Argentina’s patron saint is a ubiquitous presence – you can spot her poster on butcher-shop walls, her statue in churches throughout the country and her image on the dashboards of taxis. She wears a triangular blue dress, stands on a half-moon and radiates streams of glory from her crowned head.
In 1630, a Portuguese settler in Tucumán asked a friend in Brazil to send him an image of the Virgin for his new chapel. Unsure what style of Virgin was required, the friend sent two – including one of the Immaculate Conception. After setting out from the port of Buenos Aires, the cart bearing the statues got bogged down near the river of Luján and only moved when the Immaculate Conception was taken off. Its owner took this as a sign, and left the statue in Luján so that a shrine could be built there. The other statue continued its journey to the northwest.
Since then the Virgin of Luján has been credited with a number of miracles – from curing tumors to protecting the province from a cholera epidemic. She was rewarded for her trouble in 1886, when Pope Leo XIII crowned her with a golden coronet set with almost 500 pearls and gems.
Every year millions of pilgrims from throughout Argentina visit Luján's basilica, where the original 17th-century statue is still displayed, to honor the Virgin for her intercession in affairs of peace, health, forgiveness and consolation. If you arrive here during the massive pilgrimage on the first Sunday in October, you’ll spot families of exhausted pilgrims snoozing in the square, enjoying barbecues by the river and filling plastic bottles with holy water from the fountain.