Sitting in the hill country 54km from AsunciĆ³n is Caacupe the religious center of the country. It is the country town of the department of Cordillera and so in addition to its religious duties it is also a business and shopping hub for the surrounding countryside

The town is the home of the Virgen of Caacupe and hence it’s religious importance to the country. This idol is the most revered in Paraguay and it’s story known off by heart by every school child.

It began when an indian named Jose was hiding in the woods from his enemies. When he was about to be discovered a light from above concealed him. This light was the Virgin Mary giving him protection. At that moment Jose was converted to Christianity and promised to carve he likeness in thanks. This he did and very soon the rest of his people also converted and built a church for the idol with the help of Spanish priests. All was then well for a while until a great storm washed away everything and the Virgin was believed lost. However by a miracle the bag containing it was found and bought to Caacupe when a new chuch was built in it’s honor. The tale of Jose and the Virgin is told in mural form in the basilica.

The Virgin of Caacupe now has pride of place behind the altar of the modern basilica. This modern church replaced a much older one on the same site and was officially opened by Pope John Paul II in 1988. The inside is high bright and airey flooded with natural light and focuses on the shrine of the Virgin.

As you enter the basilica you pass under a wooden carving that runs above the door. Reflecting it’s modern origins this includes visitors arriving not only by ox cart but also by 4×4.

Inside the decorations are fairly plain giving a clean appearence to the walls. Far infront behind the main altar is the shrine and the Virgin. Paraguayans visit this for spritual assistance and pray touching it’s base to receive blessings or assistance.

Behind the shrine there is a doorway which leads to a spiral staircase up to the roof. It is up this that the mural of Jose’s tale is painted. Worth the climb just to see the mural. Then stepping out onto the roof the view extends across Caacupe in all direction and to the hills beyond.

Just behind the basilica there is a small but well laid out modern museam. This outlines the history of Caacupe and the importance to it of the Catholic Church. The displays are all in Spanish but and English language fact sheet is available at the enterance.

For most of the year Caacupe is a quiet town confortable to casually wander around. However things are very different in December. 8th December is the Festival of the Virgin of Caacupe and from a couple of weeks before hand traders and pilgrims alike start to arrive. This is the biggest religious festival in the country and by the 8th the streets are so packed with tourists there either to visit the Virgin or hear mass that the main roads either side of Caacupe are closed to traffic. It is though a very good natured crowd and so if you are not troubled by large gatherings an ideal time to see Paraguayan arts and customs.

The basilica is not the only important church in town as a few blocks away stands painted bright blue the Ycua de la Virgen. This church stands on the site of the Holy Spring of Caacupe where throughout the year people come to collected the waters that flow there either in their own plastic bottles or in one of the virgin shaped bottles on sale near by.

Returning to the roof of the basilica the true nature of the area that became Caacupe can be seen. Beyond the lush covering of tree hills can be seen to rise in every direction. This is because the town itself sits in the crater of a long extinct volcano.

Caacupe is a very pleasent town to visit. It is easily reached by bus or car from AsunciĆ³n or any of the surrounding towns. However if you were feeling more adventurous and wished to experience properly the pilgrimage you could travel on foot as it is traditional to do.