EL QUINCHE, Ecuador – Considered to be the “Queen of Ecuador,” the Virgin of Quinche is one of the country’s most venerated Marian images and the focus of pilgrimages along with widespread devotion among this country’s Catholic faithful that has been recognized in mosaic form at The Vatican.
The image of Mary is enthroned in an imposing sanctuary in the neo-Romanesque style erected at the beginning of the 20th century in this small Andean village near Quito, and the popular site was visited by Pope Francis in July 2015.
This week, the Vatican gardens – where pontiffs regularly come to stroll and pray the rosary – is acquiring a mosaic by Ecuadorian artist Domenica Barahona depicting the Virgin of Quinche.
The mosaic will be displayed together with a reproduction of the National Shrine Grotto of Lourdes, in France, an image of the appearance of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico and another of Santa Maria la Antigua of Panama.
“Knowing that the mosaic of Our Lady is in the gardens of the Vatican fills Ecuador with hope and thankfulness, along with our Church, which is very Marian,” Father Javier Ramiro Piarpuzan Castro, the missionary oblate, parish priest and rector of the shrine to the Virgin of Quinche, said.
Standing before the altarpiece covered in gold leaf in the excessively ornate Churrigueresque style that houses the image, the priest said that the Ecuadorian people feel “filled with enthusiasm and profound gratitude” because the “pope not only visited us, but he kept our holy Virgin in his mind and in his heart.”
Designated the “Queen of Ecuador” in 1945 and recognized as a key element of the country’s heritage, the sculpture standing 66 centimeters (26 inches) high and carved from dark brown cedar wood in the 16th century by Quito school artist Diego de Robles is only removed from its glass enclosure twice a year.
On the night of November 20 and at noon on the following day, the image is removed to be carried through the town in a procession that draws about a million of the faithful.
“The Blessed Virgin of Quinche is an image that goes back more than 427 years. It’s the source, site and means whereby the Ecuadorian people express their faith, strength and hope and celebrate life,” said the priest.
Among its assets, the image of the Virgin has a rosary presented to it by Pope Francis, the priest said before emphasizing that it is usually “simple, humble people who come to seek God in the maternal face of this blessed image.”
The image wears a luxurious white brocaded gown covered in gemstones, bordered with gold and silver thread, and in her right hand the Virgin holds a scepter and in her left the Christ child in the act of blessing the world, a figure that has been replicated and is on display in other countries with large Ecuadorian-origin populations, such as Spain and the United States.
Among the hundreds of miracles the faithful attribute to the Virgin of Quinche are at least three that have been depicted in paintings and are included on the altar in the shrine.
One of the Virgin’s devotees, public transport driver Juan Carlos Guevara, said that it is she who protects him on the job each day so that he can return home safely at night to his family.
“I’ve come to visit my Lady because she’s like my second mother,” he said.