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Dressing La Conquistadora

on March 8, 2013

Today my family joined a number of others from our area to travel to Santa Fe, NM where the U.S.A.’s oldest statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary has resided since 1625. The statue, known as “La Conquistadora,” was brought to New Mexico by a Franciscan friar and quickly adopted as an icon of the Mother of God. The people dressed her in real clothes, as a Spanish queen would dress–with beautiful fabrics, lace veils, and real jewelry. The tradition of dressing the statue has continued through history to today, where the Cathedral of St. Francis employs a caretaker of La Conquistadora. This lovely woman allowed our group to be present as she changed the wardrobe of the statue in honor of the Fourth Sunday of Lent coming up this weekend. Because of the Lenten season, La Conquistadora had been wearing a beautiful violet robe for the past few weeks. But the Fourth Sunday of Lent, called Laetare Sunday which is a Latin word for “rejoice,” calls for the color rose to be worn by clergy, the altar dressing, and in Santa Fe, La Conquistadora.

la conquistadora

 

There she is dressed in her new rose clothing.

While Our Lady’s caretaker dressed the statue, she related many interesting facts and stories about La Conquistadora. The statue is made of olive wood, is extremely old, and her maker and place of origin are unknown. She has undergone a number of restorations over the years to keep her fresh, but she is still very fragile. The statue’s hair is actually a wig made of donated human hair, much in the same way women will cut their hair and donate to make wigs for cancer patients. Also very interesting, the statue has a wardrobe of close to 300 outfits! Each set of clothing is very special because they are donated by people for special prayer intentions. If a family is thankful for the Blessed Mother watching over them, they might donate a robe. If a young woman is seeking intercession on behalf of her unborn baby, she may donate a robe. Folk may contribute to her wardrobe in honor of a special occasion such as a first communion or a family member’s ordination to the clergy. When a member of our group asked the caretaker if she had a personal favorite outfit, she couldn’t answer because each and every one of the robes is so special because of the prayers with which they were provided.

la conquistadora wardrobe 2

 

These are two of the 10 or more cupboards that contain the statue’s clothing and accessories.

The robes are in all different colors of the rainbow, though most are concentrated among the liturgical colors green, purple, red, white, and rose. The white clothes are often crafted from women’s wedding gowns, or little girls’ first communion dresses! People donate fabric from all over the world as well. We were shown robes made from Australian, African, Chinese, Indian, Portuguese, and local fabrics. La Conquistadora also has quite a collection of earrings, rosaries, and crowns, some of which are actually made from precious materials. These pieces that contain real gold and gemstones are usually only brought out once per year for her novena processions in October, for the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. I have to admit, when the cupboards opened I was thinking “I would wear that, and that, and that…” It reminded me of playing with Barbie dolls as a little girl, only this is much more significant and holy, and frankly, worthwhile.

La Conquistadora’s clothing changes about once per month, and more often when the Church calendar has things going on. For example, she was wearing a violet robe for Lent, and she changed to rose for the Fourth Sunday of Lent. With Holy Week coming soon, she will wear red for Palm Sunday, then back to violet for the weekdays. She’ll wear red again for Good Friday, then change to a magnificent white robe for Easter. The caretaker said when it is time to change the statue’s dress, she prays to know which robe to choose from the closet. Remember, the outfits are not just unique because of their materials, but because of the prayers and spirit of offering that come with each one of them.

la conquistadora wall

 

I know in this post I didn’t get much into the spirituality of venerating an image of Mary, but there was so much just about this statue’s history and dress! Here is a good website with more history about La Conquistadora. Here is a quick news story about why Christians venerate images.

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