Some time before 1542, when the village of Atlixtac in central-western Mexico became the pueblo of Santa Anita, a sick Franciscan friar went there. He sought medical help from a converted native, a healer named Justina, however he later died. The friar’s possessions passed to the healer, including a finely carved cedar statue of the Virgin Mary.
Justina developed a practice of praying first to the image of the Virgin when treating her patients and observes that its complexion changes: it displays rosy and radiant in appearance if the patient recovers, but when death is near the appearance changes into a darkened complexion. If so, she would recommend the sacraments of the church. Many of the treatments were considered miraculous. When Justina died, the Franciscan friars took the statue into custody and made it an object of public devotion in the chapel of the hospice of Santa Anita. Merchants who went to Guadalajara who lived in the hospice spread devotion throughout the region. This is the story of the Virgin of Santa Anita, recorded in the oral tradition and in the local Franciscan documents.
Historians believe that the statue was originally an image of the Immaculate Conception, standing on the crescent moon without the child.
Around 1700, the Virgin of Santa Anita began to be celebrated on August 15 as Our Lady of the Assumption. Around 1800, the image acquired a newborn baby and a candle in addition to the moon, becoming Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria (Our Lady of the Candles), celebrated on February 2, the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin or Candlemas.
In 1918, Our Lady of Santa Anita acquired another title, Abogada de los Enfermos, Advocate of the Sick. When the Spanish influenza was devastating the village, the survivors carried the statue in procession through every street. There were only two more deaths later, and the epidemic stopped.
The statue of Santa María de Santa Anita, advocate of the sick, was crowned by the diocesan authority in 1988 and by the papal authority on May 29, 2004.
Candelora remains a big feast in Santa Anita. The celebrations begin nine days earlier, on January 24th. Thousands of poinsettias line up along the route from the highway to the sanctuary. On February 1st the Entrada de la Cera (Entrance of the Candle) takes place: a parade of pilgrims brings votive offerings of giant candles, sacred vases, perfumes and ornaments for the statue, such as jewelry, clothing and wigs made with the hair of young women whose prayers had been answered. On February 2, a procession carries the Virgin of Santa Anita along a red carpet with around 300,000 flowers cut by poinsettias along the way.
**(audio of the video is in spanish but you can turn on auto-subtitle in english as needed):
To activate auto-subtitle in English – (click to play the video, then click the icon to activate the subtitle -> then click the “Impostazione” or Settings icon () -> after which click the option “Sottotitoli(1) (Subtitle) ” and then select the option “Traduzione automatico (Automatic translation)” and then choose the language you want, for es. “English”)
Sonia Gabriela Ceja Ramírez, “Comunidad festiva, con una Madre Milagrosa”, Semanario Arquidiocesano de Guadalajara, 31 gennaio 2010, www.semanario.com.mx/ps/2010/01/comunidad-festiva-con-una-madre- milagrosa /
Luis Javier Roman Moya, “Nuestra Señora de Santa Anita”, Mariologia.org, www.mariologia.org/advocacionesmexico07.htm
Héctor Ventura Gonzalez, OFM, Coronación de Nuestra Señora de Santa Anita, Provincia Franciscana de los Ss. Francisco y Santiago en México, Zapopan, 2009, in “Santa Anita”, Facebook, www.facebook.com/pages/Santa-Anita/242091021563 (foto)