Patagonia, Thursday, October 08, 2015

Paths of Faith

There is an opportunity to visit two places for those interested in religious tourism on the outskirts of Coyhaique on the way to Puerto Aysén.

We had to leave the City of Coyhaique heading west along Route 240. On the side of the winding road, the Simpson River was our companion most of the time. This crystal-clear watercourse is one of the favorite spots for fly-casters. Big brown and rainbow trout can be found there.

The route, which is in excellent conditions and with good signs, kept us entertained along the many bends as we were heading to the West. During the journey, open spaces sometimes reaching the horizon caught our attention. These plains are the result of big fires started by settlers to turn this area into pastures.

All of a sudden, our car began to go along narrow ravines surrounded by high hills and mountains. Among them, there were some small lenga and cypress forests.

  • The Cave of the Virgin Mary

    The Cave of the Virgin Mary

  • Open spaces sometimes reaching the horizon caught our attention

    Open spaces sometimes reaching the horizon caught our attention

  • Peaceful place with natural charm

    Peaceful place with natural charm

  • The spectacular Virgin Falls

    The spectacular Virgin Falls

  • Pay tribute to the Virgin

    Pay tribute to the Virgin

After driving for about 30 kilometers, we pulled over to visit the Sanctuary of Saint Sebastian, located on the side of the road. After parking, we went inside the place in order to see it.

Inside this place, hundreds of people get together to pray and thank the Saint for granting their wishes. Lit candles highlight that the faith felt for Saint Sebastian is everywhere. Memorial plates, photographs, crosses, flowers and hundreds of offerings to the Saint for having granted their wishes may be seen when visiting this retreat.

Legend has it that when the City of Chillán was founded in 1580, the image of Saint Sebastian, which was made of cedar and brought from Spain, was placed in the city church. Since then, this church has worshipped the Saint in the Sanctuary of Yumbel. This image was there until 1655, when the Mapuche uprising led by Lientur and Butapichún destroyed the city. The few surviving Spaniards fled with the statue and buried it near the fort of Yumbel where it remained hidden for seven years. Once Chillán was rebuilt, the Spanish soldiers wanted to take their Saint away. However, as the legend says, the Saint did not allow the ox cart to move his statue. This statue has been the spiritual and historical treasure of Yumbel ever since.

As it happens with most popular beliefs, the story of this Saint who wanted to "stay" in this land crossed borders and nowadays it is possible to find it in this place of worship near Coyhaique and Aysén. Mostly truck drivers and other tourists passing by honk their car horns as a tribute to this Saint.

After touring the Sanctuary with utmost respect, we headed to Puerto Aysén. More than two kilometers ahead, we reached a second religious place, where the Cave of the Virgin Mary is located next to the spectacular Virgin Falls –so called for its proximity to the grotto.

We stopped to contemplate the waterfall. The strong fall creates some sort of crown and veil which accounts for its name. To better appreciate this show of nature, visitors may stand on the side of the bridge.

This place was officially opened on May 21, 1955 by Father Mario Zanella, who urged the faithful to keep working to make this a Sanctuary dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Half a century later, Father Luis Infanti turned this place into a worship place to honor the Virgin Mary, Patron Saint of the Catholic Vicariate of Aysén. Every February 11th, hundreds of pilgrims reach the place to pay tribute to the Virgin.

This is a moving, peaceful place with natural charm which makes it worth visiting. We can see that there is great devotion for the Virgin Mary and Saint Sebastian deeply rooted in the hearts of the people of Aysén.
After touring the venue, we decided to head to Puerto Aysén. That city would certainly have many stories and adventures in store for us.
Read complete Outing... Marcelo Sola / Eduardo Epifanio

See more points of interest in Coyhaique

Useful Data

Level of Difficulty: Low

Duration: 2 hours.

Timetables: open all day

Recommendations: Take Route 240 heading to Puerto Aysén. Halfway down the road there lie these places of prayer and solace.

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InterPatagonia - Touristic Information about Coyhaique, Patagonia, Chile: Activities and Tours
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