MERIDEN — Christians worldwide have called Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, by many names. In the Dominican Republic, she is known as Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia — Our Lady of Altagracia — the “protector of the Dominican people.”
As the Caribbean country observes Jan. 21 as a national holiday dedicated to her, the Dominican community of Meriden celebrated on Sunday with a special Mass commemorating Our Lady of Altagracia at St. Rose of Lima Parish.
Parishioners walked through the church, carrying the image of the Virgin as the choir sang. Organizers made their way to the altar wearing a Dominican national costume. The church was decorated with flowers, highlighting the colors of the Dominican flag: red, blue and white.
In a recent interview with the Record-Journal, the Rev. James Manship said people from different countries in the community bring their own expression of faith and culture.
“Personally, it has been an enriching experience for me,” Manship said.Dominican tradition started in Meriden
The church started to celebrate a special Mass honoring Our Lady of Altagracia in 2018, as it recognized the growth of the Dominican community locally, Manship noted.
Denny Norwood, of Cheshire, has attended St. Rose Church for the last 15 years.
Born in the Dominican Republic, she recalled her parents always had an image of Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia. Every Jan. 21, Norwood attended Mass and wore clothes with the Dominican flag colors.
Later, Norwood’s family used to gather at home, and sometimes family members who lived far away took advantage of the holiday to visit.
She now celebrates the special day at St. Rose. She has an image of the Virgin at home that she traditionally places flowers in front of on Jan. 21.
When Manship originally offered the Dominican community the option of celebrating Our Lady of Altagracia, Norwood was enthusiastic about planning the event, she said.
In 2018 and 2019, the church celebrated a special Mass with food, music, and dancing. Rising COVID-19 cases canceled the special gathering after the Mass this year.
Norwood participated in the community prayers last week and the special Mass on Sunday.Parishioners profess faith
Denia Ortiz, of Meriden, has attended St. Rose Church for the last 25 years. She said the Virgin had played an essential role in her life, especially in recent years.
She recalled that in 2019, St. Rose established that parishioners could take an image of Our Lady of Altagracia home for an entire week. Then, the image would be brought back to the church for another family to take home. She took the image home the first week. For some reason, no one took home the image the second week, so she brought it home again. She said that the image ended up spending a whole year at Ortiz’s home.
Ortiz explained that coincidentally, her husband spent a lot of time in the room of the house were the image was. Her wish had always been to marry him through the church, but he didn’t want to. Although she had lost hope, she used to ask the Virgin to intercede on her behalf to change his mind.
Her husband suddenly asked Ortiz to marry him through the church. They got married in October of 2020.
On their wedding day, she said she saw the Virgin image at the church and couldn’t stop crying. “I feel she made that miracle in my life,” Ortiz said.Image and history
Manship explained that in the image of Our Lady of Altagracia, Mary is contemplating baby Jesus in the manger, surrounded by 12 stars, representing the tribes of Israel, and rays of light.
“It just brings us to contemplate, to adore, to ponder, again this great mystery of God taking flesh in Jesus,” he said.
The image also presents Joseph in the background holding a candle, an important symbol to the church. Manship explained that 40 days after Jesus was born he showed up in the temple in Jerusalem, and the prophets held him up and pronounced him as the “light of the world.”
Although it is unclear how the image of the Lady de la Altagracia first appeared in the Dominican Republic, many online publications explain that the brothers Alonso and Antonio Trejo brought it to the country from Spain in 1502.
Basilica Catedral Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia is a church devoted to the Virgin, located in the city of Higüey, in the Dominican Republic. The cathedral is visited by many tourists throughout the year, especially on Jan 21.