This Friday (Oct. 12) will be a national holiday here in Brazil. It’s the day of Our Lady of Aparecida – the patron saint of Brazil1.
Apparently, this is how her story goes: one day, in the year of 1717, three fishermen were fishing in Paraíba river, state of São Paulo, but were not having much luck at catching any fish. At one point, however, one of the fishermen – his name was João Alves – pulled his net back to the boat and found that it had accidentally caught a small, headless statue of Our Lady of Conception (Nossa Senhora da Conceição in Portuguese). He then casted his net again, and when he pulled it back again there was the head of the statue. Then, the miracle happened. When the fishermen casted their nets again, they finally started to come back full with fish.
One of the fishermen – whose name was Filipe Cardoso – took the small clay statue home and soon people started to gather at his house to pray to the saint. Many of them would later claim that their prayers had been answered, and so the saint’s fame quickly started to spread. A few years later a small chapel and later a slightly bigger one were built in its honor, and groups of pilgrims would come from all over the state – and sometimes even the country – to pray to it.
In 1834, an actual church was built to shelter the saint and its faithful followers, and in 1908 the temple was granted the status of a minor basilica by the Vatican. Like the chapels that had preceded it, the basilica would also become too small for the number of pilgrims that would visit it year after year, so that a new one started to built in 1955. The construction would only be finished in 1984, 55 years after Our Lady of Aparecida was declared the patron saint of Brazil by Pope Pius XXI. Nevertheless, the Basilica was consecrated by Pope John Paul II in 1980, and October 12th has been a national holiday dedicated to Our Lady of Aparecida ever since.
Interesting fact: her name is such a common expression here in Brazil (e.g.: instead of saying something like “wow!” or “geez!”, people will say “Nossa Senhora!”).
And also, I find it interesting to note that the same law that declared October 12th as a national holiday dedicated to her devotion also officially declares Our Lady of Aparecida as the patron saint of Brazil – considering that Brazil was (at least from a constitutional point of view) already a secular state by 1980.
Still, I’m not complaining. At least we get to have a holiday, right? 🙂
1 I just call her Our Lady of Aparecida, since that’s her actual name (translated into English, of course), but it feels kind of weird for me sometimes, since I am not a catholic and therefore do not see her as my saint in any way. When I was kid I would call her something like Thy Lady of Aparecida, but at one point I just stopped doing it. It would somehow sound arrogant/disrespectful, and my dad’s family is mostly catholic, so I didn’t want to treat their belief with disrespect in any way.