A well-known cathedral to Colombian Christians and travelers from all around the world is Las Lajas Sanctuary. It is a breathtaking structure with excellent architecture, built on a side of a cliff on a gorge, giving it a fairy-tale like-appeal that is truly magical to experience firsthand.
Las Lajas Sanctuary is one of the most outstanding cathedrals in the world, located near the Colombian city of Ipiales, not far from the border of Ecuador. It was constructed inside the canyon where the Guitara River flows, 100 meters from the bottom of the canyon and connected with a 50-meters tall bridge to the other side of the ravine.
The detailed and gothic-themed ambience is incredible to witness, and for travelers who are making their way from Ecuador to Colombia by land, it is really well worth the visit! We at Kuoda have summarized the most important things to know before embarking on this majestic journey to Las Lajas Sanctuary.
1 Origin story: a miracle
There is a miraculous event that took place in 1754 revolving around the Sanctuary of Las Lajas in Colombia that says the Virgin Mary went to this site to visit a mother and her daughter who was a mute, and she was also deaf. During the time of the visit there was a violent storm.
The mother and daughter were looking for shelter from the storm, and were guided by a strong force towards a cave in the area. Inside of this cave, they were able to see an image of the Virgin Mary on one of the cave walls. The girl opened her mouth and shouted at her mother to look at the image, and realized she could hear herself too. It is believed that the apparition of the Virgin Mary cured her.
Soon after the news spread that there were healing powers at this special site, and an old blind man was curious to find out more about it. He traveled far and wide to ask people to participate in his mission to collect enough money to build a chapel at the place where the Virgin Mary had appeared.
He was successful in his attempt to collect all the money, and then the second miracle happened – the old man was able to see again! Also, his third dream – the chapel was finally constructed in the late eighteenth century.
The chapel had visitors from all over, and when Pilgrims started to visit the chapel they also could see the image of the Virgin Mary. More and more miraculous healing stories were recorded over the years and this has attracted bigger crowds as everyone wanted to see the sacred image to receive her healing.
About two centuries later the local authorities and residents built the huge cathedral on the rocks that we can see today. The style of the cathedral was built in Gothic Revival style, which makes it seem that it is much older – and obviously history tells us that the initial structure really is much, much older! It does not look like any of the catholic churches in South America, which makes it a special visit and it truly is a breathtaking sight!
The Sanctuary of Las Lajas is located in the Nariño Department of Colombia which is situated in the utmost southwestern corner of the country. It borders Ecuador to the south and the Pacific Ocean to the west. The closest city to the cathedral is Ipiales, which is just a few kilometers to the west of the church, and the capital of this department, Pasto, is about 50 kilometers to the northeast.
To get to the cathedral from Pasto, you need to travel to Ipiales. From Ipiales you can travel by car to the Sanctuary. Ipiales is about a 15-minute drive from Las Lajas and the best place to layover during your trip. When you arrive at Las Casas, you will go down a clearly marked footpath, of about a hundred meters, down to the cathedral. Then take some stairs to arrive at the actual cathedral.
3. Stones & Architecture
The cathedral is referred to as “Las Lajas” because of the stones in the location. The word “laja” means “slab” and it is a reference to the type of sedimentary rock that is found in this region. Shale and slate are some rocks that can be compared to this fine-grained rock.
When the mother, Maria Meneses de Quiñones, and her daughter, Rosa, were looking for shelter from the storm, they found a hiding place between the giant lajas near the Guáitara River. This sacred site is said to be where the first miracle occurred.
Many locals donated their own money to help fund the construction of the cathedral, and it took over 33 years to complete the building. Other than financial pressures, the rocky location was very difficult for constructing such a detailed and unique cathedral.
It was well worth the long wait, as today the church reaches over 100 meters above the canyon floor, and it has a bridge of about 40 meters which allows visitors access to the church. It ended up with a gothic-style, making it distinctly different from other cathedrals and churches in South America.
4. When to visit
The weather in Ipiales is quite constant at an average temperature of 12 degrees Celsius throughout the year. So, it is important to wear warm clothes and comfortable closed shoes to respect the church. The weather conditions will have little effect on your experience.
Holy Week is a wonderful time to visit the Las Lajas Santuary, and you will experience the festivities of the Passion and Crucifixion of Christ, and other good times to visit are the first days of December and January, when many other religious events are held.
5. How to visit with Kuoda
Visiting a miraculous site with mysterious healing powers and stunning European-gothic-style architecture, like the Sanctuary of Las Lajas, is a unique and memorable experience for sure! The legendary history gives one hope, and inspires faith, which is something that needs to be embodied in real-life. Traveling to Colombia offers a wide variety of religious experiences like this, but not only that – some of the most beautiful landscapes, national parks, cultural experiences, and much more. We at Kuoda are specialists in designing custom-made trips for our clients, and our trips to South America are on the top of the list. Contact us today to talk more about your necessities and requirements for your trip. Our trip designers are ready to talk to you.