BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (CNS) — Church authorities in Argentina are preparing to encase the country’s most revered icon — a 17th-century terra-cotta statue of the Virgin of Lujan, patron saint of Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay — in bulletproof glass to safeguard it from vandalism.
Although the 2-foot-tall figure of Mary has not been attacked, church authorities decided to take advantage of a government renovation of the Basilica of Our Lady of Lujan, where the icon is kept, to step up protection. Already the figure has been almost completely encased in silver and is usually dressed in Argentina’s blue and white colors.
“Thank God there have been no threats, but we have to take precautions,” said Father Alejandro Alonso, an official of the Archdiocese of Mercedes.
The Argentine government will open bidding for the work, which will include installing a small elevator to allow the figure to be brought closer to the faithful from its current lofty perch, Father Alonso said in mid-December. He had no estimate for the cost of the work, but said total renovations for the basilica, which attracts around 5 million visitors a year, were expected to cost up to $14 million.
The statue of the Virgin of Lujan was brought to Argentina from Brazil by a Portuguese traveler in 1630. It was never intended to remain in Lujan, outside Buenos Aires, but the traveler’s horses stopped and refused to budge until the statue had been unloaded from the cart. A chapel was later erected, and miracles began to be attributed to Mary’s intercession.