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The image of the Sorrowful Virgin of Quito, with her Heart pierced by the seven swords of her Seven Sorrows, is one of the best-known images of our Mother of Sorrows in the Catholic world. What is not so well-known is the history of this image and of the miracle which made it so famous. This history is very much entwined with the history of Ecuador itself; for Quito is the capital of Ecuador.

Historical Background

Ecuador was the first Spanish colony in the New World to rebel and gain independence from the Mother Country (in 1822). Catholics who fought for independence may have thought they had a just cause, but, as so often happens, eventually the revolutionary movement fell under the domination of anti-Catholic liberals. Ecuador’s history has often been marred by revolutions and anti-Catholic governments. Thus, President José Urbina expelled the Jesuits from Ecuador in 1852.

Ten years later the truly Catholic President, Gabriel García Moreno, allowed the Jesuits to return, and gave them back their ancient church and college. In gratitude, the Jesuits renamed the college “St. Gabriel.” It was the same President Moreno who solemnly consecrated Ecuador to the Sacred Heart of Jesus on March 25, 1874, with these words: “Prostrate before Thy Divine Presence, all the public powers of the Church and State offer and consecrate to Thee, now and for always, the Republic of Ecuador as Thy exclusive property and possession.” Gabriel García Moreno paid for this consecration with his blood. He was assassinated by enraged liberals less than one year later, on August 6, 1875, as he was returning from First Friday adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in the Cathedral of Quito – the site of the consecration. Moreno had noted in his diary that morning: “Lord Jesus, show me what it is that I ought to do today for Thy love.”

On Good Friday, 1877, the Archbishop was lethally poisoned in the Cathedral. Later, moderates prevailed and Ecuador was officially consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on August 6, 1892. (Ecuador was the first nation to be consecrated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary.) Enraged again, the liberals staged a coup in 1895. Once in power, they launched a furious attack against the Catholic Church, Catholic culture and Catholic education.

Very soon after the coup, soldiers began to occupy part of the College of St. Gabriel. The following year, the tyrant, Eloy Alfaro, broke the Concordat with the Vatican which had been signed by President Moreno. On the 4th of May, 1897, the liberals assaulted the College of St. Philip in Riobamba, profaning the church and the tabernacle, throwing the Sacred Species to the ground, and assassinating the Rector, Fr. Emilio Moscoso. In 1900 religious education was suppressed in the trade schools, the liberty of teaching was restrained, and the Catholic colleges were denied the right of receiving examinations and conferring degrees.

In 1901, the government seized part of the College of St. Gabriel. In 1902 civil matrimony and the law of divorce were introduced. In 1904, the Minister of Culture launched the motto: “Independent from Spain, let us be independent from Rome.” In 1905 the Redemptorist Fathers were expelled from Riobamba.

In 1906 Alfaro led a revolt against his successor and returned to power. The National Assembly proclaimed laicism, which was then not only anti-clerical but also atheistic; all manifestations of religion, such as processions, were prohibited. The goods of the dioceses and the religious orders were confiscated, and the Catholic Church was despoiled of its legal standing. Alfaro named Manuel Franco, an atheistic, secular and violent man, as civil and military chief in Quito. He incited a riot against the Brothers of the Christian Schools, and expelled the Salesians and Capuchins. A mob invaded the Archbishop’s Palace, harassed the elderly Archbishop González Calisto, and made a bonfire with the Library and Archives of the Diocese.

The Miracle

It was in that very year, when the persecution of the Church had reached its height, that the miracle of the Sorrowful Virgin took place. It was the 20th of April, 1906, Friday of Easter Week; the 35 boarding students were dining in the refectory of the College of St. Gabriel. An image of the Mother of Sorrows hung on one side of the door, to the right as one enters, about six feet from the floor. The picture was an oleograph (a print using oil-based inks), printed in France, of about 20 inches long by 16 inches wide. The Jesuits had purchased three such pictures from a traveling salesman. The Prefect of Discipline, Father Andrés Roesch, testified as follows at the Canonical Process investigating the miracle:

“At 8:00 pm, when the students had finished their meal, I entered the refectory and, contrary to the established custom, and without explanation, I said “Deo Gratias” to the boys, to their great surprise (this was a permission to converse, instead of continuing the spiritual reading). At several of the tables, I spoke about the events in San Francisco, California (the earthquake which had taken place two days earlier). I did so with the boys at the first table (who had made their First Holy Communion on Holy Thursday), in order to make reflections upon that event and to encourage conversation concerning the Most Holy Virgin. One of the them, Jaime Chávez, raised his eyes toward a print of the Virgin of Sorrows, hanging on the wall about one and a half meters from him.

“With amazement he saw that the image closed her eyes; filled with fear, he covered his eyes with his hand and spoke of it to the boy next to him, Carlos Herrmann, who saw the same marvel. Because of this, they knelt down between the table and the bench and recited the Our Father and Hail Mary. Then they called to another boy and another, until one of them came to me and urged me with great insistence to go and see...

“At first I admonished the one who called me to be quiet, because it appeared to me to be an illusion of the boys; but finally, at the insistence and calls of all those who were present at the prodigy, I went over to the table situated closest to the image, with the determination of solving the mystery. I carefully made sure that the electric lamps were not flickering and that there was no reflection on the image: this did not appear to be the case.

“Standing in front of the image, surrounded by the boys, I fixed my eyes upon her without blinking, and I saw that the Most Holy Virgin slowly closed her eyelids; but not believing that this was certain, I withdrew from that place. Seeing this, Brother Alberdi (the Assistant Supervisor), who was standing much closer than I had been, said to me, wondering at what had happened: ‘But Father, if it is a miracle...if it is a miracle…’ I returned again to the place where I was before; then I felt a chill come over my body as I saw, without the possibility of doubt, that the image definitely closed and opened her eyes. When this happened all the boys who were present cried with one voice: ‘Now she’s closing them; now she’s opening them; now the left eye…’ It should be noted that at times only the left eye closed, or at least did so with greater clarity than the right, and so appeared to be more closed.

“The event was repeated many times over the space of about fifteen minutes, more or less. It ceased when, seeing that we were already late for night prayers, and always fearing to give too much attention to this, I gave the order for the students to retire. Many of them did so reluctantly, since they wanted to kneel down right there and pray. I suppressed any noisy manifestations in order not to cause a disturbance, for it appeared to me that if the event were miraculous, there would not be lacking sufficient witnesses to prove it. In the beginning I believed it to be an illusion; but after I had seen it, I withdrew without giving credence to anything. At the insistence of Brother Alberdi, I returned and beheld the blinking with such clarity that it gave me a chill, and I remain convinced.”

The testimony of Brother Alberdi is in full agreement:

“One of the boys from the first tables came and informed us about the Virgin… that she was moving her eyes; we received the news with unconcern or without any enthusiasm, at least speaking for myself. I don’t know how to account for what happened to me then, but I remember that I said to Father Roesch, after I had gazed on the picture, “Father, it is certain;” and he exclaimed, “What a prodigy!” Then the boys started to get up from their tables and to gather around where we were looking at the holy image; little by little I moved closer to the picture, where I could see her closing and opening her eyes for about a quarter of an hour or a little longer… I remained convinced that the eyes of the holy image of the Virgin were closing and opening during that time without ceasing. The boys were saying in one, loud voice: “Now she is closing them; now she is opening…” A great fear came upon the boys; I saw one boy, who was close by, trembling.

“One boy insisted on calling the Father Rector, but Father Roesch would not allow it, because there was such a commotion; therefore he clapped his hands to signal that it was time to go to the Chapel to recite the Rosary, even though the Virgin continued to close and open her eyes. The boy said to the Father: ‘Let us carry the picture to the Chapel and pray the Rosary before her there;’ but he would not allow it.”

Typical of the testimonies of the boys is the following:

“I do not fear that I was mistaken, nor did I have a prejudice in favor of the prodigy; on the contrary, I believed it to be a joke of the little boys; but afterward, I stood at a distance of one or two meters and saw perfectly that the image opened and closed her eyes, but more so the left; and when they were closed the whites of her eyes were completely concealed.”

The Church Investigates

Seven days after the event a Canonical process was begun by the Church authorities. It mandated the appearance of a Theological Commission expressly named for this case, and of a Commission of scientists and doctors. They all submitted their findings after mature examination according to their proper expertise. Finally, on the 31st of May of the same year, the people of Quito heard the conclusions of the Church authorities:

The event of April 20 at the College of the Jesuit Fathers is established as historically certain.

This event, in the circumstances in which it occurred, cannot be explained by natural laws.

This event, on account of its antecedents and consequences, cannot be attributed to diabolical influence.

“… And in order that the piety of the faithful might have the consolation of beholding the image of the Most Holy Virgin, which from this day shall be called ‘The Sorrowful Virgin of the College,’ we have commanded that it be solemnly translated to the Church of La Compañia, and that there be celebrated there a fervent triduum.”

The forces of irreligion and radical liberalism did not hesitate to attack the miracle in every way through the media: the newspapers, pamphlets, even passing out flyers in front of the Cathedral, propagating the idea that it was an invention of the Fathers of the College or a collective suggestion, etc. Christian education was more rigorously prohibited. All their efforts were useless, for the faith in and love for the Sorrowful Virgin was growing every day, on account of favors and conversions, and because the miracle was repeated various times. The first was before a large crowd in the Church of La Compañia; then later on other occasions, before at least six different groups of persons. One time only she was seen to weep, according to the testimony of Fr. Alfonso Laenen SJ, who was a missionary for many years in Manabí. One time she was seen to smile – by Mons. Pedro Pablo Borja Yerovi, founder of the first Borgia Boarding School. This event took place in this way: Mons. Borja was commissioned by Archbishop González Suárez to bring to his office the miraculous picture of the Sorrowful Virgin. As Mons. Borja was going out, after taking leave of the Archbishop, the Virgin turned toward him and smiled. It was a manifestation of the satisfaction which the Most Holy Virgin felt on account of the foundation of a Catholic school.

Devotion to the Sorrowful Virgin of the College quickly spread across the national boundaries and was established in Colombia, Peru, and Venezuela; it jumped to Bolivia and Chile; then to Spain, England, France, the United States and Australia.

Both in Ecuador and in other nations, the Sorrowful Mother has conceded many favors, some of them truly prodigious, which are not called miracles, because only the authority of the Church is able to declare them as such after a thorough investigation.

Ever since 1906, the miracle has been commemorated every year with a solemn and fervent novena, at which crowds of the faithful assist. In 1931, for the 25th anniversary of the miracle, there was such an outpouring of devotion and the enthusiasm was so great, that the sacred image was taken all over Ecuador, dispersing an uncontainable fervor. Besides other solemnities, there was celebrated in Quito at that time, from the 21st to the 26th of April the First Marian Congress, and the image of the Sorrowful Virgin was enshrined in a beautiful frame, crafted artistically in gold and silver and embellished with precious pearls.

At the Golden Jubilee, in the year 1956, there was once again an outburst of faith and devotion; a huge mission was organized: 200 Ecuadorian and Hispanic missionaries profoundly moved the souls to whom they preached. The director and coordinator of the mission, Fr. Enrique Heulin SJ, declared: “Never has there been recorded on the pages of National History a religious event similar in its external grandiosity and in its spiritual action in the depths of hearts and souls.”

On April 22 of the same year, thanks to a decree of Pope Pius XII, there was carried out a solemn coronation of the image in the Stadium of El Ejido. The place was packed with the faithful; the crown was carried by the president of the Republic, Dr. José María Velasco Ibarra, and handed over to Cardinal Carlos María de la Torre, Archbishop of Quito, who, among vivas and acclamations of enthusiasm, performed the coronation.

Unfortunately, the College of St. Gabriel eventually became too small for the growing number of students, and was replaced by a large, modern edifice in the northern part of the city. For security reasons, the miraculous picture was translated there in October of 1958. It has been reported, however, that the miraculous image is now kept in a vault, and a copy is installed at the College. But it matters not which is carried in procession, copy or original; to all are attributed countless miracles.

If we remember the whole series of attacks against the Catholic religion which occurred from the liberal revolution of 1895 until the time of the miracle, and in particular the suppression of religious instruction in the schools and colleges, we discover the reason for the miracle. It was a demonstration of the deep and anguished preoccupation of the Mother of God, the maternal solicitude which the Most Holy Virgin wished to manifest to the boys and young men, who were about to be denied a Christian education, and have imposed upon them an education without God.

Jaime Chávez told the Commission that when he first saw the eyes of the Sorrowful Virgin move, they appeared to tremble, “like someone who is in agony.” It was for this reason that the Virgin closed her anguish-filled eyes, and little by little opened them again with love and tenderness – to indicate that she is ready to receive all who come to her seeking protection.

Source : Miracle of the Sorrowful Virgin of Quito : Our Lady of Fatima Crusader Bulletin