The beautiful city of Aguascalientes, 365 miles north of Mexico City, is famous for its delightful year-round climate and its thermal baths (thus, the name of the town). It is also famous for something else—its magnificent statue of Mary, La Purisima.
In 1575 a decree of the Spanish King, Philip ll, authorized the founding of the town of Aguascalientes to be dedicated to Mary under the title of “Our Lady of the Assumption of Aguascalientes.” Thus, from its earliest beginnings, Aguascalientes has been devoted to Our Lady. This devotion centers primarily on an image of the Immaculate Conception which is venerated in the ancient Franciscan church of San Diego; the statue is known affectionately as La Purisima (“Mary Most Pure).
The Franciscans were entrusted with the church and the convent by a decree of King Philip lV in 1664. Records show that the statue was in the church as early as 1665. Members of the Third Order of St. Francis (established in the city in 1664) often carried the venerable image through the town in public procession.
Over the passage of time, however, the original statue deteriorated and about a hundred years after the church of San Diego was established, the image was replaced by another. The history of Marian devotion in Mexico reveals that the public often refused to accept a new image in place of an older one! This was not the case, however, with the image of La Purisima.
“Why would there be an exception in this case?” one would naturally ask. The answer most likely would be: “Because of its exceptional beauty!”
Historians believe that the statue is from the “Guatemala School” which produced the finest sculptors and works of art in the New World. These artists employed special colouring and lacquering materials as well as a “distinctive technique for polishing the hands and face of the sculpture.” They were also able to impart a facial expression “at once warm and filled with mysticism” into their statues. As a result of the new statue of La Purisima, devotion to Our Lady increased even more in the city.
In 1833 and 1850 when an epidemic of cholera swept through the city, the citizens beseeched La Purisima with renewed devotion. The image was carried in procession and a notable decrease in sickness and mortality ensued.
In 1924 a curious incident occurred: La Purisima prompted a near civil rebellion! It happened this way: Over the course of time the statue deteriorated somewhat and the religious authorities decided that it needed refurbishing. They then substituted another image in its place. When the people realized that their beloved statue had been taken away for retouching they were furious! How dare they remove La Purisima!
Crowds stormed the doors of the convent! Not satisfied with answers given by the Superior of the convent, they raced over to the civil authorities. “Fearful for the peace and order of the city” the authorities contacted the governor of the state! The governor demanded that the Provincial of the Franciscans return the statue to the convent “in the interest of public order!” His demand was followed in short order. From that time to the present day no attempt has been made to retouch the statue in any way!
In 1954 a singular honour was bestowed on the statue: during the centenary observance of the dogmatic definition of the Immaculate Conception, the 68” tall statue was solemnly crowned with a golden crown which she wears to the present day. Visitors to the Church of San Diego today can venerate the statue which resides above the main altar of the church.
In Aguascalientes she is still loved and venerated as the “Queen and Mother of Aguascalientes”!