The Virgin of Quinche: Themes of Light and Dark

by Linda McFarlin

A chance encounter with the Virgin of Quinche occurred one night as Gary and I were returning home from a shopping trip in Quito.  It proved to be a night of dark and light, joy and sadness.

I wrote about our Virgin of Quinche pilgrimage experience in an article entitled, A Night of Miracles, a Night of Death.”  

Our taxi was unexpectedly caught up in the throngs of pilgrims walking to Quinche and we realized it was November 21, the day she is celebrated in Ecuador. I settled back in my seat, suddenly filled with peace.

This contentment was shattered when our taxi rounded a corner and we witnessed the aftermath of a fatal head-on, high speed collision between a bus and a compact car that had happened just seconds before we arrived on the scene. Almost an hour passed before we were able to proceed.

While doing research for the article, I realized that we had participated in a theme that has taken place throughout the history of the Virgin of Quinche.  

You can imagine my astonishment when I read the following quote from a 1947 Time Magazine article:  “Last week the Virgin of Quinche figured in the greatest railway disaster in Ecuador's history.”

Our World is One of Duality

We live in a world of dark and light and of duality.  We don’t always notice the oppositional connection.

For example, in India, a spiritual ceremony known as the Maha Kumbhmela takes place every 12 years and attracts millions of pilgrims, holy men, saddhus and gurus.  This pilgrimage is reputedly the largest such gathering in the world. 

Immediately following the last such event in 2001, a devastating earthquake and flooding destroyed much of the state of Gujarat.  Thousands of people died and hundreds of thousands lost their homes.  

I started wondering if this phenomenon of extreme opposites frequently happened.  When I Googled “Virgin of Quinche,” and “Virgin of Quinche miracles,” I found few miracles listed, but I did find these two interesting articles:

Source:  Time Magazine

Needed: a Miracle

Monday, Dec. 03, 1945  

The Virgin of Quinche (rhymes with keen shay), a rejected piece of religious statuary which a sculptor had traded to the Indians of Ayacachi in 1586 for a few pieces of lumber, was credited with miraculous powers. She could cure fistulas and the pox and prevent disasters as well. Last week the Virgin of Quinche figured in the greatest railway disaster in Ecuador's history.

North of Quito, an old, worn-out locomotive huffed and puffed its way through steep mountain passes, carrying faithful Quitenos on their annual pilgrimage to the Virgin's upland shrine. Eating, singing and chattering pilgrims jammed the seats and aisles of the ancient wooden coaches, clung to roofs, windows and couplings.

Suddenly a coupling parted. The heavily-loaded car rolled back, jumped the track and plunged down the mountainside. Of the 400 in and on the car, 114 were killed and 206 injured. A pregnant woman who had been riding on the roof gave birth to her child in the wreckage, and then died.

President Jose Maria Velasco Ibarra proclaimed a national day of mourning. Neighboring countries rushed plasma and medicines. Railway men doubted that even Quinche's famed Virgin could prevent railway disasters until Ecuador could buy new rolling stock and spare parts from the U.S.

Not Just Miracles

Lest we think that nearness to the shrine of the Virgin of Quinche results only in miracles and positivity, the following article reminds us of another fact. Being in the presence of great light can bring out the darker unresolved aspects that dwell inside each of us.  When this occurs, we receive another kind of gift from the Virgin, which may not seem like a gift at all.

This is an opportunity to look at parts within our psyche that need healing.  It requires us to look honestly at our thoughts and feelings and to allow this darkness to be transformed in the Virgin’s Light.

Source: Christianity Today

Evangelical Mission Torched by Mob
by Kenneth D. MacHarg in Quito

April 27, 1998

After an evangelical church under construction was burned down in the heavily Catholic town of El Quinche, church leaders have intensified their efforts to defuse tensions between religious groups.

"There are continual threats in the town," says missionary Kevin Mayfield, field director for the Saint Louis-based Berean Mission in Ecuador. "Many people are very agitated."

A large mob set fire to the Berean-related Evangelical Church of the Good Shepherd on March 2, causing an estimated $40,000 damage.

El Quinche is a Roman Catholic stronghold 25 miles northeast of the capital, Quito. A large basilica several blocks from the evangelical church is the site of a reported visit by the Virgin Mary and a popular destination for pilgrims seeking healing.

The burning led to an unprecedented statement by Ecuadorian Roman Catholic and Protestant church officials. "We lament and reject this violent act provoked by false religious motivations," leaders said. "It is not only against the commandment to love, but also against human rights and constitutional rights of freedom of worship recognized in the Ecuadorian constitution."

Despite being concerned about another attack, Mayfield is optimistic. He says several people have made professions of faith since the incident.

As soon as legal hurdles are cleared, the mission will start to rebuild the burned-out church building.

History of the Virgin of Quinche

A remarkable 16th century artist carved the image of Mary that became known as the Virgin of Quinche.  Legends recount that whoever ordered the sculpture didn’t pay for it, so the artist, Don Diego de Robles of Toledo, traded it for cedar wood.

The Indians he traded with were known as the "Oyacachi." They thought that the face of the carved Virgin was very much like the face of a beautiful lady who had appeared to some of them in a cave.  Bears had been preying upon their children and the Virgin told them that she would prevent the bears' attacks.

They sang songs to the Virgin and her baby son and called her "La Pequehita", the little one.  Legend has it that at night the statue would be surrounded by light. If a supplicant touched the rough handmade shawl the Virgin was draped in, healings often manifested.  Among the verified miracles reported are restoring life to a dead child and harvesting a large field of grain without human help.

The Indians built a little chapel and later a church to house the Virgin.  They kept her for fifteen years until the local bishop moved the statue to the village of Quinche, about one hour to the northwest. The Virgin of Quinche was crowned in 1943 and the shrine declared a National Sanctuary in 1985.   November 21 of each year is her feast day.

The carving stands 62 centimeters high on a pedestal of silver.  The Virgin’s dark face is shrouded in jeweled brocade that is embroidered in gold and silver thread.  She holds the Christ Child in her left hand and a scepter in her right.

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