Our Lady of Altagracia holiday, also known as the Day of the Lady of Altagracia, is a holiday celebrated on January 21 by Dominicans everywhere. This day is dedicated to honoring the Virgin Mary, and particularly a 16th-century portrait of her, which currently resides in the city of Salvaleón de Higüey in the Dominican Republic. ‘Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia,’ as it is called in Spanish, is one of two days celebrating the Virgin Mary in the country, with the other being Our Lady of Mercedes Day on September 24.
History of Our Lady of Altagracia
The Dominican Republic’s association with the Virgin Mary has been long and is associated with two different tales.
One story is of a young girl in 16th-century Salvaleón de Higüey whose merchant father always brought back a gift for her from his travels. One day, after a dream about a painting of the Virgin Mary, the girl asked her father to bring back exactly that portrait. Her dad searched far and wide for this picture with no luck. He was eventually forced to accept defeat and returned home, stopping at an inn for a brief rest. While there, the merchant began to share his troubles with fellow travelers and was overheard by an old man who had a painting called ‘Our Lady of Altagracia.’ He gave this painting to the merchant, whose daughter cherished it so much that she hung it up in her room. However, every morning she would wake to find the painting had moved outside her house, under an orange tree. Eventually, the family decided that the painting was not meant to belong to just one family but was supposed to be displayed publicly for all Dominicans to cherish. A church was built on this spot to commemorate the Virgin Mary and her painting, and to this day, people offer oranges to the image after being inspired by this story.
Another origin story tells the tale of two 16th-century European brothers, Alfonso and Antonio Trejo, who were some of the first settlers in the Dominican part of Hispaniola island. They brought a painting of the Virgin Mary, and when they moved to a new home in Salvaleón de Higüey, they offered this painting to the town’s church, which has been venerated ever since. Eventually, the Catholic Church decided that to celebrate the Virgin Mary and honor the painting, a special mass and feast would be held each year on January 21.
Our Lady of Altagracia timeline
A theory states that two brothers — Alfonso and Antonio Trejo — bring the painting of the Virgen de Altagracia to the Dominican Republic when they come to settle there.
‘Our Lady of Altagracia’ goes on display for the first time.
In December, Pope Paul VI turns the cathedral in Salvaleón de Higüey into a minor basilica and, henceforth, the painting resides there.
Under President Horacio Vásquez, January 21 is declared a national holiday throughout the Dominican Republic.
Our Lady of Altagracia FAQs
How is Our Lady of Altagracia celebrated?
Apart from visiting the cathedral in Higuey, devotees conduct all-night vigils, sing, dance, enjoy feasts, and host different festivals across the country.
What does the name Altagracia mean?
Altagracia, taken from Virgin Mary’s Spanish title, means “high grace.”
What is the most important holiday in the Dominican Republic?
To Dominicans, Christmas is probably number one on the list of most popular festivals, even as different celebrations take precedence for different people.
Our Lady of Altagracia Activities
Listen to the music
Our Lady of Altagracia is the Greatest of Saints, so it stands to reason that there would be plenty of songs honoring her. Check out this music online, and find the one you love best.
Understand the painting
Get your hands on some books and literature to discuss the painting and its history. You can even lend and share these stories with loved ones in order to enthrall more people with this fascinating history.
Pair your celebrations with oranges
Have some feast fun in the Dominican style, with a bunch of oranges. Cook them, eat them fresh, or plant an orange tree — whatever you do, make sure to feature the humble orange in your Our Lady of Altagracia celebration.
5 Incredible Facts About The Dominican Republic And Our Lady Of Altagracia
It is an important Christian tradition
The Spanish colonization introduced the Christian-Catholic religion to the Dominican Republic, soon becoming the dominant religion.
Our Lady of Altagracia has a lot of devotees
More than 800,000 of whom visit her at the Basilica every year for this celebration.
The image is a nativity scene
The picture painted represents a scene immediately after Jesus Christ was born in the manger.
The frame is just as amazing
It is made of gold, precious stones, and enamel and is probably one of the most refined works of Dominican gold work.
The image has been crowned twice
In 1922 and later, in 1979, the image received actual crowns — the latter of which was a golden tiara personally gifted to the Virgin by Pope John Paul II.
Why We Love Our Lady of Altagracia
The Dominican faith is impressive
January is a very cold month in this country, yet hundreds of devotees won't miss this celebration of faith. To most Dominicans, Our Lady of Altagracia is the Dominican Republic, and she's their biggest icon of faith.
The celebration has a long and rich history
This centuries-old tale of devotion and faith is still going strong, and its appeal only increases year after year. Even today, one in every 10 or 12 Dominicans is named after the Virgin Mary.
The Altagracia links countries together
She is venerated in many countries, including Kenya and Lebanon, and Christians in more than 21 countries place their faith in the Altagracia. She is the one common link that unites all these countries and all these people in faith.
Our Lady of Altagracia dates