Our Lady of San Juan de los Lagos

Our Lady of San Juan de los Lagos (English: Our Lady of Saint John of the Lakes) is a Roman Catholic title of the Blessed Virgin Mary venerated by Mexican and Texan faithful. The original image is a popular focus for pilgrims and 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 in the United States where it is known by its proxy title Nuestra Señora de San Juan del Valle (Our Lady of Saint John of the Valley), mainly focused in Texas.[1][2]

Our Lady of San Juan de los Lagos
Our Lady of Saint John of the Lakes
Altar de la Virgen de San Juan de los Lagos 05.jpg
Virgen de San Juan de los Lagos
Patroness of San Juan de los Lagos
Venerated inCatholic Church (Roman Rite)
Major shrineBasilica of San Juan de los Lagos
Feast2 February
24 June
15 August
8 December
AttributesBlessed Virgin Mary in prayer, golden crown, white gown, blue mantle, silver banner held by angels
PatronageSan Juan de los Lagos

Pope Pius X granted the image a Canonical coronation on 15 August 1904 via the Archbishop of Guadalajara, Jose Ortiz. It is widely known for the jeweled regalia offered by its devotees all throughout Mexico. It is permanently enshrined at the Basilica Minor of San Juan de los Lagos and is one of the most visited pilgrimage shrines in Mexico.[3]


The sanctuary's history begins in 1543 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.[3] According to local histories, and some eyewitness accounts, a certain aerial acrobat was traveling along the Camino Real, "the Royal Highway," from San Luis Potosí to Guadalajara, performing in the towns along the way. His act included his wife and two daughters. His stunts included swinging from one high point to another by means of ropes, in somewhat the same fashion as trapeze artists of today. To add excitement and an element of danger, the artists had to fly over swords and knives that were stuck in the ground with their points positioned upward.

While performing in the village, the younger daughter, a child of six or seven, slipped, fell upon the knives and was mortally wounded. After preparing the body and wrapping it in burial cloths, the grieving parents brought the child's body to the chapel of Our Lady of San Juan for burial.

Meeting them at the door of the chapel was the 78-year-old Ana Lucia, the wife of Pedro Antes (the caretaker and custodian of the beloved statue). Feeling pity for the grieving family, she exhorted them to have confidence in The Virgin, who could restore the child to them. Taking the statue from its altar in the sacristy where it had been consigned because of its poor condition, Ana Lucia laid it near the child's dead body. In a few moments, they detected a slight movement under the shroud. The parents quickly unwrapped the cloth to discover the child well and unharmed. This first miracle of Our Lady of San Juan de Los Lagos became known in neighboring villages and towns. Numerous other miracles and favors followed, until now Our Lady is venerated by pilgrims from throughout Mexico and the United States.[4]

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 BasilicaEdit


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 Tarascan State of southern Mexico 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: Nuestra Señora de Los Altos (Our Lady of Los Altos) in the town of San Francisco de Asís, Atotonilco El Alto, Jalisco; Nuestra Señora de la Salud (Our Lady of Health) in Pátzcuaro; 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 Mother pray for us).

Pilgrimages, festivals and churchesEdit

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 descends upon 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.

In the 1950s, the devotion spread to the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. A reproduction of the Mexican image is housed in the Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle in San Juan, Texas. This shrine is one of the largest Catholic sanctuaries in the state, and is known for its relationship with the migrant farm workers who still travel through this area of Texas.

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.[5]

The devotion also arrived in New Mexico and the church of Nuestra Senor de los Lagos was built in 1828 in Talpa, New Mexico.[6]

Votive paintings for Our Lady of San Juan de los Lagos (Mexico) by anonymous from the Tropenmuseum Amsterdam

Further readingEdit

  • Bremer, Tomas S. "Nuestra Señora de San Juan de Los Lagos," in Oxford Encyclopedia of Mesoamerican Cultures, David Carrasco, ed. vol. 3, pp. 119–20. New York: Oxford University Press 2001.
  • Fernández Poncela, Anna M. (2008). “Tradición y modernidad: la Virgen de San Juan de los Lagos.” Boletín Americanista 0(57):159–178. http://revistes.ub.edu/index.php/BoletinAmericanista/article/view/13144/.
  • Márquez, Pedro María. Historia de Nuestra Señora de San Juan de los Lagos y del culto de esta milagrosa imagen. 2nd edition. Guadalajara 1944.
  • Turner, Kay F. "The Cultural Semiotics of Religious Icons: La virgen de san Juan de los Lagos," Semiotica 47(1983) 317-361.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Mapping the Catholic cultural landscape by Richard Fossey 2004 ISBN 0-7425-3184-8 page 78
  2. ^ Globalizing the sacred: religion across the Americas by Manuel A. Vásquez, Marie F. Marquardt 2003 ISBN 0-8135-3285-X page 74
  3. ^ a b Pilgrimage: from the Ganges to Graceland : an encyclopedia, Volume 1 by Linda Kay Davidson, David Martin Gitlitz 2002 ISBN 1-57607-004-2 page 571
  4. ^ Miraculous Images of Our Lady" by Joan Carroll Cruz
  5. ^ American congregations, Volume 2 edited by James P. Wind, James Welborn Lewis 1995 ISBN 0-226-90186-6 page 447
  6. ^ Historic New Mexico Churches by Annie Lux, Daniel Nadelbach 2007 ISBN 1-4236-0169-6 page 59