Many places of worship are built around relics and icons. However, most of them are not built in such precarious and dangerous locations as Las Lajas Sanctuary, which crosses a forested gorge on the border between Colombia and Ecuador.
In 1754, an Amerindian woman and her daughter found themselves caught in a brutal storm. Hiding out from the weather in the gorge, the women felt a force calling to them, and to their amazement looked up and saw the image of the Virgin Mary on the rocks above. At that moment, the woman’s daughter was simultaneously cured of her inability to hear and speak.
Shortly after the discovery was reported, a blind man wandered for ten years from village to village collecting donations to build a chapel around the image. When he returned to Las Lajas, he was able to see again. Both of those 18th-century miracles inspired the creation of Las Lajas Sanctuary between 1916-1949, built around the original chapel. To co-opt the original miracle, the stone image on the cliff forms the back wall of the modern sanctuary, making a gorge-spanning bridge and church combination necessary.
Although the site was dedicated a minor basilica by the Catholic Church in 1954, non-religious visitors can still enjoy the dramatic setting and neo-Gothic architecture. The massive church sits 150 feet high over the river below, and its turrets contrast elegantly with the green cliffs and cascading waterfall, which are visible from the arched stone bridge.
Know Before You Go
If you visit, you can ride a teleferico instead of walking up and down to the sanctuary.