Saturday, May 22, 2010

Looking for La Leche

I’m about to set off for Spain once again, and one of my minor projects will be searching for Nuestra Señora de la Leche y Buen Parto, the title of a Virgin who was the object of great devotion in St Augustine in its early days and whose shrine is still here, attracting visitors from all over the country who come here to pray for safe childbirth.  The devotion arrived here in the late 16th or early 17th century; it originated in Madrid in the 16th century and was very popular there at that time.

Originally, we seem to have had a figure of La Leche that probably looked like the original in Madrid, but it was stolen and destroyed by the English from Charleston in the 18th century when they destroyed the ermita during one of their attacks.  It was replaced by a painting that is now in Campeche, Mexico, and the statue we have at the Shrine is a modern statue made in Germany and added shortly after the building was restored in the 1930s. The ermita has been destroyed several times, not only by the British, but by natural forces such as hurricanes, and has consequently has been rebuilt several times.

In any case, the question is what the original figure looked like.  In this case, too, the figure has ceased to exist. The devotion had been housed in the Iglesia de San Luis in Madrid, but the church was seized, profaned and destroyed by the Communists during the Spanish Civil War, and the figure is thought to have perished at that time. Again, there was a painting (source unknown to me) that was received by the Parroquia del Carmen, a nearby church in downtown Madrid, and became the new object of devotion until sometime later in the 20th century, when it also was stolen. 

So one of the objects of my trip is to find out what I can about the original figure and the original devotion so that this also can be contributed to the modern devotion and to the history of St Augustine.  Anyone who knows anything about this is more than welcome to contact me!  In the meantime, here’s a photo of our current La Leche, after last night’s May crowning.