Our Lady of Altagracia

Our Lady of Altagracia is the Patroness for the island of Hispaniola—an island that contains both the nations of the Dominican Republic and Haiti. She is known as the Virgin de la Altagracia, or “Virgin of the Highest Grace.” January 21st is not only the feast day on which she is celebrated but is also a public holiday in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

The History of Our Lady of Altagracia

The story of this holiday goes back to a 16th-century merchant who liked to bring his daughter gifts from all his travels. Before embarking on his next journey one day, his daughter asked him to bring home an image of the Blessed Mother. However, she didn’t just want any image; she wanted a specific one that she had seen in her dream. The merchant consented to the request and then headed out on his journey, searching for the portrait as he traveled.

After several failed attempts at finding the image, he shared his troubles at an inn where he was staying on his way back home to Higuey in the Dominican Republic. An elderly man overheard the story and presented him with a 13×18-inch image of Our Lady of Altagracia. The merchant was overjoyed and took it home to his daughter to hang on her wall.

The merchant’s joy would be tempered by the fact that the image disappeared during the night and reappeared in an orange tree grove. He brought the image back home, but it kept disappearing during the night and returning to the grove. Eventually, a church was built in that very same grove.

According to historians, the picture of Our Lady of Altagracia was brought to the Caribbean island by two brothers, Antonio and Alonso Trejo, in 1502. It hung in St. Dionysus Church from 1571 until 1970 when it was moved to the Basilica of Our Lady of Altagracia in 1970. Every year, almost a million people visit the basilica.

The holiday was originally celebrated during the 16th and most of the 17th centuries on August 15th, but the date was moved to January 21st in 1691 after the victory over the French in 1690.

Observing Our Lady of Altagracia

On this day, people travel to and congregate around the Basilica of Our Lady of Altagracia to catch a glimpse of the Blessed Mother. People also hold all-night vigils, pray, and lead candle processions. Throughout this day, people also attend masses and other religious ceremonies. It is also traditional to set up a feast table with an image of Our Lady of Altagracia that includes candles, flowers, and sometimes oranges.

Where is it celebrated?
Dominican Republic (National holiday)
When is it?
This year (2024)
January 21 Sunday
Next year (2025)
January 21 Tuesday
Last year (2023)
January 21 Saturday