Approximately 100 miles north of São Paulo in Brazil lies the town of Aparecida, home to the Basílica do Santuário Nacional de Nossa Senhora Aparecida, the second largest basilica in the world. Only Saint Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City is larger.
And today on October 12th, a national holiday in Brazil, thousands of devotees are traveling to the Brazilian town to pay homage to Our Lady of Aparecida (“Our Lady Who Appeared”), the country’s patron saint.
The Marian shrine is Brazil’s version of Lourdes. In her physical form, Our Lady of Aparecida is a dark-skinned, clay statue of the Virgin Mary measuring less than three feet tall. Some refer to her as the “black Virgin” because of her dark coloration.
According to one account, three fishermen hauled in the statue from the bottom of the Paraiba River in 1717. They weren’t catching any fish that day and so prayed to Virgin Mary. Soon after the statue drifted into their nets, bounties of fish followed in her wake, nearly capsizing the men’s boat. Ever since, the statue has been associated with miracles.
It’s notable that Brazil, whose population includes more than 75 million people of African descent, has a black Madonna as its patron saint. One of the many miracles associated with Nossa Senhora Aparecida, as Brazilians call her, is the liberation of a fugitive slave. Some Afro-Brazilians syncretize the saint with three female Yoruba orishas: Oshun, Yemaya, and Oya — all of whom are associated with water.
And in a modern era of technological miracles, Nossa Senhora Aparecida now has her very own Twitter feed, which you can follow (in Portuguese).