Most possibly you might have heard of the Virgin of Guadalupe or the Virgin of Fátima. Have you also heard the story of the Virgin of Caacupé who’s honoured every year on the 8th of December in Paraguay?
Let me tell you her story:
The legend of Caacupé
The name “Caacupé” results from the Guaraní word “ka’a kupé” that means “behind the herbs” or “behind the tree of herbs”. Guaraní is an indigenous culture and language that is spoken within and around the area of Paraguay (South America).
In the village of Tobatí (situated close to where the city Caacupé is located today) there lived a Guaraní sculptor, named José. Like many Guaraní indigenous at around 1600 he was converted to Christianity by the Jesuit missions.
One day, José had cut a particularly precious trunk in the forest and was on the way home to graft it into a sculpture. When suddenly he got surprised by a group of Mbayá indigenous, a tribe that was considered as very dangerous as they were in constant fight against the Spanish and Portuguese colonies.
In his fear, José spoke out a devout ejaculation to the Virgin Maria and promised her that if she saved him from the Mbayás he would honour her with the most precious sculpture he could make from the trunk he had cut.
There suddenly, the Virgin appeared to him and spoke to him in Guaraní: “Ka’aguý cupe-pe!“, meaning “go and hide yourself behind the bush of mate herbs!” (mate is a herb tree that is traditionally used as infusion in Paraguay and other South American countries). So did José and he was saved by the views of the Mbayá indigenous who passed by.
When José luckily arrived home, the first thing he did was to craft the most beautiful image of the Virgin. And as there was enough wood left over, he formed a second one. The bigger one he donated to the church of Tobatí and the other one he kept for his own devotion to the Virgin who had saved his life.
Years after this, the region around Tobatí suffered from massive inundations from the Ypacaraý lake that was close by. Franciscan monks and the native population prayed to the waters to calm down. So did the priest Luis de Bolaños, who blessed the waters and (like every year) made them tranquil.
But in this occasion, the image of the Tobatí mission appeared in the waters. It was the same image that José had crafted years before. And so the place was called “Virgin of the Miracles”. An indigenous who’s name is unknown and who used to live at very place, created a humble shrine of devotion to which by the years more and more people came to show their devotion to the Virgin (those first pilgrims where called “Los Ytuenses”).
Around 1765, the area was already known as “Caacupé valley” and the name was taken as reference for the foundation of the village of Caacupé on the 4th April in 1770.
Today it’s a tradition to most Paraguayans to pilgrim to the church of Caacupé during the time from the 1st to the 8th of December. Most of them by food (even my 75 years old mother-in-law!). During the days of devotion the rosary is prayed and on the 8th of December the image of the Virgin is carried in the street. At midnight, the church bells ring and announce the “birthday” of the Virgin. Also, the water of the sanctified spring is taken by many.
During the whole time, the place of Caacupé and the pilgrim paths are crowded by massive amount of pilgrims, craftsmen and people who sell home made chipá (traditional cheese bread made of manioc flour) and other traditional food.