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Fate made it possible for me to run into a good friend from thw town of San Lorenzo, Alexandra Aponte, with whom I’ve shared some surfing outings. This time, we’re headed towards the heart of the island, to Montaña Santa (Holy Mountain) at 3,500 feet above sea level. As we climb the winding road, Alexandra explains to me that her hometown was originally called San Miguel, but its name changed when in 1812 a mayor assured having witnessed an appearance. On the riverbanks of Río Grande de Loíza, the spectrum of the burnt martyr, Saint Lawrence (or San Lorenzo), emerged, back in the year 258 A.D.

At the peak of Montaña Santa we enter the Santuario Diocesano Virgen del Carmen (Our Lady of Carmen Diocese Sanctuary) where nature and silence conspire to provide absolute serenity. We went to visit the chapel and other landmarks, such as Casa Vuestra Madre, las Tres Cruces and Manantial Vuestra Madre (a stream). Sanctuaries have become very important these days, when our lives are filled with stress and tension. Who doesn’t need peace of mind these days? It’s very common to see people there, indulging in their planned retreat. They spend their time there in a state of reflection, she tells me. The wind brings light rain that refreshes the environment even more. We descend to the stream and drink from its water before leaving. “It’s a practice that has become obsolete; what a shame,” she says.

The fog covers the landscape and impregnates the place with some mysticism. Subsequently, Father Giovanni Ruiz explains to me, “At Montaña Santa there used to live Santa Madre Elenita, a devotee whom they think carried out many divine manifestations. The place went from being the hill where the woman lived to becoming Montaña de la Santa (Mountain of the Saint, referring to her). Then, they took out the “de” out and it stayed “Montaña Santa” which means “Holy Mountain.” The years, the town and the tales continued to transform its history, and thus today they claim it has divinity aspects typical of the Virgin Mary.

In that line of thought, monsignor Enrique Hernández, bishop of Caguas, erected this altarpiece monument at the natural sanctuary in 1985, where thousands of faithful devotees have been going for years to praise Our Lady of Carmen.

But pilgrims have always mistaken the Virgin of Carmen with the Madre Elenita, a woman that has been beatified by the town. And though the church hasn’t initiated a beatification process, by the 1980s it did acknowledge her good deeds and also recognized the sanctuary as a place of pilgrimage.

Madre Elenita was extraordinary, and according to her death certificate dated, October 1,1909, her real name was Elenita Hug, the daughter of Emilio Hug. She has been credited for having dedicated her life to serving those in need and for leading a truly devout life.

The story is very well documented in the book, “Un siglo de historia, mitos, creencias y tradiciones religiosas de la Montaña Santa” (A century of history, myths, beliefs and religious traditions at Montaña Santa), available at the sanctuary, which opens daily from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

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