajas”. It is the most mystical and mysterious place in Colombia, where for many years miracles of healing unexplained by science have occurred. But first things first.

Columbia Cathedral Las Lajas

Columbia Cathedral Las Lajas

Church of Las Lajas, which is considered the most beautiful in the world, stands in an amazing natural site, seven kilometers from the Colombian town of Ipiales, which belongs to the department of Nariño, five kilometers from the Ecuadorian border. Ipiales, often called “City of three volcanoes” – “la ciudad de los tres volcanes” – because there are volcanoes nearby. The temple rises in the beautiful Guaitara River Canyon and amazes many tourists and pilgrims who come here from all over the world with its expressive neo-Gothic architecture. But that is not all that draws so many people to the site, most of them interested in the miraculous rock icon of the Virgin Mary with Child – “Nuestra Senora de las Lajas”, hidden behind the expressive openwork church walls. Thanks to her, this cathedral is on the “List of the Seven Wonders of the World of Colombia”.

Columbia Cathedral Las Lajas

Columbia Cathedral Las Lajas

The temple was built relatively recently, between 1916 and 1949. But its appearance is covered with a very interesting mysterious legend. Not far from the present location of the cathedral, in 1764, there was a mysterious cave, which the locals avoided because it was said that strange things were happening there, and since the Colombians were deeply religious, they avoided this place, which was notorious, “the tenth way. But one day, the resident of the small Colombian village of Potosi, the Indian Maria Muñiz de Quiñones, was walking with her daughter, deaf and dumb from birth, across the bridge next to the cave, when a heavy downpour hit her. Mary had to run into the cave, despite her fear. While the woman waited for the rain to stop, her daughter explored the stones, on one of which, she saw a stunning image of the Virgin Mary with Jesus. Amidst the silence of the cave, the girl, Rosa, uttered quite clearly: “Mama, look there is a mestizo with a little mestizo in her arms, and near them two more mestizos.” The overjoyed Mary picked up the talking daughter in her arms and ran to her village, where she joyfully told people about the miraculous healing of the child by the Blessed Virgin. The people paid no attention to her story. A few days later, the girl disappeared somewhere, as if the mother felt with her heart that she might be in that mysterious cave. And that, indeed, was near the mysterious stone, Rosa told her mother that the woman had called her to herself. Since then, Mary and her daughter began to frequent the cave and pray before the image of the Virgin Mary. A few years passed, and the girl, seriously ill, died suddenly. The mother, heartbroken, came to the icon on the rock and prayed to her for the miraculous resurrection of her daughter. And another miracle happened: the child did come back to life. This incident convinced Mary that she needed to show the mysterious icon on the stone to all the villagers and tell them about the miracles that had happened. But her fellow villagers did not believe it and thought the woman was crazy. So she brought a shepherd and some of her acquaintances there. When they saw the image of the Mother of God, they knelt and prayed, and in answer to their pleas, the Virgin Mary revealed her face to them. Immediately, the first mass was celebrated here, in thanksgiving to God for having his holy mother on Colombian soil. This was on September fifteenth, 1754, and since then, this date has traditionally been considered the Feast of the Virgin Mary. The site of her sacred image has become a sanctuary to which for many years people have traveled with their sorrows and concerns.

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To the woman Mary, who found the icon, a monument was erected here. Near the cave, the first small chapel was hastily built, where people could bring candles and flowers. But since the fame of the miraculous icon had already spread beyond Colombia and Ecuador, many people began to come here to pray, and from 1796 to 1853, two more temples were built here. However, by 1916, even they could not accommodate all the pilgrims who wanted to visit the miraculous icon, and then, thanks to the generous contributions of the parishioners, the construction of a fourth church began, which was completed in August 1949. It is this construction that we see today. Its architects were Lucindo Espinosa and Gualberto Perez.

This grandiose building of the cathedral of Las Lajos in Colombia was indeed a worthy frame for a unique Christian shrine. It stands in the canyon of the river, towering above its waters. From the cathedral to the opposite side of the canyon, an openwork bridge, thirty meters high, stretches out, reinforcing the sense of the singularity and exceptionality of this holy place. Since then, the Colombian cathedral of Las Lajas has become the most popular destination for tourists traveling in Colombia. And its main relic is a huge stone image of the Virgin Mary found in the cave, which is three meters and twenty centimeters high and two meters and three centimeters wide and, although it has never been restored, retains its original brightness and freshness of color to this day. Scientists have conducted numerous studies, but still could not say exactly when and how this image appeared on the stone, who could apply it? The fact is that the colors seem so fresh and do not need to be renewed, due to the fact that the dye has soaked the stone structure to a thickness of more than one meter deep. Such a technology is not yet known to us.

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Columbia Cathedral Las Lajas

Columbia Cathedral Las Lajas

The miraculous healings of the icon of Our Lady of Las Lajos are evident in the thousands of stone tablets around the building, which are inscribed by individuals and their relatives in gratitude to the Virgin Mary, who was able to save those suffering from drunkenness, drug addiction, cancer and other serious diseases, as well as from marital infidelity. Today, Las Lajas in Colombia is guarded by two Franciscan monastic communities of Colombia and Ecuador and is open to the public.


The Cathedral of Las Lajas in Colombia is one of the most visited temples in the country. In Spanish, its name is spelled “El santuario de Las Lajas”. The place is mystical and mysterious. It is located in an incredibly beautiful and mysterious place.

It is considered one of the most beautiful in the world.

The cathedral, which was built from 1916 to 1949, is not at all famous for the luxurious neo-Gothic architecture that sets it apart from the thousands of churches in Colombia. Crowds of pilgrims come here, in the canyon of the Guaitara River, exclusively for the rock icon of Nuestra Senora de las Lajas, hidden behind the temple’s openwork walls.

The Cathedral of Las Lajas is located on a bridge spanning an abyss in the canyon of the Guaitara River, two thousand six hundred meters above sea level. Seven kilometers from the cathedral of Las Lajas is the town of Ipiales. The city belongs to the department of Nariño (Departamento del Nariño), only five kilometers from Ipiales is the border with Ecuador. It is located at an altitude of over two thousand nine hundred meters above sea level and is home to over one hundred thousand people, most of whom are of Indian and Métis descent.

Tourists who come to admire the famous cathedral near the city often stay here. “City of three volcanoes” (la ciudad de los tres volcanes) is the name of Ipiales, and this is because it offers a beautiful view of the three volcanoes. Since the city is located in the border area, it has a special commercial and economic importance. Ipiales is a well-known center for the regional shoe industry, and people from all over the country and Ecuador come here to shop.

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There is a beautiful legend connected with the origin of the Colombian cathedral of Las Lajas. According to a local legend, in the fifties of the eighteenth century an embossed image of the Virgin Mary (Nuestra Señora) was found on the site where the famous cathedral now stands. The Virgin Mary is the main shrine of Colombia. The Indians who live in this area consider the Virgin Mary their queen and venerate her as the patroness of the area. Colombians in general are very religious people, it just so happens that they had to build their civilization in rather difficult conditions, so they have a deep conviction that in order to survive, man just needs God.

So what is this mysterious legend about the emergence of the Virgin Mary on the rock? Colombians are happy to tell it to foreign travelers. So, several centuries ago in the Colombian village of Potosi there lived an Indian woman, her name was María Mueses de Quiñones. She often visited the nearby town of Ipiales. She always went through a bridge and there was a cave near the bridge. The woman was very afraid of the place, so when she passed by it, she tried not to stay there too long. One day Mary took her daughter Rosa, who was deaf and mute from birth, with her. They were walking the usual way, but then bad weather caught up with them on the road. The woman and her little girl had to hide in one of the caves. While they were waiting in the cave for the bad weather, the girl decided to climb on the rocks of the cave. And then the girl’s voice broke out in the silence, on one of the stones Rose saw an image of the Virgin Mary with Jesus in her arms and exclaimed: “Mama, look here a mestizo with a little mestizo in her arms and two mestizos beside her.”

God only knows what Mary experienced at that moment, but we can say with certainty that she was insanely happy that her Rosa had spoken. In her joy, the woman picked up the baby and ran away. People could not understand why the girl suddenly spoke, and no one paid attention to Maria’s story about the drawing on the stone. A few days later Rose was missing, the woman did not know what to think, none of the villagers did not see the girl. Then Maria decided to go to the cave, and she was not mistaken, the girl was there. Rosa told her mother, as if the woman from that image was calling her to herself. From then on, Mary and her daughter often visited the cave, bringing candles and flowers to this miraculous image and praying to it. They told no one about their ritual.

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It might have remained a secret if it were not for one incident. One day Rosa became seriously ill and soon died. Mary was heartbroken, but decided to take the girl to the image of the Virgin Mary in the cave, hoping that she could bring her child back. Mary prayed for a long time in front of the image, wept, and asked the Virgin to bring the child back to life. Then the second miracle happened – the child did come to life. After that incident, Mary decided not to hide the miraculous image on the stone anymore. The residents of her village did not immediately believe the woman, thinking she was completely out of her mind. But, one day she brought a shepherd to the cave, and the villagers came with them. After all the villagers saw with their own eyes the truthfulness of Mary’s words, the shepherd fell to his knees and through his tears told everyone to start reciting the holy rosary, for the Mother of God had appeared to them. On the same day, the first Mass was celebrated at this place, expressing gratitude to God for the presence of his Mother on this earth. All this happened on September 15, 1754. Since then, the Feast of Mary has been celebrated here every year. The place where the image of Mary with Jesus is located was declared a sanctuary. For many years a great number of people come here on pilgrimage. All of them can “meet” Mary, who opened to the world this holy place, because here to this simple woman of the people a monument has been erected.

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The image of the Virgin Mary found in the cave was a very large picture, three meters and twenty centimeters high and two meters and three centimeters wide. To guard this holy image, a monk named Gabriel Villafuerte in the same year, 1754, began the construction of the first thatched church in the area. Over the decades, the church was rebuilt and modernized several times. In 1769, for example, the monk Luis Herrero began the construction of a second cathedral on this site, funded by alms collected by the monk in Colombia and Ecuador. The construction of the second cathedral lasted seven years.

The construction of the third cathedral was initiated by Father José María Burbano, with Ecuadorian architects Simon Atapuma and Mariano Aulestia helping his father to build the new cathedral. During the construction of this cathedral, a waterfall was cut into the canyon nearby, and now all visitors to the cathedral can enjoy its beauty. The construction of the fourth cathedral was started in 1916 with the donations of the parishioners. The previous three cathedrals were rebuilt because they were too simple for such a unique relic. The architects of the fourth cathedral were Lucindo Espinosa and the Ecuadorian Gualberto Pérez. In August 1949, the construction of the Cathedral of Las Lajas was completed. Today it is a grandiose Gothic building in the canyon of the river. It feels as if it consists of three large ships that are covered by vaults. Above the Guaitara River, directly from the cathedral at a height of thirty meters is a magnificent arched bridge, made in the same style as the building of this unique temple, which gives the cathedral completeness and a special majesty. The Cathedral of Las Lajas is a great attraction for tourists and pilgrims because of its rare beauty in architecture, its miraculous image and its poetic legend.

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As beautiful as Las Lajas Cathedral is, the main target of foreign tourists is still the main shrine of the temple: the rock image of the Virgin Mary with Jesus. The interior of the Cathedral of Las Lajas is so organized that the image of the saints is the central altar image. It is said that the Virgin Mary’s rich clothing was originally adorned with silver and gold stars, as well as jewels. Unfortunately, these decorations have been stolen and restored several times over the lifetime of the image. Crowns have been added to the original image of the saints. They are flanked by the figures of St. Francis and St. Dominic. Since this image was first discovered, it has never been restored, but in spite of this, the colors of the sacred image continue to be rich and vibrant.

Scientists have not been able to figure out either the nature of the origin of the petroglyph or the substances that were used to create it. There is an opinion that the stone on which the image is located is more than one meter deep and soaked in paint. As for the healing properties of the image, they have expanded noticeably over more than two hundred years. Originally it was known that the icon cured a girl of congenital deafness, now everyone will tell you that the miraculous image can cure anything – from drug addiction up to marital infidelity. Thousands of stone tablets of gratitude from those healed can attest to this, which are located around the Cathedral of Las Lajas. Clickable 2000 px

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