Las Lajas Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Rosary. Image on Flickr by user Jonathan Wood (CC BY-ND 2.0).

The Most Beautiful Church in the World

The Amazing Stories of Las Lajas Sanctuary

Written by Gabriela Garcia Calderon Orbe

All across Latin America, stories of miracles and fantastic events travel through the region and many times stop at the churches. In Colombia, many of these stories surrround the Las Lajas (stone similar to shale) Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Rosary. Known as the “most beautiful church on earth,” the sanctuary is located about 800 kilometers south of Bogotá (a little less than 500 miles) and 10 kilometres (about six miles) from the border with Ecuador, in the Colombian city of Ipiales in Nariño department. Las Lajas Sanctuary received canonical coronation from the Vatican in 1951 and the sanctuary was declared a basilica in 1954.

There are many stories and origins it protectes, however, that date back from at least the 18th century. One of the best known tells the story of Maria Mueses de Quiñones, and the miracles the Virgin granted to her daughter:

[The] main characters [in this story] are Maria Mueses, an indigenous woman from Quiñones, who was descended from old caciques [tribe leaders] and her small daughter Rosa, deaf and mute from birth. The place where the events took place is located in the Equatorial Andes, 2.600 meters above sea level (about 8,500 feet), in the middle of a deep gorge over Guaitara river, in the municipality of Ipiales, on the southern end of modern-day Colombia, ten kilometers from the border with Ecuador. […] Upon arrival to the Pastaran cave, [Maria] stops to rest. Then, the girl [her daughter Rosa] slips from her mother and starts to climb the shales. Soon Maria hears her daughter saying: ‘Mommy, look at this mestiza [mixed race] that has come down holding a baby with two other mestizos by her side.’ Bewildered, [Maria] is only able to grab the girl and run away from the place.

And the story goes on with an even more astonishing event, not only because Rosa is able to talk:

Rosa got seriously ill and died. The disconsolate mother then had the idea to take the little dead body of her beloved daughter to the Lady of Pastarán’s feet, for her to remember the flowers and candles the girl used to take her and to strongly plead for the girl to come back to life. Listening to the endless prayers, being aware of the abundant tears and witnessing the unbreakable faith, the Virgin could not resist and got from her Divine Son the grace of resurrection for Rosa.

In December 2015, British newspaper The Telegraph ranked Las Lajas Sanctuary as the world’s most beautiful church:

Las Lajas Sanctuary, considered ‘God’s miracle over the abyss,’ is visited annually by 750.000 parishioners, mostly Colombians and Ecuadorians.
 For ‘The Telegraph’ its Gothic style is impressive, as well as the fact that it has been built over a canyon, over 100 meters (328 feet) above Guáitara river, on the border with Ecuador.

The name of the sanctuary is inspired by the material used to build it:

The name Laja comes from the name of a type of flat sedimentary rock similar to floor tiles found in the Andes Mountains.

More images can be found thanks to Twitter users:

Translation: Las Lajas Sanctuary, Colombia.

Translation: Detail of rose window at Las Lajas Basilica, Nariño (Colombia). Amazing.

Originally published at globalvoices.org on June 6, 2016.