The basilica church was built in a Gothic style between 1916 and 1949, taking up a total time frame of 33 years to build. The name Laja comes from the name of a type of flat sedimentary rock similar to shale and slate.
The National Shrine Basilica of Our Lady of Las Lajas is built inside the canyon of the Guáitara River, in the southern Colombian Department of Nariño. It rises 100 meters high from the bottom of the canyon and is connected to the opposite side of the canyon by a 50 meters tall bridge.
The inspiration for the church’s creation was a purported miraculous event in 1754, when Amerindian Maria Meneses de Quiñones and her deaf-mute daughter Rosa were caught in a very strong storm. The two sought refuge between the gigantic Lajas, when, to Meneses’ surprise, her daughter Rosa exclaimed “the Mestiza is calling me” and pointed to the lightning-illuminated silhouette over the laja. This apparition of the Virgin Mary instigated popular pilgrimage to the site and occasional reports of cases of miraculous healing. An image appeared in the stone that is several feet inside of it. The image in the stone is still visible today.