Having just arrived in Puerto la Cruz for an August visit, Dave and I were anxious to immerse ourselves in local culture. The opportunity arrived just days after we did when local fishermen dedicated a day to honor their patron saint—the Virgin of the Valley. The sun was shining brightly for the event as we took off in our dinghy to cover the water parade by sea. We had watched local fishing families arrange their boats on shore but nothing prepared us for the colorful and festive parade that was to follow, accompanied by cheers from the hundreds gathered on the beach and complimented by rhythmic Latino music.
The figure of the Virgin of the Valley is about five hundred years old. She was made in Spain for the church at Cubegua, the first Spanish village in South America, and was named “The One That Makes the Miracles, La Milagrosa”. When the village at Cubegua was destroyed by an earthquake and tidal wave many years ago, one of the Spaniards took The Virgin to Isle de Margarita. The villagers changed her name to Virgin of the Valley because she was placed in a basilica built expressly for her in The Valley of the Holy Spirit, [El Valle del Espiritu Santo]. She is now the most important Madonna of Eastern Venezuela.
It is not unusual to see natives coming to the statue to pray for favors and then leave her a gift. She is usually placed high atop the altar in the local church but once a year she is brought down, honored in the water parade procession, and given her day as the Patron Saint of Fishermen. Afterwards she is placed at ground level in a glass shrine on September 8 where she remains, close to the people, through December.
Following the parade, we adjourned to the plaza around the church, filled with vendors selling small replicas of the virgin, other religious icons, and local crafts. It was a lovely day and a great introduction into this unique culture.