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Our Lady of San Juan de los Lagos is a statue and a popular focus for pilgrims. It is located in the state of Jalisco, in central Mexico, 122 kilometers (76 mi) northeast of the city of Guadalajara. The statue is venerated both in Mexico and the United States. The small town of San Juan de los Lagos is one of the top 3 or 4 most visited pilgrimage shrines in Mexico.
The sanctuary's history begins in 1542 when Father Miguel de Bologna, a Spanish priest, brought a statue of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception to the village. The town was then called San Juan Mezquititlan Baptist but its name was changed to San Juan de Los Lagos in 1623. According to local legends, that year the daughter of some local Indian peasants fell ill, her parents prayed for her health, and the young girl recovered. Following this miracle, the statue began to be venerated by an increasing number of pilgrims including Indians, Spanish and mestizos. During this period the statue acquired its own local identity as Our Lady of San Juan de los Lagos. Between the early 17th century and the middle of the 19th century a pilgrimage fair was held each year on November 30 to celebrate the original installation of the statue in the shrine.
The present church, begun in 1732, was built in the Mexican baroque style. The statue of the Virgin was installed in 1769 and the bell towers were completed in 1790. In 1972 the church was recognized as a basilica. Inside the church, upon a platform with an upturned crescent moon, stands the statue of the Virgin. The face is dark in color, the eyes widely spaced and the traits somewhat aquiline.
About 20 inches (50 cm) tall, the statue was made by the Tarascos Indians of the state of Michoacán using an indigenous technique called titzingueni, in which a frame of wood is covered by a paste of corn pith and orchid juice, and then coated with gesso and painted. Similar statues are still venerated in other parts of Jalisco, including many different of statue but different name such as Nuestra Señora de Los Altos (Our Lady of Los Altos) in town of Atotonilco El Alto and San Francisco de Asís, Jalisco.; Nuestra Señora de la Salud (Our Lady of Health) in Patzcuaro and the Virgin of Zapopan in the city of Guadalajara. Sometime in the late 16th or early 17th century the statue was modernized by being enclosed in a frame and draped with clothing. The Virgin’s hands are joined in prayer, she has long brown hair, and wears a white gown and blue robe. The statue’s body is covered with a golden crown in Byzantine style. Above the image are two angels of silver, supporting between them a silver banner with the Latin inscription in blue enamel: Mater Immaculata ora pro nobis (Immaculate Mater pray for us).
At the end of January and beginning of February each year a great pilgrimage occurs to the shrine and the city grows many times in size. This festival is attended by more than a million people, many of them walking, from all over Mexico. During a week of festivities there are hundreds of temporary stalls selling pilgrimage icons, multiple bands of musicians playing around the great basilica, fireworks demonstrations in the evenings, and a palpable feeling of spiritual joy descend on the town. If a family member falls ill or undergoes a serious surgery for example, you can promise the Virgin to make the pilgrimage if that person makes it out okay.
The devotion carried over to California by people from Jalisco. In the 1970s, George Martinez revived the devotion in San Francisco, California and a monthly mass was celebrated. In 1979 Martinez convinced the bishop of San Juan to allow the statue to come to California, and the statue left Mexico for the first time ever in 1980.
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