Centenary of the Coronation of Our Lady of Altagracia

The Patroness of the Dominican people is the Virgen de las Mercedes, who is venerated in Santo Cerro, in the diocese of La Vega, on September 24. Also deeply rooted in the devotion of the Dominican people is Our Lady of Altagracia, who is venerated in her Basilica, in the diocese of Higüey, in the east of the country, on January 21.

José Francisco Tejeda-September 21, 2022-Reading time: 7 minutes

History of the Devotion to Our Lady of Altagracia

There are several versions of the history of the image. The documentary, which is being shown in the Basilica museum, tells the simple story of the devotion to the image. Our Lady of AltagraciaThe story dates back to the early sixteenth century, when a merchant from Higüey was going on a trip to Santo Domingo to sell his products. He asks his daughters what gift they expect when he returns. The eldest daughter asks for dresses and garments proper to the vanity of an adolescent, and the youngest, barely 14 years old, asks for an image of the Virgin of Altagracia like the one she had seen in her dreams.

Once in Santo Domingo, the merchant made efforts to obtain the image, but no one knew about it. On his way back, in an inn, he commented, saddened by the problem of not being able to satisfy the request of his youngest daughter. A man reassured him that his daughter was right and showed him the image. The younger daughter was happy to see the image, which she had only known in dreams. They began to venerate it at home, adorning it with flowers and candles, but the image disappeared and they found it every morning in the top of an orange tree.

There was no doubt of the Lady's intention. They began to build a chapel where she was venerated by the villagers. Some time later, the archbishop of Santo Domingo ordered her to be transferred to the city, but when she arrived in the city, the chest in which she was transferred was empty. And the image was back in its chapel.

There are many favors attributed to Our Lady of Altagracia, which are collected in various rooms of the museum of the Basilica and the gratitude is evident in paintings, former vows, gifts, etc..

Image description.

There are various representations of the Blessed Virgin: in a praying attitude, pregnant, with her Son in her arms or on her lap... In the case of Our Lady of Altagracia we see her adoring her Son in the manger and, paradoxically, crowned because she is the Mother of the King. In addition to the twelve stars, like the woman described in the Apocalypse, we see the star of Bethlehem, which announced to the Magi the birth of the King of the Jews. The Child is in the straws, but some columns and part of a vault are seen as if to indicate the temple, because that naked Child is God.

And in the background, but no less important, St. Joseph appears in a vigilant attitude. The canvas is barely half a meter high and, curiously, the colors of the Virgin's clothing are those of the flag of the Dominican Republic: blue, white and red.

Chronicle of the Canonical Coronation of Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia

The Dominican people venerate Our Lady of Altagracia not only on a personal level, but also in critical moments of their history they have turned to her. Such was the case that led Archbishop Nouel, of Santo Domingo, to ask Pope Benedict XV for the coronation of the Blessed Virgin to resolve the situation of the American occupation of Dominican territory. The pontiff agreed, but died, and his successor, Pope Pius XI, was the one who carried it out through his delegate, Bishop Sebastian Leyte de Vasoncellos, on August 15, 1922. 

For this occasion the Archbishop of Santo Domingo, Monsignor Nouel, asked the faithful to prepare themselves spiritually. During August 14, 15, 16 and 17, the faithful were to go to confession to gain the indulgence granted by Pope Pius XI. It was requested that at the moment of the coronation the bells of all the temples should ring and the faithful should offer a mortification or perform an act of charity and recite the prayer composed for the occasion: Most Holy Virgin, Our Mother of Altagracia! Protect and defend the Catholic Dominican people, who today crown and proclaim you their Queen and Sovereign. And the recitation of a Hail Mary. It was also asked to pray for the health and the pontificate of Pope Pius XI.

It was suggested to all Congregations and religious associations to sanctify that day by helping the poor with alms, food, clothing and medicine. It was also suggested to the prisoners and the hospitalized. A letter of thanks to the Pope was written and signed by all the Dominican clergy.

The communions and acts of piety on August 15, 16 and 17 would be offered, through the mediation of the Blessed Virgin of Altagracia, asking for justice, peace and tranquility for the Dominican people in the face of the situation caused by the intervention of the North American nation. 

Altagracia Procession on August 15, 2022

The transfer of the image from the sanctuary was done in a solemn way and amid great rejoicing on the part of the faithful. Fifty-one days the venerated image remained in Santo Domingo, exposed in the Primate Cathedral.

The Papal Delegate crowned Our Lady of Altagracia in the Independence Park before a swarm of people from all corners of the country. She was taken in solemn procession from the Cathedral to the place of the coronation and, at the end of the ceremony, again in solemn procession she returned to the Cathedral. The American army discreetly observed all the movements of the devout mass of people. 

The following day at 4:00 a.m. the bell tolls, 21 cannon shots and the celebration of the Masses began. That day the Dominican Republic celebrated the Restoration of Independence and the "Te Deum" was also sung. The 17th was similar and a temple was dedicated to the Señora de la Altagracia. 

The first stone of a memorial was also laid 66 kilometers away on the highway from Santo Domingo to Santiago. It is currently in the territory of the Diocese of Baní, bordering the dioceses of Santo Domingo and La Vega.

A very significant act was the request of Captain Louis Cukella, of the American army and decorated in the First World War, for the papal delegate to impose on him the medal of the Virgin of Altagracia. 

Bishop Nouel asked the American authority to pardon 80 prisoners, and the American high command agreed as a way of joining in the coronation festivities.

The Archbishop of Santo Domingo ordered that a record be made of all the acts of the coronation and that a silver plaque certifying the canonical coronation be placed on the back of the image.

On the 18th the Capuchin friars were in charge of returning the venerated image to its home.

Preparation for the celebration of the Centenary of the Canonical Coronation.

The Dominican Bishops' Conference organized an Altagracia Jubilee Year for the celebration of the Centenary of the Canonical Coronation of Our Lady of Altagracia. Pilgrimages by parishes or religious groups to the sanctuary of Higüey are not uncommon, but for this occasion they were also organized by diocese.

During the pandemic, the traditional gathering of clergy from all over the country had been suspended and this year it was resumed precisely in the Basilica of Our Lady of Altagracia. Copies of the image were made for pilgrimage in each diocese during the year. There were also cultural events and exhibitions of the image.

Celebration of the Centenary of the Canonical Coronation

Every year, for the Solemnity of the Altagracia, the traditional gift of bulls is made by the ranchers of the region, and they are transported to the Basilica. It was also held for the celebration of the Centennial. A concert and a solemn Mass were held at the Basilica to bid farewell to the Virgin, who was taken to the capital accompanied by a caravan of vehicles. On Sunday 14, she arrived at the monument of Fray Antonio de Montesinos already at night and, from there, she was taken in solemn procession by the ecclesiastical authorities and numerous people to the Primate Cathedral. During the whole night a vigil was held alternating songs and preaching, while the numerous people went through the central nave to venerate the image.

There were also priests attending confessions. At 6:00 a.m. on the morning of the 15th, the Rosary of the Dawn began. The solemn procession departed from the Primate Cathedral, making a stop in front of the Sanctuary of Altagracia, towards the Puerta del Conde, where the Coronation took place one hundred years ago.

The special envoy of Pope Francis, Mons. Edgar Peña Parra, presented a golden rose - a gift of the Pope to the Blessed Virgin - to the President of the Republic accompanied by the Vice President, the First Lady, the President of the Senate and of the Chamber of Deputies, the Mayoress of the City of Santo Domingo and other civil and military authorities. It was a ceremony with brief speeches by the President of the Republic, the President of the National Centennial Commission and the Archbishop of Santo Domingo. From there, the float was taken to the Félix Sánchez Olympic Stadium, where it was awaited by the numerous people who came from all over the Dominican Republic.

Edgar Peña Parra presided the Solemn Eucharistic Concelebration accompanied by the Dominican Episcopate, other Bishops from other countries and numerous clergy from all over the country. In his homily, Bishop Edgar Peña Parra said, among other things: "the picture of Our Lady of Altagracia teaches us to prioritize the value of life and the dignity of persons; it is also a defense of the value of the family as an institution and of family ties that have been and are harshly tested, denigrated and marginalized, but at the same time, continue to be the firmest point of reference for the stability of the entire human and social community".

He also addressed the youth: "Do not allow yourselves to be seduced by hedonism, ideologies, evasion, drugs, violence and the thousand reasons that seem to justify them. Prepare yourselves to be the men and women of the future, responsible and active in the social, economic, cultural, political and ecclesial structures of your country".

Freddy Bretón Martínez, Archbishop of Santiago de los Caballeros and president of the Dominican Episcopal Conference, thanked the national organizing committee. He received the golden rose, a gift of the Pope to the Blessed Virgin and, on behalf of the bishops, he presented the Pope with an image of Our Lady of Altagracia in high relief. At the end of all the acts, the venerated image returned to its Basilica.

Needless to say, the applause for the image of Our Lady of Altagracia was very strong, both at its entrance to the primate cathedral and to the Olympic Stadium.

The three crowns of Our Lady of Altagracia.

Pope St. John Paul II, on the occasion of his second trip to the Dominican Republic, for the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America, on October 12, 1992, crowned the Virgin of Altagracia in her Basilica in Higüey. And so we speak of the three crowns of the Virgin of Altagracia: the one of the painting, the one of the centennial that was celebrated this year and the one made by St. John Paul II, which in this month of October celebrates its 30th anniversary.

It only remains to say that -thanks to God through the intercession of our Protectress- this activity has been a great occasion to kindle the devotion of the Dominican people, dormant due to the long period of the pandemic.

The authorJosé Francisco Tejeda

Omnes Correspondent in the Dominican Republic

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