July 9 – Pancratius of Taormina; Nuestra Señora del Rosario de Chiquinquirá

Pancratius of Taormina (I cent.) was taken as a lad by his parents to see Jesus preach. He may well have been one of the children our Lord bade come unto him, although none of our sources mention this, and far be it from me to interpolate. After our Lord ascended, he (Pancratius, not Jesus) was baptized, perhaps by (St.) Peter (Jun 29) himself. When his parents died (Pancratius’, not Peter’s), he gave away his inheritance and moved into a cave, where he was rediscovered by Peter (perhaps on a tour of local caves) (or not), and made bishop of Taormina, Sicily. When a pagan general named Aquilinus heard about the converts Pancratius was making, he gathered his troops and set off thither, intent on destroying the city. Pancratius went out to meet them, armed only with the sign of the cross and a double helping of chutzpah (although he didn’t call it that, as Yiddish had not yet been invented).

The soldiers, on seeing his coming and crossing, fell upon each other, their own swords, and the ground, in roughly that order. Finally the remaining ones ran away in the classic Monty Python style (“Run away! Run away!”), and the town was saved. Sadly the pagans many years later caught Pancratius and stoned him, which is bad, but you can still go to Rome and venerate the relics of this brave martyr of God, which is very, very good.

Nuestra Señora del Rosario de Chiquinquirá (XVI cent.) (Our Lady of the Rosary of Chiquinquirá) is of course a title of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in this case as depicted in a portrait by Alonso de Narvaez, a Spanish painter in what is now Colombia, using pigments from the plants and earth he had to hand (or to shovel, perhaps). His canvas was rough cloth donated by the locals, and the portrait (which is about a meter high) shows the Virgin holding the Christ Child and standing on a crescent moon, surrounded by St. Anthony of Padua (Jun 13) and St. Andrew the Apostle (Nov 30), patrons of the colonist and monk (respectively) who ordered it.

Sometime after its completion the portrait was foolishly placed in a leaky chapel. Sunlight and water damage did their evil work, until the image was completely obliterated. It was then moved to a storage room off a chapel in Chiquinquirá, where years later a cleaning woman named Maria Ramos found it. She hung it in the chapel, and loved to sit and contemplate the blank canvas (wondering, perhaps, what it used to portray). Suddenly one day the canvas was restored, the image shone bright, and even the rips in the canvas were repaired. The miraculous image was hung for all to venerate, and endures to this day, if a little worse for wear. (It was placed behind glass in the nineteenth century.)

Another miraculous image of Our Lady of Chiquinquirá (or “Chinita” as she is also called) resides in Maracaibo, Venezuela. In the early eighteenth century, an old washerwoman (with, coincidentally or not, the same name as the woman in the previous story, Maria Ramos) found a board floating in the water one day. She fished it out and took it home, and the image of Chinita suddenly appeared on the board. Not long after that, the government in Caracas sent a detachment of soldiers to fetch the board to the capital. They nabbed it, but the farther away from Maracaibo they went, the heavier the 25cm x 26cm board became, until they were quite unable to carry it. As it was carried back to its rightful home, however, it got lighter and lighter. A basilica fronted by a huge square was built, with an open sanctuary, fountains, and a much-larger-than-life statue of Chinita planted right where Maria Ramos’ house once stood (one hopes she had vacated it by that point). The Venezuelan Chinita is celebrated at a fair beginning October 27.

In 1829, Pope Pius VII declared Our Lady of the Rosary of Chiquinquirá the patroness of Colombia.