Our Lady of Mercedes Day
Dominican Republic villas are not necessarily the best place to celebrate local national holidays. You have to get out of the pool, and mingle with the people. Here’s some mingling we definitely recommend. here in the DR, and love talking about our historied traditions. In fact, we have an annual national holiday right around the corner that we bet you’ve never heard of dating back to the 17th Century.
Dia Nuestra Senora de Mercedes, or Our Lady of Mercedes Day, is a prominent national holiday celebrated on September 24th in the Dominican Republic. Nuestra Senora de Mercedes is the title given by Dominicans to the patron saint Mary who was the mother of Jesus Christ.
The holiday is a feast day that began during the Dominican Republic’s Spanish colonial days and exhibits the Dominicans strong ties to Catholicism. The day was first observed in 1615 by the Mercedians, a Spanish Catholic Order. The day is a national non-working day as businesses shut down to observe the festival.
According to local legend, the origin of the celebration can be traced back to Christopher Columbus. Columbus set a cross on top of a hill in the El Cibao region before returning to Spain. The Lady of Mercedes appeared near the cross during a battle that occurred in 1495 between island natives and Spain. Her appearance frightened and confused the natives and led the Spanish to victory.
Many visits by the Lady have been reported near the site of Columbus’ cross at Santo Cerro. A church known as the Iglesia Las Mercedes was later built on the site. The church was built by Dominicans to mark the spot and serves as a pilgrimage to Catholics throughout the world.
The Lady of Mercedes appeared in 1691 during a battle in Haiti between the French and Dominicans. Dominican soldiers urgently requested the Lady’s help and were delivered a victory over the French.
Each year thousands of Catholics travel to Iglesia Las Mercedes to pay homage to the Lady of Mercedes. The peak time to travel is during the festival when worshippers flock to the church. The epicenter of the Dominican celebration occurs in the capital city of Santo Domingo. Dominicans living in and around Santo Domingo worship the Lady at the local Church of Las Mercedes.
The Church of Las Mercedes in Santo Domingo celebrates the holy day by providing locals with masses commemorating the patron saint throughout the day. The church, built in 1555, has celebrations including the Blessing of the Waters and a procession that begins at the church and travels through the Colonial Zone of Santo Domingo.
In addition to the religious celebrations a beauty pageant is held during the holiday. Participants of the pageant join the procession through the Colonial Zone and are accompanied by musicians and dancers.