The annual Feast of La Divina Pastora will be held today, Sunday. It is the patronal feast day of the church of the same name at Siparia. Essentially a religious celebration, it is also a cultural and sporting festival. Siparia parishioner Theresa Noel writes on its history.
La Divina Pastora is one of the many titles given to Mary, the Mother of Our Lord. In 1703, Venerable Isidore, a Capuchin Franciscan monk in the region of Seville, Spain, received an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in which she requested him to encourage people seeking her intercession to address her as ‘La Divina Pastora’ (Holy Shepherdess).
Devotion to her under this title spread, and in 1715, monks of that same Order arrived in Venezuela as missionaries to the aboriginal people there, carrying the devotion with them.
Realising that many tribes of the First Peoples of the Orinoco Region made periodic trips to Trinidad, gathering at Siparia, the monks decided to establish a mission there between 1756 and 1758; it was one of four missions they set up during that period. They dedicated the Siparia mission to Nuestra Senora, La Divina Pastora.
In 1795, Pope Pius VI named Our Lady, La Divina Pastora, Patroness of Capuchin Franciscan Missions, and named a Feast day in her honour.
According to an account written into the parish records at Siparia by the then parish priest in 1861, a statue of La Divina Pastora was enthroned in the church at Siparia by a Spanish priest who publicly declared that it had saved his life.
No other details are given, but the account also says that since that declaration, the church had become a place of pilgrimage, with members of all sections of the society visiting regularly seeking La Divina’s intercession. This custom prevails to this day.
The statue of La Divina Pastora is that of a Black Madonna, veiled and crowned, and holding the shepherdess’ staff in her right hand. It is believed to be an Amerindian sculpture. Made of wood, it is about 100 cm tall, has long, black, human hair, and is regally robed: jewels and rosaries adorn her gown.
The Feast day of La Divina Pastora is celebrated with great ceremony on the fourth Sunday of Easter, a week later than it was originally. In earlier times, there would be four Masses on the Feast day, culminating with the 10 a.m. Mass. In those days, the procession with the statue of La Divina Pastora through the streets of Siparia took place at mid-afternoon, with males and females walking separately.
Today, there are two morning Masses, and the procession takes place immediately after the 10 a.m. Mass. As in earlier times, the Holy Rosary is prayed and Marian hymns sung, but there is no separation of the sexes.
The route taken by the procession remains unchanged: La Pastora Street, Mary Street, Daisy Voisin Street, High Street, La Pastora Street, and back into the church.
Great crowds converge on the church and its grounds for these celebrations, and extra seating and shelter are provided to accommodate the congregation. Crowds of spectators line the streets for the passing of the procession.
On re-entry into the church, there is Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. This marks the official end of the religious celebrations, but hundreds of the faithful linger, lining up to offer their private ‘thank you’ to La Divina Pastora, for favours received.