A virgin, story, basilica and more - El Cisne in Loja Ecuador

The sacred mountaintop town of El Cisne in Loja province is an international center of religiosity. Tradition, culture, architecture and belief are the attractions awaiting every visitor, regardless of faith.

The story begins in 1594 with a great drought and plague of rats that caused a famine forcing the inhabitants to pack up to leave. But, before they could go far, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared and said, "Trust in me, because I will help you and protect you so that you will never again be hungry. Here I want to assist you. Raise a temple in this place, I will be there with you." And so they did, and the rains came again, and life was good.

That temple was built, and rebuilt, numerous times over the years. The current structure - The Gothic Basilica of the Virgin of El Cisne - was begun in 1934, four years after the canonical coronation of Churonita, the Virgin of El Cisne. In 1979 the building was consecrated, and in 1980 it was elevated to the category of Basilica by Pope John Paul II.

Aside from being a house of worship, the beautiful edifice is the home for the original 1594 carved image "La Histórica o La Auténtica" by Diego de Robles, and also the "traveling image" called "La Peregrina" which is used for the annual pilgrimage to Loja and to other locales, such as Spain.

In the basement of the basilica is a museum that houses the Virgin's dresses, jewelry and souvenirs left by pilgrims as well as a variety of objects given by the faithful in gratitude for the favors received, and religious art and models of showing the history of the construction of the Basilica of El Cisne.

Nationwide, 80% of the population of Ecuador identify as Catholic, but in El Cisne that number is 96%. People travel to this somewhat remote village all year round to worship, but each year in August the numbers swell for a pilgrimage when the icon is carried on foot to the cathedral of Loja where it resides for two months. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims come from Ecuador and Peru for this event.

Throughout the month of May traditional floral arrangements made from native flowers are placed inside and outside the basilica to decorate it. These are made by hand by the women of the parish in various shapes and are changed every Friday or Saturday with fresh ones.

Holy week is another important time in El Cisne with a "pilgrimage of the stations" on Good Friday - a traditional walk that features a staging of the passion and death of Christ, and in which the local population participates with dramatizations, songs, and prayers.

If you visit El Cisne at any time you will find numerous vendors in the square outside the basilica ready to sell you candles, religious handcrafts (such as milagros), horchata tea drink, candies and other snacks. Candles are made in a factory on the square and actually use recycled wax from melted offerings. 

There is more to see, and more stories to tell (such as the miracle water spring, for example). Life in Loja can arrange a tour of El Cisne with an English/Spanish translator to maximize the best experience possible. Contact Life In Loja by email, or phone/WhatsApp at 593-098-674-5994.

Life In Loja is registered under Ecuador’s department of intellectual rights as of 2022.

Story: Elizabeth Barrazueta Paccha Thalia and Estrella María Judith Rodríguez.  Photos: National Institute of Cultural Heritage, Zone 7; Municipio de Loja; Mayor's Office of Loja; and Elizabeth Barrazueta Paccha Thalia.


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