According to the official account of the Aparecida apparition, in October 1717, Dom Pedro de Almeida, Count of Assumar and Governor of the Province of São Paulo and Minas Gerais, was passing through the area of Guaratinguetá, a small city in the Paraíba river valley, during a trip to Vila Rica, an important gold mining site.
As the people of Guaratinguetá decided to hold a feast in his honour, three fishermen, Domingos Garcia, João Alves, and Filipe Pedroso went down to the Paraíba waters to fish. The fishermen prayed to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception that God would grant a good catch. The fishermen, having a run of bad luck, cast their nets in the River Paraiba. João Alves cast his net and pulled it back to find a headless statue of the Virgin Mary. Upon his next cast, he found the head. The group cleaned the statue, wrapped it in cloth, and returned to their task to find their fortunes had changed and they were able to obtain all the fish they needed.
The fishermen named the statue Nossa Senhora da Aparecida Conceição (in English: Our Lady of the Appeared Conception). Neighbors began to venerate the statue, which came to be known as Our Lady of Aparecida, and a cult grew. The first chapel was built in 1745. The statue in clay is less than three feet tall. The number of worshippers increased dramatically and in 1834 work on a larger church was begun, and finished in 1888. On June 16, 1930, Our Lady of Aparecida, was proclaimed the « Queen and Principal Patroness of Brazil » by Pope Pius XI.
The third and actual Basilica of Our Lady of Aparecida was consecrated on July 4, 1980 by Pope John Paul II. It is the second largest Basilica in the world, second only to St. Peter's in the Vatican City. It can accommodate 45,000 worshipers. In 2010, over 10 million people visited it, which makes it the second most visited shrine after Lourdes.