Our Lady of Lourdes shrine in the city of Alta Gracia in Córdoba province, Argentina, displays an image of Our Lady of Lourdes of Altagracia that is not there — but everyone sees it. / Credit: Facebook Virgen de Altagracia
ACI Prensa Staff, Feb 12, 2024 / 18:30 pm (CNA).
Those who visit the chapel of the Our Lady of Lourdes shrine in the city of Alta Gracia in Córdoba province, Argentina, witness a phenomenon that has no explanation: In the niche that is part of the altarpiece above the altar, an image of the Virgin Mary can be seen although without a doubt the space is empty — there is nothing there.
According to the Argentine news agency AICA, what is seen is not a flat image but rather a relief, a three-dimensional image with folds in the garment. It is also not a psychological illusion resulting from the exaggerated devotion of some pilgrims.
Everyone — believers or not — sees it. Additionally, the image appears in photos taken there. A curious fact is that the image is clearly seen from the front door of the church and then fades as one slowly approaches the altar.
Sources from Our Lady of Lourdes Shrine in Alta Gracia told ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, that although there is no specific statement from the Archdiocese of Córdoba, where the shrine is located, “everything is still the same. The image can be seen just as on the first day or more, a little more.”
“As for the image in the niche, everything remains the same and intact,” the statement said.
Pilgrimage, Masses on Feb. 11
Since it was built at the beginning of the 20th century, the shrine has been an important pilgrimage site. In 2023, about 30,000 pilgrims came from the city of Córdoba, 22 miles away.
In the Mass he offered there last year on Feb. 11 for the World Day of the Sick, Cardinal Ángel Sixto Rossi, the archbishop of Córdoba, pointed out that “the experience of weakness and illness are part of our path; they don’t exclude us from the people of God, but they take us to the center of the attention of the Lord, who is Father and does not want to lose any of his children along the way.”
Masses were held this year on Feb. 10 and Feb. 11 for the faithful who participated in the 47th pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes. A midnight Mass was celebrated Feb. 11 and a sunrise rosary was prayed at 5:30 a.m. followed by a Mass at 6 a.m. for the pilgrims, 9 a.m. for communities and movements, 11 a.m. for families, and 6 p.m. for the sick.
The 6 p.m. Eucharist was celebrated by Horacio Álvarez, an auxiliary bishop of Córdoba. Rossi did not celebrate this Mass because he was in Rome to attend the canonization of Mama Antula, the first female saint of Argentina.
At 7 p.m. there was a procession and confessions were heard all day.
How did the phenomenon originate?
The chapel of the Virgin of Alta Gracia is located on a large property where in 1916 a replica was dedicated of the Massabielle grotto in Lourdes, France, where the Virgin appeared in 1858 to St. Bernadette Soubirous.
In 1922 a commission was formed to build a chapel near the grotto. The first stone was laid in 1924 and in 1927 the bishop of Córdoba blessed the chapel. For many years there was a statue of Our Lady Lourdes of Córdoba in the center of the church’s altarpiece.
In mid-2011 it was removed from its niche or base to be restored and is currently located at the foot of the niche that was left empty.
One day one of the priests in charge of the shrine was going to close the chapel and from the main door he saw an image that looked like it was made of plaster in the empty space.
He approached several times, and each time he did so he noticed that the image he saw from a certain distance faded. The truth was that there was actually no image, but he saw it.
Because of the phenomenon, visible to anyone, the discalced Carmelite friars of the shrine issued a statement in 2011 noting that “the manifestation of the image of the most holy Virgin Mary has no explanation at the moment.”
“It must be interpreted by the people of God as a sign to increase and deepen the Christian faith and to inspire in the hearts of men conversion to the love of God and their participation in the life of the Church,” they said.
“The only message of the Virgin is none other than that which she has manifested in her life among men and is recorded in the Gospel as a divine revelation and kept in the deposit of the Catholic faith,” the priests stated.
Originally published in 2015 by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, the article has been updated by ACI Prensa with new information and has been translated and adapted by CNA.