Located near the border of Colombia and Ecuador and suspended over a canyon of the Guáitara River in a supernatural site of Southern Columbia, Las Lajas Sanctuary, a minor basilica church, seems to be immersed from the abyss of a canyon, like a miracle. The stone church, a towering tribute built around a mysterious image of Our Lady of Las Lajas, the 130 feet tall bridge over the river and the gorge it occupies, all taken together, form one of the most striking landscapes of Columbia. Constructed in the Gothic Revival style, the Roman Catholic Church located in Ipiales, a small Andean city in western Colombia, is often been called a jewel of engineering.
It all started in 1754, when an Amerindian woman, Maria Meneses de Quiñones, and her daughter a deaf-mute, Rosa, were caught in a fierce storm while passing the Guaitara River. As they were frantically looking for a shelter, they felt a violent gust of wind guided them to a cave where they could save themselves from the rough climatic catastrophe. There, inside the cave, little Rosa reportedly saw the image of the Virgin Mary on one of the walls and shouted to her mother, pointing to the image. It is believed that the sight of the apparition of the Virgin Mary cured Rosa, and soon the news of the miracle reportedly spread across the area. Later, a blind person also said to have regained his eyesight, when he visited the cave, intending to build a church on the spot.
The image of the Virgin Mary is still visible on the stone wall, and nobody knows who made that mysterious image at the end of the church, behind the altar of the newly built church.
The first shrine on the site, made of straw and wood, was built within a few years after the alleged appearance, probably between 1756 and 1764. However, it was replaced by a larger shrine in 1802, when the first version of the bridge connecting the church with the other side of the canyon was also erected.
The current Las Lajas Sanctuary, 330 feet (100 m) high from the bottom of the canyon and connected to the opposite side of the canyon by a stout 160 feet (50 m) tall bridge, was funded by donations from local parishioners and built between 1916 and 1949.
Spanning across the Guaitara River, the gothic-style Las Lajas Sanctuary is a breathtaking structure that looks like a castle straight from fairyland and is famous for its stunning architecture, as well as a series of legends involving the appearance of the Holy Virgin along with a mysterious mural of which nobody knows the origins.
While the roof of Las Lajas Sanctuary is designed to form a cross, its beautiful white interior with gold trim is decorated with wooden pews, like most churches in Colombia. However, the gold details on its columns and the rib-vault ceiling, the dangling chandeliers, and the stained glasses illuminated in sunlight are simply amazing. The doors of the church are adorned with carved fishes, inspired by the riverside location, and the stained-glass windows in the church include images of the church spires
There are many pieces of religious artwork throughout the church and its surrounding area that include the beautiful marble statues of the white angels playing musical instruments decorating the bridge.
Dedicated to the veneration of Our Lady of Las Lajas Ipiales, Las Lajas Sanctuary received canonical coronation from the Vatican in 1952 and was made a minor basilica in 1994.