The Spanish settlers brought to the island of Hispaniola their Catholic faith. Through the years the devotion to the Virgin Mary grew and developed in the eastern region city of Higuey, the current home of the country’s “Basilica of the Virgin of La Altagracia.” Through the years the Basilica has turned into an icon of Roman Catholic culture. The city of Higuey, situated 40 minutes from Punta Cana, is a must destination for anyone interested in learning more about the religious history of the Dominican Republic. A small museum dedicated to the Virgin will take the visitor through the world of Dominican religious beliefs.
The physical and artistic heritage of this legacy, dating back to the 17th century, is preserved and on display at the “La Altagracia Museum,” located in the Basilica gardens. The museum exhibits the sacred art that has emerged around the devotion to the Virgin of La Altagracia. The one-story building features a souvenir shop and six exhibit halls.
The Catholic veneration of the Virgin is widespread throughout the Dominican Republic, and most especially in Higuey.
Once inside the museum the visitor can enjoy the surrounding landscape, and a very special garden of tropical palms, from a lovely terrace.
The tour begins with the history of the Virgin, which began in 1506 in what is now the Dominican Republic. The image of the Virgin was brought to the island by Alonso and Antonio Trejo in 1506, from Extremadura, Spain.
Hall of Medallions
The second hall exhibits 16 oil paintings produced during the 18th century by Diego Jose Hilaris. The paintings narrate the significant miracles attributed to the Virgin. These paintings are found only in this museum and are considered of great pictorial and artistic value by experts.
Perhaps the most popular of all the paintings is the largest of all. It tells the story of the moment when the Virgin expressed her desire to remain in the town of Higuey: “The image of the Virgin disappeared from a chest in which it was being transported from Higuey to the Cathedral of Santo Domingo. The image reappeared in Higuey. After this incident a Church representative was sent to the town in order to begin construction of a sanctuary for the Virgin, the first sanctuary for the Virgin Mary in the Americas.
The third exhibit hall is dedicated to sacred art. On exhibit are paintings from the Cuzco School of painting, as well as paintings made by Dominican artists dating back to the 18th century.
The fourth hall depicts the important heritage of the Basilica. On exhibit are some 60 silver pieces dating from the 17th through the 20th century. Also, gold jewelry made locally and from other Latin American nations. The Processional Throne is one of the exhibit’s most important pieces.
Hall of the Basilica
The fifth hall highlights the particular history of the colonial sanctuary, and the Basilica as it stands today. The exhibit has on display the Papal Bull that ordered the church to become a Basilica, as well as the original architectural drawings of the Basilica.
The sixth hall exhibits the many offerings and expressions of gratitude made by thousands of Catholics who believe that the Virgin has performed miracles in their lives. Thousands of testimonies made by the faithful are kept in this hall.
During its first year the museum has received more than 10,000 visitors and has become one of the region’s most important cultural institutions