On Tuesday, September 24, Dominicans will be celebrating Mercedes Day, El Dia de las Mercedes, or Our Lady of Mercy Day, the Patroness of the Dominican Republic.
Usually, Dominican public holidays that fall in the middle of the week are moved to Friday or Monday to make a long weekend. However, if it is a religious holiday, the day is not moved due to the respect to the Church in the Dominican Republic.
A curious fact is that the Dominican flag is the only one in the world that has a religious symbol – a bible, that indicates a very important role of religion in this country.
What Dominicans Say About Our Lady of Mercy
“The day of Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes (Our Lady of Mercy) is not like any other holiday, as Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia (Our Lady of High Grace), they are two Blessed Virgins that protect us and grant us miracles”.
“I have been going through a bad time. So, I decided to go to The Sanctuary in Santo Cerro, I asked Our Lady of Mercy for help and protection and so she did. Now, every year on September 24, I host a gathering at my house where I invite family and friends, we sing, we pray, everything in her honor.”
If you want to discover how people celebrate Altagracia Day in the Dominican Republic, please check our post: https://dreamcityresort.com/altagracia-day-dominican-republic/
Origins of Our Lady of Mercy Day
Dominican culture is a fascinating mixture of various cultures. The most prevalent cultural trait is the Spanish one. To show our appreciation we keep some religious traditions that were brought into the country by the Spaniards. One of them is the Virgin of Mercy or Our Lady of Mercy, which is a Marian invocation venerated by the Catholics.
To fully understand this beautiful tradition let’s travel back in time and space to see how it all started. The legend says the night of August 1 through 2 of 1218, the Blessed Virgin appeared in Spain to three illustrious Spaniards: Saint Pedro Nolasco, King Jaime I of Aragón, and Saint Raimundo of Peñafort and communicated to each one of them her desire to found a congregation that would free captives. Ten days later, the three knights met at the Cathedral of Barcelona, shared their experience and agreed on establishing a religious order dedicated to the redemption of captives to honor the Blessed Virgin. It was named “The Order of Mercy for the redemption of captives”.
The devotion to Our Lady of Mercy spread very soon through Catalonia. Afterward, from the thirteenth century with the redemption work of this religious order, the devotion expanded to the rest of Spain, France, and Italy. With the evangelization of America, in which the Order of Mercy participated from its very beginnings, the devotion spread and deeply rooted throughout the American territory.
However, it was not until 1492, the year of the Discovery or Conquest, that this devotion reached the Dominican Republic. According to the legend, during the first battle with the Native Taínos, Christopher Columbus placed a cross on the top of a hill next to a sort of altar that he had created, when the Taínos tried to attack him and his army, The Lady of Mercy appeared and chased them away. After this many people assured that the Lady of Mercy appeared several times in the same place.
Later the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Mercy was built in the same place where Christopher Columbus placed the cross, where the town of Santo Cerro, in La Vega is located today. An annual pilgrimage takes place on September 24, when Dominicans from all over the country visit this sanctuary to pay homage to the patroness Our Lady of Mercy Sanctuary.
It is worth mentioning that the first proper Catholic Temple or Church was built by Christopher Columbus in La Isabela, city of Monte Cristi. The first settlement of the new world was in the North Coast!
Our Lady of Mercy Sanctuary
The Santo Cerro Church is open daily from 9.00 AM to 6:00 PM and is closed from 12:00 noon to 2:00 PM. The Entrance is free of charge, but there is a dress code according to the canons of the Catholic Church.
For additional information about this place, please visit the following link: http://www.godominicanrepublic.com/poi/family/constanza/santo-cerro/
Traditions Related to This Day
During this religious holiday, there are special services in the church and numerous parades. A great procession is also held in the capital city, Santo Domingo. The Holy Hill also becomes a place of pilgrimage, where it is believed that the Virgin of Mercy first appeared and helped the expansion of Roman Catholicism into the New World.
A common event is the “Hora Santa”, “Vela” or “Holy Hour” that can last from one hour up to an entire day, it consists in a few people gathering at a house, praying and singing Our Father and Holy Mary with food and non-alcoholic drinks.
Some people would go to the beach, the river, the countryside, or would host a reunion with family and friends.
A few, depending on their devotion, would name their child “Mercedes” if he or she is born on September 24, in honor of Our Lady of Mercy.
We wish you a happy holiday!
By the way, don’t forget to tell us what are your plans for Our Lady of Grace Day.
Check Out Other Dominican Holidays That Might Interest You
- Three Kings Day: https://dreamcityresort.com/three-kings-day-dominican-republic/
- Christmas: https://dreamcityresort.com/christmas-celebration-dominican-republic
- New Year: https://dreamcityresort.com/new-year-dominican-republic/
- Dominican Carnival: https://dreamcityresort.com/carnival-dominican-republic-2
- Easter: https://dreamcityresort.com/dominican-republic-easter-semana-santa/