La Divina Pastora: The Patron Saint of Santa Rosa, Venezuela, Siparia,Trinidad and The Capuchin Mission Spain:
Few genuine relics remain from Trinidad’s Spanish period. Who knows of The Divine Shepherdess of Spain and her manifestation as a Black Madonna in Trinidad and a White Madonna in Venezuela? Who knows of the folklore centered around these two sisters that adds to our unique Trinidadian identity?
La Divina Pastora (The Divine Shepherdess) was made the patron saint of the Capuchin order of Roman Catholicism as decreed by Pope Pius VI in 1795.
This tradition comes from Seville, Spain when a Capuchin friar, Isidore of Seville, had a dream in which he saw an image of the Divina Pastora. Days later, he gave a detailed description of his vision to the artist Alonso Miguel de Tovar so that he could paint it. The painting of the virgin with pastoral hat, covered by a blue mantle, holding a boy in her left hand and a lamb in her right one, was called “Divina Pastora de Almas”. Later, the sculptor Francisco Antonio Ruiz Gijón, made a life-sized sculpture of the Divina Pastora, which was carried in its first procession in 1705.
Both Trinidad and Venezuela at one time were part of the Vice Roy of Spain during Spanish rule in the West in colonial times. During the 1650s, the Capuchin mission had spread to Venezuela and has reached Trinidad about a century after in 1758 by a Capuchin mission from Aragon. Spain. .
The devotion to the Divina Pastora in Venezuela dates back to 1715 and the first church was built in her honour in an Amerindian mission. When the parish priest of the town of Santa Rosa commissioned a sculptor to make a statue of the Immaculate Conception, unexpectedly, the figure that was delivered was of the Divina Pastora. The priest wanted to return it, but the packing crate could not be lifted. The whole town took this as a sign that the statue was to remain in Santa Rosa. That is how La Divina Pastora became the patron saint of the city of Barquisimeto and of the Venezuelan National Militia.
Each January 14 (two weeks after the winter solstice) in Lara state, the Divine Shepherdess statue is carried by 6 to 10 men and women accompanied by a procession of more than 2 million people, some barefoot and carrying crosses, from Iglesia de la Divina Pastora in Santa Rosa near Barquisimeto to the Metropolitan Cathedral of Barquisimeto. It is a festive occasion, with countless street vendors selling anything from food and liquor to small religious figurines along the route of just over 7.5 km that snakes through the city. Beginning at about 11:30 after the 10:00 am Mass at Santa Rosa, the procession lasts nearly 7 hours, making a traditional stop at Macario Yepez square. It culminates in the arrival Mass celebrated far and wide on Avenida Venezuela, with various cultural and musical acts ending a day full of fervor and faith. During the next couple of months the “Shepherdess” visits some of the 52 parishes of Barquisimeto and arrives back in Santa Rosa in time for Palm Sunday.
The date of when the devotion to her was introduced to Trinidad however, is not known. There is a parish record that states that the statue of La Divina Pastora was brought from Cumana mission in Venezuela to Siparia by Spanish priest, who said that the statue had saved his life. This record dates from 1871. The statue may well be over 100 years older than that date. Perhaps it had traveled from Spain to Venezuela in 1715, perhaps it had been taken into safekeeping by the priest in those turbulent years of Venezuela’s post-revolutionary period, when much of the church property was destroyed in the wars.This little wooden figure of the Blessed Virgin Mary, known as the ‘Black Virgin’, is said to be a copy of a statue of Our Lady in a shrine in Montserrat, Spain. It is interesting to note that the earliest missionaries, the Catalan Capuchin priests, first arrived in 1687. The last Aragon Capuchin came in 1758. This serves to give an idea of the age of the ‘Black Virgin of Montserrat’.
A popular story concerning the statue in Trinidad was recounted in 1887 as follows:
“Tradition says that this statue was picked up by Spaniards in the depths of the forest ; it remained here for some time, and was then removed to Oropouche Church. It made no stay there, however, for on the morning after its arrival it was found to have mysteriously disappeared during the night, and, on search being instituted, it was discovered in the precise spot of the forest where it had first appeared.”
Siparia and La Divina Pastora are synonymous and the very identity of the little country town is associated with the presence of its patron saint. There are many myths and legends surrounding the origins of the statue which has such deep spiritual and temporal significance for so many. In 1878, Fr. Armand Masse, a French priest , wrote this observation:
“Some Waraoons dressed in nothing are at the door of the church. A band of coolies arrives. They sing all night long. At dawn they go to bathe and then come to the chapel .They have brought two cocks which they will offer to the virgin (they call her Siparee Mai) . To make this offering they go to the foot of the altar with the cock and saying their prayers in a loud voice with arms extended , they go to the back of the church , untie the cock and set it free in the church . ”
Thus, this statue of the Virgin Mary was venerated by the Warao,a native peoples from the Orinoco Delta region of Venezuela that came to settle in the plateau of Siparia before their extinction, by Roman Catholics, as well as by Hindus, during the indentureship period till today, who call the statue Siparee Mai (Mother of Siparia). The annual festival of “La Divina Pastora”, named for this patron saint occurs on the saint’s day of La Divina Pastora, a few weeks after Easter. The statue is also venerated by Hindus during a separate festival, held on Good Friday and Maundy Thursday. The Hindu celebration is often referred to the “Siparia Fête”. She is La Divina Pastora, the Divine Shepherdess, a manifestation of the Virgin Mary, to Catholics, and Siparia Mai (Mother of Siparia) to Hindus. Sometimes Sipari Mai is associated with a particular Hindu goddess, such as Kali, and sometimes she is a goddess in her own right. These two religious groups are most commonly associated with her, but persons of many other religions, including Muslims, Spiritual Baptist, Rastafarians, Yorubas (Orishas), Buddhist, Bahá’ís and indigenous Warao people have been known to worship the popular saint.
1. The Legend surrounding the Origin of La Divina Pastora , Patron Saint of Siparia is interwoven into the social fabric of the town of Siparia. Researcher & Author : Angelo Bissessarsingh.
2. The Antique Saints of Trinidad By By Alice & Gerard Besson
3. “Pintan de rojo otro mural de la Divina Pastora en el estado Lara” (in Spanish). El Tiempo. 2 June 2011. Retrieved 10 January 2015.
4. “Catedral Metropolitana de Barquisimeto” (in Spanish). Retrieved 2009-08-24.
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