I simply could not wait to visit the shrine of LA SOLEDAD, “this magnificent temple,” built in the neo-classical style, which I had heard so much about. It was reputed to be one of the most beautiful churches in this mountainous, northern state of Zacatecas. I had read about the “peace of the sanctuary”, “the beauty of its architecture” and the “tenderness of Our Lady of Solitude”— this “maternal figure” which resides over the main altar of the church named in her honour.

I was not disappointed. Stepping inside of this church, which was built in 1805, is like stepping into the middle of a serene and lovely summer afternoon—all is full of light and brightness and cheer.

The figure of LA SOLEDAD, known as the Mother of the Jerezanos, is the town’s patron. In 1824 she was proclaimed the Patrona of this charming, colonial city of Jerez, located 57 km (35 mi.) from the capital city of Zacatecas.

Devotion to Our Lady of  Solitude began in the 18th century in this area of Mexico. And what an intriguing history she has! It all began one day when two young men arrived in a barrio of the town of Jerez, known as Barrio de San Miguel Arcangel.  They brought a mule with them who was carrying a wooden box on its back. They were passing through the town and spoke to a married Indian woman who was a recent convert to Christianity. They asked her about lodging for the night and she joyfully admitted the strangers to her home.

The next morning, however, the two men had disappeared, and, to everyone’s shock, the mule was found dead in the woman’s yard. The wooden box had been abandoned and was found alongside the mule. The woman told her priest about the strange occurrence. He decided that the couple should bring the box to the church on several consecutive Sundays and he would make the announcement about the mysterious box from the pulpit. But no one came forward to claim it!

At this juncture the priest decided that the box should be opened in the presence of several witnesses. The mayor and several town officials gathered in the town’s central plaza to open the box. To their astonishment they discovered a bust of the Virgin Mary inside the box! She became known as La Senora de la Soledad. She would become associated with many miracles in the years to come. She became a favourite of the miners in the rich mines of Zacatecas. Even before this time, as early as the 16th century, the miners had had a fervent devotion to the Virgin Mary. They claimed La Soledad as their own when her discovery became known!

As early as 1714 one of the altars in the sanctuary of San Miguel was dedicated to her. This church became the earliest home for La Soledad. Historical records indicate her popularity: that statues of her image could be found in several houses of the town in the 1700’s. Records reveal that a letter by a priest in 1729 showed that his grandmother had an image of La Soledad in her home in Jerez

The statue of Our Lady, “young, serene and of singular beauty” measures 1 m. 47 cm (a little over 4 ft. tall). It has been restored several times. Her   eyes are lowered, saddened, reflecting the sorrows of her heart after her Son’s Crucifixion.

A solemn honour was bestowed on the image of Our Lady of Solitude several decades ago: On Nov. 11, 1959, she was pontifically crowned with the authorization of Pope John XXlll.

One devotee (Victor Villa) wrote this prayer as he was departing from the church of La Soledad:

“Good-bye my Mother, my Mother of Consolation. Be my protection and guide in the forces of my life. Good-bye Holy Mary, Mother of my life.”