Expats who want to see how deeply the Catholic faith runs in Costa Rica should visit the Catedral Metropolitana at 3 p.m. today.
They might be surprised to learn that the the captain general of the Fuerza Pública is the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus.
The Virgin is represented today by her statue in the person of Nuestra Señora de la Pura y Limpia Concepción del Rescate de Ujarrás, an ancient statue that dates to the early 16th century.
Ujarrás is a location on the Río Reventazón perhaps best known today for the ruins of a church and a small park supported by the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo.
The event today will attract most Fuerza Pública officials and a number of rank-and-file officers. The celebration will include a Mass celebrated by José Rafael Quirós, the archibishop.
The story of the statue is a long and complex one populated by pirates, natives and early Spanish settlers. Former journalist and writer Rosa Maria Fonseca Morales has given this account that is found in the A.M. Costa Rica archives:
The statue of the Virgin was one of three aboard a boat menaced by pirates in 1535. The Franciscans in charge of the statues decided to cast them into the sea to avoid letting pirates get their hands on such precious objects.
It was the will of God, according to devotees, that brought one of the statues to Ujarrás on the Río Reventazón where it was found floating by a native.
Another statue ended up in Nicaragua and the third became the Virgen de Lujan in Argentina.
In the same way that the Virgen de Los Ángeles in Cartago made known her desire to stay there by returning mysteriously to the same spot, the Virgen de Ujarrás mysteriously became so heavy that the natives and the Franciscans could not carry her away to Cartago.
Miracles have been attributed to the Virgen de Ujarrás. During a flood on the Río Paz, villagers threw the statue of Baby Jesus that was carried by the Virgin into the angry river.
And this quieted the river but with the loss of the statue.
Another account said that the Virgin made the church bells ring, thus alerting villagers to the rising river.
Less creative narrators say that the statue was carried to the Paraíso de Cartago area by a priest toward the end of the 16th century. But the statue still is the focus of a pilgrimage every April 16 or the following Sunday.
The second encounter with pirates was on April 16 when about 600 pirates who included the famous Morgan showed up off the coast of Limón to sack the province.
Amid the panic a few days later on April 23, residents held a procession that included the statue and asked for her help against the threat. Local officials managed to raise a force of about 300, but the story says that the pirates turned and fled when confronted with the smaller force. That is why the Virgin is named rescate or rescue.
Each year the Fuerza Pública brings the statue to the ministry complex in southern San José for religious observances and a procession.