Visiting Our Lady

2009.Feb.08 Sunday · 1 comment

in Life, Restaurants

“Argentine shrine, forty miles west of Buenos Aires. Its main object of devotion is a small doll-like statue of the Blessed Virgin; her head is surrounded by a golden aureole and is crowned with hundreds of diamonds and other precious stones. The Basilica of Our Lady of Luján is the most important pilgrimage center in Argentina. According to legend, in 1639 a peasant from Cordova, wishing to revive his neighbors’ “belief in their early faith,” ordered two statues from Brazil, one of the Immaculate Conception, the other the Blessed Virgin and her Son. When the caravan delivering them reached a small ranch on the outskirts of Luján, the driver could not urge the horses on until the statue of the Immaculate Conception was removed, indicating Mary’s own choice of where her shrine should be. The treasured statue went through many housing vicissitudes. One Negro grew from boyhood to old age guarding her first in a small chapel, then in a church, then in a larger edifice. As the number of miracles grew, the crowds also grew larger. In 1910 an impressive cathedral was completed and today it is one of the world’s famous shrines to Mary honored by papal coronation. Since 1930 the cathedral has been raised to the rank of a basilica. Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay now all claim The Lady of Luján as their official protectress.”

– Fr. John Hardon’s Modern Catholic Dictionary

Buenos Aires – The legend of Our Lady of Luján makes a fascinating read, and I wish I’d done so before we set off on our day’s venture to this community, known as “The Capital of Faith”, forty some miles west of Buenos Aires. It’s an easy hour or so trip, the #57 bus leaves regularly from the Rivadavia side of Plaza Miserere (there’s also a bus from Plaza Italia), making no stops until it arrives in Luján, where it makes a few pauses in different parts of town and then pulls into the main bus terminal, a small affair located only a couple of blocks from the imposing presence of the neo-gothic basilica that houses the famed statue. The structure is not on the scale of the similarly styled cathedral housing the Virgen de la Puerta in La Plata, but it’s in a truly impressive town plaza, flanked by the old municipal buildings, now, for the most part, turned into a series of museums. While we were not a pilgrimage to visit with the Virgin herself, we were interested in seeing the place….

Basilica of Our Lady of Lujan

As you get closer, the basilica itself gets more impressive…

Basilica of Our Lady of Lujan

The old town hall is off to one side, now housing the main building of the Enrique Udaondo museum complex (he was the designer of the series of museums, if I got the story right)…

Lujan Town Hall, now a museum

In the center of the plaza is a monument to General Manuel Belgrano, one of the leaders of Argentina’s independence and, the designer of the national flag…

Monument to General Belgrano

And, we pause now, for a station break… well, a food break, because by this point, we were just darned hungry. The left side of the plaza, opposite the museum complex, is a strip of souvenir shops and parrillas, but we were not in the mood for a steak or even the pastas that they were offering, so we took a little wander. I’m glad we did, because just half a block off the back of the basilica, at Francia 1083, we stumbled across the newly opened Nicoletta Ely Cocina Gourmet restaurant, where we had a delightful lunch. Sometimes it’s the simple things that impress you the most – I loved the room, with its clean, modern design and beautiful flower array, and the board with a fresh baked loaf of bread and chive cream was so good I could have just filled up on it – we ate the entire loaf just while deciding on what to order…

Nicoletta Ely - bread

We had a plate of sun-dried tomato bruschetta, some fresh peas a la francaise, one of my favorite ways to have them – cooked slowly with lettuce, onions, bacon and mint, followed by a couple of perfectly al dente pastas – green ravioli filled with squash in a four-cheese sauce and squid ink ravioli filled with salmon in a cream sauce (a little too much sauce, but really good)…

Nicoletta Ely - peas a la francaise

Fortified, we were ready to face the basilica…

Basilica of Our Lady of Lujan

And, the virgin herself. They weren’t kidding when they said “doll-sized”… amazingly enough, given the precious jewels she is encrusted with, you can walk right up and touch her, and many people were, often posing for photos…

Our Lady of Lujan

Pilgrimage accomplished, we headed next door to the old town hall and the beautiful interior gardens, dotted with statuary, monuments, old church bells, and small displays on the history and culture of the area around Luján… (1 peso to enter, ticket purchased in the building next door)

Enrique Udaonda museum

Enrique Udaonda museum

Enrique Udaonda museum

From there, we plunked down another peso for the neighboring museum of transportation, a huge hall filled with old carriages, planes, bicycles, boats, military vehicles, and trains…

Lujan Transport Museum

A little close-up on an old funeral carriage – the light was dim and flash photos weren’t allowed, but I think I captured some of the amazing detail…

Lujan Transport Museum

Behind the museum complex is an old converted mansion that is now a tourism center, a park, and the riverfront area with amusement park style rides for kids, various fast food sort of stands, paddleboat rentals, a catamaran ride – all of which appear to only happen on the weekends, with the exception of a hot dog stand or two, nothing was open.

Lujan riverfront

There are some other historical buildings in the area listed for visiting, including a Marist compound – it wasn’t clear if it’s the brothers or the sisters, or both – but we’d had enough touring, and decided to call it a day, so we walked the few blocks back to the bus terminal, and in short order were headed back to Buenos Aires.


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Javier February 24, 2009 at 18:25


While in the Transport museum in Lujan, did you notice the two embalmed horses ?
Gato y Mancha, supestars in the 20´s ride from Buenos Aires to New York

Nearby, if I’m not wrong, is the “carretilla” of the also famous “Vasco de la carretilla”.

You should Google for his interesting story !

Saludos !

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