When the Spaniards arrived in the region of Guanare in 1591, the more rebellious of the In- dian tribes, the Cospes, who were the original inhabitants of that region, fled to the northern jungle to avoid the strange new culture of the Spanish white men. They would have remained hidden in the wild for a very long time, delaying their opportunity for evangelization, had it not been for the intervention of the Mother of God herself.
The Virgin Mary loves all of her children, but in a very special way she watches over, guides and protects the poorest, weakest, and most abandoned of her children. This is the true story of the Cospes Indians, a very special people loved by Our Lady, and chosen to make her known and venerated, not only by the people of Venezuela, but throughout the whole world.
In the region which is now the capital of Portuguesa State in the western part of Venezuela, the Indian Chieftain of the Cospes Tribe, Cacique Coromoto and his wife, having fled Guanare with the rest of their people, were crossing a stream of water in the northern jungle. They came upon a woman of extraordinary beauty who told them in their own native tongue, “Leave the forest with your people and go to the house of the white men. Ask them to pour the water on your heads (Holy Baptism), so as to be able to enter Heaven.”
Impressed by what they saw and heard, they obeyed the beautiful lady, and led their tribe back to the village of the white men to be instructed in the Christian Faith. Juan Sánchez, a good Christian man who owned much land along the Guanare River, upon hearing the story of the vision, brought the Indians before the local authorities, who appointed him to be their Encomendero; meaning the Indians were under his care by royal decree. Juan Sánchez then divided up his own land to the Cospes, entrusting parcels of land to be cultivated by them, thus establishing, as it were, a new settlement. He also made the promise to instruct them in the Faith, in preparation for their Baptism.
This seemed like the ideal setting but, even though several of the Indians did soon receive the Sacrament of Baptism, most of them were still very wary of the white man’s way of life. The Chieftain, Cacique, was still of those who had not accepted to be baptized. He feared that, under a new religion, he would not be recognized by his people as their legitimate chief. For this reason, he decided that it would be best for him to return with his people to their village. So, without any explanation, he gathered his people together and led them back to the jungle.
The Virgin Mary, always a true Mother, was not about to give up on these good people. She visited Cacique once more, this time in his humble hut in the forest in the presence of his wife, sister-in-law, and young nephew (marking this as the only time that the Blessed Virgin Mary has ever appeared to a family). She presented herself, surrounded by a luminous aura with rays that filled the hut as though with fire. Chief Coromoto was unmoved, and blinded by his anger at being disturbed once more by this woman, grabbed his spear and raised it to order the Apparition to be gone. As he angrily stretched out his arm towards the Virgin Mother, as though wishing to strike her, she vanished from before his very eyes!
Cacique, stunned by her sudden disappearance, realized, at the same moment, that he was holding something in his tightly-closed fist. Looking more closely, he could see that it was a tiny parchment, or paper “holy card”, and imprinted upon it was the image of the Beautiful Lady. Cacique, though, was still in a rage and threatened to destroy the small image. His young nephew, who had witnessed the entire scene, begged Cacique not to destroy the picture of the Lady. He ran to fetch Juan Sánchez, and together they were able to retrieve the image from Cacique and deliver it to the religious authorities in Guanare.
Cacique once again fled, and this time went even deeper into the jungle. As it happened, the Virgin must have thought it best to leave him to his own demise.
He was bitten by a poisonous snake, and became very ill and near to death. As he lay dying, he remembered the words of the Virgin, and her desire that he receiver Baptism, “…so as to be able to enter Heaven”. His heart finally softened, and feeling well enough, he made his way back to the white man’s village and presented himself to the priest, humbly asking for the waters of Baptism.
From that moment on, Cacique became an apostle of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Encouraged by his counsel, the Cospes Indians formed a community of very fervent faithful, and so great was their fervor that the religious authorities were obliged to assign to them a priest of their own, a Capuchin monk by the name of Fray (Brother) José de Nájerato. Together they founded the village of San José de la Aparición (Saint Joseph of the Apparition). San José no longer exists as a village today, but the area itself has remained a holy place of worship; in the beginning for the Indians, then later for all devout faithful of the Blessed Virgin. A shrine has since been built in honor of Our Lady of Coromoto, and Pope Pius XII gave her the title of Patroness of Venezuela, on October 7, 1944. Pope St. John Paul II crowned the statue of the Virgin during his visit in 1985, and Pope Benedict XVI elevated the Shrine to the dignity of a minor basilica on October 20, 2007.
The holy relic of the image of the Virgin, given miraculously to the Chieftain Cacique in 1591, is still kept today at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Coromoto, in Venezuela. It is encased in a glass reliquary at the foot of the statue representing the image. It is venerated daily by thousands who, through devotion to this tiny divine image (2.5cm X 2cm), still receive wonderful favors, with many conversions and great renewals of faith.