Basílica Santuari de Nostra Senyora de Meritxell - Atlas Obscura

Basílica Santuari de Nostra Senyora de Meritxell

Meritxell, Andorra

A beautiful modern church dedicated to the teleporting patron saint of Andorra. 

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The name “Meritxell” is well known throughout the little nation of Andorra. Even by microstate standards, it is a small village, with only 75 people. However, this village has one very notable feature: It is home to the patron saint of the country. Known as Our Lady of Meritxell, she’s a wooden statue that was very insistent on living in this little town.

The legend goes that while villagers from Meritxell were traveling to mass in Canillo, they discovered a statue of the Virgin Mary under a wild rose. They picked up the statue and brought it to the church with them, but she vanished from the church and was found under the wild rose. They tried again to move her, this time to a different church in Encamp, but again she made her way back to her rose in Meritxell. Taking the hint, the villagers built her a new church in Meritxell, where she was content to stay put for nearly 800 years.

Sadly, the chapel housing the statue caught fire on September 8, 1972. The original statue was presumably destroyed in the blaze—though she may have beamed herself to another wild rose. In any case, a new statue was needed. The initial replacement was stolen and burned in 2005. The statue has been replaced a few more times, by different artists who have used old photos and measurements in their attempts to replicate the original as closely as possible.

To house these new carvings, a new basilica was built. It was designed in 1976 by Catalan architect Ricardo Bofill. The cloister is especially striking: uncovered arches rise above a courtyard of black and white. Slate, a staple of Andorran architecture, is incorporated alongside white stone symbolizing snow. The interior is remarkably undecorated, save for the stained glass windows and the altar of the latest iteration of the Mary statue.

While the original statue may be gone, her legacy persists in Andorra. The only hospital in the country is named after Meritxell, as well as many women in the Catalan-speaking world. The national day of the country is September 8, the same as her feast day. She is even mentioned in the national anthem. 

Know Before You Go

The sanctuary is open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. most days of the week, except Sunday (when it closes at 5 p.m.) and Tuesday (when it's open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.).

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