Pilgrimage and popular Catholicism in the Santo Cerro

The Dominican society celebrates the 24 day of September the celebration of the Virgen de las Mercedes as part of the Catholic calendar.

This pilgrimage brings believers from all over the country who dye the 23 at night and the 24 throughout the day this historical peak of the Santo Cerro, from where you can contemplate the majestic and fertile valley of the Vega Real and that was the scene of battles between Indians and Spaniards during the conquest of the island by Christopher Columbus.

Legend has it that in an unequal battle in favor of the Indians, the Spanish soldiers invoked the Virgen de las Mercedes, appearing on the Spanish side and modifying the results of the war.

It is obvious that if it came from the Spanish side, the mythical version benefited them. In the framework of these legendary events, a hermitage was erected in honor of the Virgin of Mercy, became a sacred place and then a pilgrimage center.

Today, it is considered one of the main sacred sites next to the pilgrimage of the Christ of Bayaguana and that of the Virgin of Altagracia in Higüey.

In any case, those pilgrimages are those of Santo Cerro, which have the largest Catholic components. This celebration is a set of activities that make it retain a colorful and a force manners, such as tarantines where sweets and sweets typical of the area are sold elements of popular crafts.

Equally, the component of Catholic salves or of popular Catholicism, the presence of the payment of promise with its allegorical costume (white or gray), the sale of chromolithography of saints and other sacred objects is notorious.

It is important to highlight the strength that the most traditional Catholicism has throughout the Cibao region and attached to the so-called institutional church, without for that reason imposing a style of celebration marked by the canons of the formal Catholic Church on the pilgrimage to Santo Cerro .

The popular elements observed in other pilgrimages or religious celebrations, such as the atabales, the ritual possession, the Dominican voodoo saves, are practically nonexistent. But the spaces of secularity that accompany all activities of the Dominican people, such as the popular bars, the music of Bachata, the rum, the dance and other unsavory manifestations, are never lacking.

Although this pilgrimage is as old as the others, it seems to us that it still has a regional imprint on the sacred and even on the secular way that, although less constant than the other cases, is also present.

Perhaps it could be inferred that some facts of culture are imbued with the economic, social, cultural and physical environments of the region where it is celebrated.

 Taken from the book On the path of the word: notes on dominicanity

Carlos Andújar

Culture Coordinator


* Santiago-Chaguito- Morel, (Montecristi, 1914-Santiago de los Caballeros, 1997)
Valle de la Vega Real, from the Santo Cerro. c. 1950
Analog black and white photography on paper
11 x 26 cm (9x5inches)
Donation of Liliana and José Eduardo Morel Abdala
Eduardo León Jimenes Visual Arts Collection