Walking By Faith: Romeria Pays Homage to Patroness Saint

The Costa Rica Team

Basilica de Nuestra Señora de los Angeles, Cartago, CR

The annual Romeria to the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de los Angeles is a tradition for many, a new experience for some, a demonstration of faith for others, that pays homage to the patron saint of Costa Rica. A romeria is a religious pilgrimage. The term comes from romero/romeiro, which originally referred to a person on a religious journey from Rome. The 22 kilometer trek from San Jose to Cartago follows asphalt roads and sidewalks all the way to the Basilica.

The Legend

The pilgrimage to Cartago on August 2nd (a national holiday) is a tradition in Costa Rica to make requests and give thanks to the Virgen de los Ángeles.The statue inside the Basilica has had many names over the years; in 1983 she was declared by Pope John Paul II as the official Patroness of Costa Rica and protector of the Americas. According to the legend the statue first appeared as a stone doll carrying the baby Jesus, to Juana Pereira , a young girl from the Los Pardos tribe, on August 2, 1635. She took the doll home with her but the next day it reappeared on the same rock where she had found it. This happened several times, even when the doll was closed up in a box. It would continue to disappear and reappear on the rock.

Eventually, local priest Alonso de Sandoval along with other officials, decided to build a church there to make it her official home and resting place. The legend of the sacred place spread from town to town. People from surrounding areas would walk into the forest to find the hidden chapel. This is how the pilgrimage began.

Photo: Melissa Fernández Silva, La Naciòn

Walking By Faith

People all over the country and even other Central American countries participate in the annual event, some arriving on foot all the way from areas in Guanacaste and the Southern Zone. This year, the romeria of 2017, coincides with the arrival of the new Bishop to Cartago, Mario Enrique Quirós.

What To Expect Along The Way

The closer you get to Curridabat the larger the crowd gets, all the way until you reach Tres Rios. Transit officials close off the roads to vehicle traffic so you can enjoy a safer path. Hundreds of thousands of travellers will start the ascent of the Ochomogo Hills. Red Cross stations provide water, first aid and places to rest. Police and transit officials are on hand along with dozens of private organizations who assist with cleaning and recycling as a good amount of trash accumulates along the way.

It’s a beautiful and energizing walk with many markets and malls to stop at as you make the climb. Once at the top of the Ochomogo Hills, you can experience some remarkable views of the valley below. When you reach the city of Cartago, people will be camping out in the park and plaza space, enjoying barbecues and music in celebration with friends and family. Some people may be along for the party but the atmosphere is charged with a healthy enthusiasm. 

Charles Boyd

Photo: Rafael Pacheco, La Naciòn

You will find many locals who will help and guide you along the way. Ticos are known for their friendliness and courtesy toward strangers: the romeria is no exception. If you stay overnight, you can enjoy mass on the main plaza in the morning. Perhaps you have a petition or a promise or a claim for a miracle that has its roots in Costa Rica. President Luis Guillermo Solis is expected to participate although he won’t be giving the traditional head of state speech. The Conferencia Episcopal (Catholic Church), in a break from tradition, has decided this year and for the future, the event is not be used for political speeches.

Everyone is welcome to participate in the Romeria. It´s a great way to get to know culture and meet some of this country`s “Pura Vida” people. You can bring a small container to receive some holy water that flows from a river sitting below the church. The water has been blessed by the Basilica’s priest and is said to have healing powers.