On the border of Colombia and Ecuador, near the city of Ipiales, stands Colombia’s second wonder – Las Lajas Sanctuary. Laja refers to a type of rock which is formed within bodies of water.
This magnificent structure was built in the canyon of the Guaitara River and although it looks like a castle, it is, in fact, a Gothic church. The construction of the church started in 1916 and it took almost 33 years to finish it.
According to a legend which dates from 1754, a miraculous event happened at this location explaining why this church was built in such an unusual place. The legend states that one day, a woman named Maria and her daughter Rosa, who was deaf and could not speak, were walking beside the Guaitara River when a violent storm took place. They went towards the rocks looking for a place to shelter. All of a sudden, the deaf-mute Rosa shouted and pointed towards an enormous vertical rock. When Maria looked, she saw an image of the Virgin Mary on it. She believed that the Virgin Mary cured Rosa.
Rumors about this miracle spread across the region. People wondered whether it really happened. One blind man truly believed in this miracle and started to ask people to help him build a shrine at the place where the Virgin Mary appeared. Thus, a few years later, the first shrine was built and another miracle happened.
The blind man regained his eyesight. Fifty years later, in 1802, churchgoers built the bridge which leads to the church.
The shrine built in the 18th century was replaced by the neo-gothic cathedral that we know today. The cathedral stands at the end of the 50 meters long bridge in the middle of the Guaitara river canyon. It is built right into the rock face of the plunging gorge.
On the inside, the walls are covered with golden entangled lines that connect within the hinges of the rounded ceiling where beautiful chandeliers are hung. The back wall of the church is actually the rock where Rosa is said to have seen the Virgin.
There is still an image of the Virgin Mary there, but no one knows who made it. Today, many pilgrims visit this church and place various plaques of thanksgiving to the Virgin on the cliff down the hill.
This cathedral received a canonical coronation from the Vatican in 1952 and was made a minor basilica in 1994. Although it is one of the most spectacular architectural monuments in the world, La Lajas is not a typical South American Catholic Church.
It looks more like a European castle and even though it is just over sixty years old, it looks as though it was built centuries ago.