By Greylyn Owens
Chapel Hill, NC, United States
The road to Ujarrás through the Orosi Valley is full of life and beauty. When traveling on the roads of Costa Rica you can appreciate its stunning scenery. On both sides are miles and miles of rice fields, small towns, and abundant vegetation. The view takes your breath away wherever you look. Be sure to glance up, too, because if you’re lucky, you’ll catch a glimpse of one or two monkeys in the trees.
In the town of Ujarrás you can find the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Limpia Concepción, one of the oldest churches in Costa Rica, completed in the year 1580 during the early colonial period. Its history is somewhat of a mystery. If you ask the residents, you will hear fascinating stories about how church came to be.
Legend has it that one day an indigenous Huetar fisherman found a box containing a painting of the Virgin Mary. The box could not be moved; therefore, the church was built around it. Local stonemasons constructed the church out of blocks of limestone using traditional techniques.
In the following years, several events occurred that were explained as protection by the Virgin Mary. For example, English pirate Henry Morgan was on his way to attack Ujarrás when the Virgin Mary warned the villagers and provided means for them to defend themselves. As these stories spread, the church gained renown and followers.
Abandoned Then Restored
The late 18th century and early 19th century saw floods, earthquakes, and health crises, so the villagers were forced to move. Some accounts speculate that abandoning the town was more for political reasons than for the residents’ welfare. As the people vanished, the church fell into ruin.
Since then, its remaining façades have been partially restored, and its grounds now comprise a playground, gardens, and river banks. You will see tourists and natives alike enjoying the peaceful surroundings on a sunny day. Costa Rica considers this church a National Monument.
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Learning Activities for Middle School:
- Look around your classroom or home to find items that could serve as building blocks. How tall could you construct a “wall” before needing a way to stabilize it? Measure the height of your attempts.
- What could you use to keep your wall from collapsing? Try some different methods. How much higher could you build it?
- How could you use math to decide which of your stabilization methods worked best?
- What else do you wonder about?
Social Justice Question
What do you think about the Costa Rican government requiring the people of Ujarrás to move to a different location long ago? Is it ever justifiable to make a decision for a community, or should people be left to decide their fate for themselves?
- Information about the ruins
- Tips for planning your visit to Ujarrás
- Suggestions here and here for nearby places to visit
- Drone footage of the ruins
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