La Divina Pastora is the matron saint of the Venezuelan city Barquisimeto in the state of Lara and one of the most important of Venezuelan religious icons. I first saw La Divina Pastora (The Divine Shepherdess) on the Venezuelan state television channel, VTV, that was covering a news story of Her annual festival in January. I didn’t learn much about her from the news story, considering that I only saw Her image on the little television on top of the refrigerator while passing through the kitchen to get my lazy ex-boyfriend a glass of water, but Her image stood out in my mind so much that when I was came across Her again during my research, I instantly recognized Her.
The image of La Divina Pastora dates from the year 1703, when the Capuchin priest Isidoro de Sevilla saw the image of La Divina Pastora in a dream. He commissioned the artist Miguel Alonso de Tovar to sculpt a statue in Her image, describing Her to the artist as he had seen Her in his dream. She was clothed by nuns from the Convent of the Incarnation, who dressed who in a shepherdess dress following Isidoro’s description. A few months later, La Divina Pastora’s image was completed and in October 1705, Her image received its first procession to the Iglesia de Santa Maria in the town Sevilla, Spain.
Popular legend in Venezuela of the image’s arrival states that in 1736 the parish priest of the town of Santa Rosa, located on the outskirts of Barquisimeto, ordered an image of the Immaculate Conception. Unexpectedly, the image that arrived was not of the Immaculate Conception but of La Divina Pastora. The parish priest wanted to return it back to where it came from, but the image’s packing crate could not be lifted. The people of the town took it as a sign that La Divina Pastora wanted to stay in the town, and so She remained there. The people’s belief in Her desire to remain in the town to protect them was reinforced during the earthquake of March 26, 1812, which destroyed the church where she was placed but Her image miraculously survived.
Another miracle attributed to La Divina Pastora occurred in the year 1855. At that time, a cholera outbreak was devastating the population of Barquisimeto. The people asked La Divina Pastora for help. Legend holds that Father Jose Macario Yepez, parish priest of the church La Concepción, offered himself to Her as the last victim of the disease. Afterward, cholera ceased to plague the people. This miracle is still celebrated in Venezuela to this day every year on January 14. A five mile long procession is carried out from the town of Santa Rosa to the Metropolitan Cathedral of Barquisimeto in gratitude to Her. During this procession, the people give Her many gifts, including hats, dresses, and fabrics of high quality. From this first procession in January until Palm Sunday, Her image visits the forty four temples throughout the state of Lara.
Every year, the image of La Divina Pastora is dressed differently by a local designer. The dresses from years past are kept inside of the church of Santa Rosa, where they are carefully guarded and maintained to prevent deterioration. According to Maria de Gimenez, who has sewn the beautiful dresses of La Divina Pastora over the past 30 years, “There is a dress from the era of Eustoquio Gomez (a political and military leader before his assassination in 1935) a dress from the dictatorship period of Marcos Perez Jimenez (dictator of Venezuela during the 1950′s). Along the course of the year, the dresses are taken from the closets to ventilate them and apply special deodorants that conserve the fabric.”