Our Lady of Aparecida
Compiled from the works of Father Júlio João Brustoloni, C.Ss.R.
by Coralie Graham
Where it Began
It all began in the Village of Guaratingueta which was founded in 1640. By February 13, 1651 it became a parish under the protection of Saint Anthony of Padua. In the time of the miraculous statue of Our Lady of Aparecida’s discovery in 1717, it was a stopping point for migrants who sought out the gold mines in the Dead River region. A gold rush in 1680 brought many more families to settle there and they brought with them a great Marian devotion to the Immaculate Conception.
On Saturdays they practiced their family devotions by praying the Rosary, the singing of litanies and other pious practices. Through these devotional practices, the faith of the people in Christ, their love and devotion to Mary Immaculate and their adhesion to the Catholic Church were all preserved.
The Origin of the Miraculous Image
The families that migrated to the Valley of Guaratingueta brought statues molded in clay made by the pious Benedictine monk, Brother Augustine of Jesus. His Marian statues had certain peculiar characteristics: Our Lady’s hands were held together in prayer, Her hair freely flowing, flowers at the base of the statue and a very compassionate look on Her face. One of these statues brought by the migrants certainly broke and was then thrown into the Paraiba River near the port of Itaguacu. Being immersed in the river’s mud, the statue lost the beautiful colors of its blue mantle and the whiteness of its skin, becoming black in color.
The account of the finding of the miraculous statue as written by the pastor of Guaratingueta, Father Joao de Morals e Aguiar, follows.
In 1717 Count Assumar, Dom Pedro de Almeida e Portugal, Governor of the areas of Sao Paulo and Minas, passed through Guaratinguetá and the civic government commissioned the fishermen to catch as many fish as they could to give them to the Governor. Among the many who went out to fish were Domingos M. Garcia, Joao Alves and Filipe Pedroso. They began to cast their nets at the port of Jose Correia Leite and continued to the port of ltaguaçu, a very long distance, without catching a single fish. But casting their nets at the port of ltaguaçu, Joao Alves found the statue of Our Lady without Her head. And casting the nets a little further down he caught the head of the same Statue not knowing who had thrown it in the river.
Keeping the statue in the boat wrapped up in a cloth they continued to fish, not having caught anything up to then. But from that point on, their catch was so great that they, and their fellow fishermen, became frightened that they would drown with so many fish in their boats.
Why Did They Keep the Broken Statue?
It was a beautiful and inspiring statue, and broken as it was, the fishermen could have thrown it back into the water without any respect. And why did they not do this, but instead kept it?
Certainly, because they saw in this miraculous catch of fish a sign from God, and more clearly, they saw this same sign in finding the statue. And I believe that, above all, it was because they discovered in those hands in prayer and in that compassionate look stamped on that broken statue, a motive for having great confidence in God’s Mother.
Because Filipe Pedroso was the oldest, he was the one who brought the statue to his home. There, before he placed it in the oratory, his first gesture was to clean it up from the mud and to repair it by placing the head back on using black wax made from the arapua bees. He suddenly felt great emotion and confidence. Kneeling before the statue, he began to pray. It was then, as he looked intently on the face of the statue, he perceived that Our Lady was smiling on him compassionately. He felt as if She were giving him and all the Brazilian people, a message to have confidence in God’s Mother. And he uttered this prayer:
“O my Lady of Aparecida! Take care of me now and at the moment of my death. Hail our Queen, Mother of mercy!”
His son, Atanásio Pedroso, constructed an oratory, placing the miraculous statue on a wooden altar where, every Saturday, the neighbors would come together to sing praise and to pray the Rosary and other devotions.
On one of these occasions two candles which illuminated Our Lady went out even though the night was calm. Silvana da Rocha went to relight the candles when, all of a sudden, they lit themselves without anyone’s help. On another occasion, on the place where they placed the statue, the altar began to shake so much that it appeared that Our Lady would crash down. There were many similar occurrences between Friday and Saturday when they prayed the Rosary. It should also be noted that when the statue was in the possession of Silvana da Rocha and kept in an old trunk, one could hear loud knocking coming from within the trunk.
With these wonderful happenings that Our Lady performed, the faith of the people was increased and the news spread and came to the knowledge of the Pastor, Father Joao Alves Vilella. He and other devotees built a small chapel. And having torn this down, they constructed, with the fervor and the alms of the devotees, a beautiful church in the same place.
These facts were authenticated by witnesses and written down in a book. Our Lady continues to perform these extraordinary favors, and many pilgrims come to this Sanctuary from distant places to give thanks for the graces they received from Our Lady.
Aparecida Famous for Miracles
Already in 1757 Father Joao de Morais e Aguiar described that there were many miracles and graces granted through the intercession of Our Lady of Aparecida. ln 1750 a Jesuit priest, Francisco da Silveira, preached a popular mission given in Aparecida, and in his chronicle which he sent to his superiors in Rome he affirms that the statue of Aparecida “was famous for the miracles performed there.” Among them he gave the following accounts:
1) The Miracle of the Statue and the Fish
The actual finding of the statue. lt is so extraordinary and so absent of extraordinary circumstances that it has all the conditions of describing a real factual miracle.
Before catching in their net the miraculous statue, the fishermen had caught no fish, yet after finding the statue, their boat almost capsized from the weight of the fish. This was a visible sign from God to the fishermen.
2) The Miracle of the Candles
More symbolic and rich in its religious meaning, without doubt, was the miracle of the candles because of its relationship with their faith. For Christians the flame of a candle is a symbol of faith in Christ. The devotees saw this as a sign of the protection of Our Lady of Aparecida. The light from those candles that miraculously rekindled by themselves that night illuminated their hearts and awakened a great love and devotion to Our Lady represented by that humble statue.
3) The Miracle of the Slave
Significant also, was the miracle that happened in favor of a Negro slave that escaped and was being brought back in chains to the hacienda by his owner. This fact has many oral testimonies, but we will cite the one written in 1838 by the Secretary of the Administrative Board of the Sanctuary, Father Francisco Claro de Vasconcellos. This fact happened about 1790 when the sugar-cane cycle began in the Paraiba Valley with the construction of great factories that needed a good number of slaves to run them.
Father Francisco does not give the slave’s name, but some called him Zacarias. Nevertheless, Father Francisco gives a history worthy of belief. It is said that the chains of this slave are found in the miracle room in the Sanctuary. It contains a collar chain that bound his neck and two handcuffs that held his wrists. They were very large and heavy and that made any escape very difficult. Here is the description in the chronicles:
“A fugitive slave was being brought back to his hacienda by his owner and upon passing the chapel he asked permission to go up and visit the church to say some prayers. While he was in prayer before the statue, the chains miraculously fell off his neck and his wrists, both falling to the ground. Moved by this fact, the owner freed him, paying the price of liberating a slave and placing the money on the altar, and the owner led the slave home as a free man.”
Today, the variety of promises and vows made by the pilgrims are deposited in the Room of Promises which is very large: candles of all sizes, pieces of cloth, wax replicas of parts of the human body which were cured, clothes, uniforms, weapons, musical instruments, work tools, paintings, photos, written messages and an incalculable number of objects that the pilgrims leave in the Miracle Room.
This immensity of objects explains the infinite needs and difficult circumstances that human beings find themselves in. These are gestures and objects that translate the faith, love and gratitude to God on the part of the pilgrims.
Their pentitential gestures of thanks are many, diversified and constant. The seeking out of the sacrament of Penance in the confessional is the most perfect indication of this.
Some of the penitential gestures of the pilgrims are seen frequently at the Shrine such as: walking on one’s knees in the sanctuary, around it, or on the walking path to the sanctuary. To go to Mary’s altar on their knees is a gesture that is constantly seen throughout the whole day. There are many very moving scenes. Some even make a promise to come to the sanctuary on their knees from the main street below which is made of irregular large stones, in a steep uphill road that takes about 15 to 20 minutes and they are clothed in penitential garments, praying and singing.
You can see many similarities connecting the devotion to Our Lady of Aparecida to devotion to Our Lady of Fatima.
Let us pray to God’s Holy Mother in the name of Our Lady of Aparecida and Our Lady of Fatima and take refuge in Her Maternal Heart.
And let this also encourage us all to make more penitential reparation for the sins and atrocities committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.