Where: Catamarca, Northwest Argentina
What Happens: Catholic celebration of the healing powers of the Virgin Mary in a week long parade
Where It’s At
In December the residents of Catamarca celebrate the annual festival in honour of the Virgin of the Valley. Thousands of people participate in the celebrations and some come from hundreds of miles away to celebrate the special event. Some devotees even walk for as many as 6 days to get there.The Virgin is actually a statue in the church Nuestra Señora del Valle (Our Lady of the Valley), which dates to the mid 17th century. She is known for her powers of healing and people come in hopes of being cured by her, particulary the sick and aged. The Virgin of the Valley festival is a Catholic one, and takes place in a very religious part of the country, Catamarca, the capital of the northwestern Argentinian province of the same name.
Discovered in a cave just outside the city in the 1600’s, the Virgin statue was displayed in the Nuestra Señora del Valle church. It was moved away from Catamarca once but legend has it Nuestra Señora moved back to Catamarca by herself as she was unhappy there.
What Happens at the Virgin of the Valley?
During the week long festival, the statue is removed from the Church and a procession takes her through the city; many models of the Virgin are seen during this time but only the real one is escorted with a military guard. The religious fervour still felt here is a direct result of the Missionary activities that went on in the 17th century, and ruins also can be found around Catamarca that date back to this period. Accomodation may be difficult to book in advance so it may be necessary to accept the hospitality of the local people when attending the festival.
Other Things to See and Do
The region surrounding the town is famous for wineries and vineyards and these make popular excursions for travellers. It is a very dry region so drought is common here, although cattle raising is a major industry.
Catamarca Tourist Commission
Information on visiting the sunny town of Catamarca, its crafts and history
By Dave Lowe
main image: Cathedral Our Lady of the Valley (Catamarca, Argentina).