Las Lajas Sanctuary (Santuario de Las Lajas) is arguably considered the most beautiful church in Colombia. It’s also considered by many to be one of the most beautiful churches in the world. And The Telegraph even named Las Lajas Sanctuary the most beautiful church in the world in 2015.

Las Lajas Sanctuary is a minor basilica church located in Ipiales, which is located in the southern Colombian Department of Nariño. The church sits on a 130 feet tall bridge over the Guáitara river. In addition, it’s located less than seven miles from the Ecuadorian border.

Las Lajas Sanctuary is a Gothic Revival style church built inside a canyon of the Guáitara river. So, it’s often been called a jewel of engineering. This Roman Catholic church is dedicated to the veneration of Our Lady of Las Lajas Ipiales.

The Las Lajas Sanctuary is famous for its stunning architecture and a series of legends involving the appearance of the Holy Virgin and a mysterious mural of which nobody knows the origins.

We have covered several of the beautiful churches in Medellín on this website. And some readers requested that we also cover the beautiful Las Lajas Sanctuary. So, this week instead of covering another church in Medellín we are covering Las Lajas Sanctuary.

Note the above photo of Las Lajas Sanctuary is by GameOfLight.

Las Lajas Sanctuary in Ipiales, Colombia

Las Lajas Sanctuary in Ipiales, Colombia

History of Las Lajas Sanctuary

According to local beliefs, the Virgin Mary appeared to a woman and her deaf-mute daughter in 1754 at the same place where the Las Lajas church is now standing.

The Amerindian woman, Maria Meneses de Quiñones, and her daughter a deaf-mute, Rosa, were passing the Guaitara river when they found themselves hiding from a brutal storm.

The story says that while the two women were looking for shelter, they felt like a force was guiding them towards a cave, where they were able to see the image of Our Virgin Mary on one of the walls. The little girl then shouted to her mother, pointing to the image. It is believed that the apparition of the Virgin Mary cured Rosa. The news of the miracle reportedly spread across the area, making people wonder if it was really true.

The first shrine on the site was built a few years after the alleged appearance. And it was reportedly built from straw and wood. And in 1802, a larger shrine was built. At that time, worshipers erected the first version of the bridge connecting the church with the other side of the canyon.

The façade of Las Lajas Sanctuary

The façade of Las Lajas Sanctuary

The current Las Lajas Sanctuary was built between 1916 and 1949. It was built with funding from donations from local parishioners. The church is 330 feet (100 meters) high from the bottom of the canyon.

Many other cases of miraculous healing have been reported over the years and more and more people traveled to see the stone that had on it the image of Virgin Mary.

Las Lajas Sanctuary received canonical coronation from the Vatican in 1952. And it was made a minor basilica in 1994.

The central nave inside Las Lajas Sanctuary

The central nave inside Las Lajas Sanctuary

Inside Las Lajas Sanctuary

Inside the church you will find a beautiful white interior with gold trim. And the church has wooden pews like most churches in Colombia.

In addition, the church has several beautiful stained-glass windows. The stained-glass windows in the church include images of the church’s spires and carved fishes adorn the doors, inspired by the riverside location.

The left nave inside Las Lajas Sanctuary, photo by Aliman5040

The left nave inside Las Lajas Sanctuary, photo by Aliman5040

The right nave inside Las Lajas Sanctuary, photo by Aliman5040

The right nave inside Las Lajas Sanctuary, photo by Aliman5040

Furthermore, there are many pieces of religious artwork to be found throughout this church and outside the church. For example, statues of white angels playing instruments adorn the bridge.

Statues on the bridge outside of Las Lajas Sanctuary, photo by Diego Delso, delso.photo, License CC-BY-SA

Statues on the bridge outside of Las Lajas Sanctuary, photo by Diego Delso, delso.photo, License CC-BY-SA

Furthermore, the roof of Las Lajas Sanctuary is designed to form a cross.

The cross shaped roof of Las Lajas Sanctuary seen from the top

The cross shaped roof of Las Lajas Sanctuary seen from the top

On completing their pilgrimage to the church, many leave plaques to commemorate their journey and/or to ask for a blessing from the virgin for themselves and their families. The plaques line the steps and path down to the church.

Miracle Plaques along walkway to Las Lajas Sanctuary

Miracle Plaques along walkway to Las Lajas Sanctuary

Location of Las Lajas Sanctuary

How to Get to Las Lajas Sanctuary

Ipiales is located in Colombia near the Ecuador boarder. From Ipiales, to get to the church you can take either a collectivo or shared taxi which charges 2,000 to 3,000 pesos a person. Or you can hire your own taxi for about 10,000 pesos.

Once you arrive at the drop off point, it’s a steep 7- to 10-minute walk down the hill to the church. Las Lajas Sanctuary is free to enter although the museum below costs 1,500 pesos per person, and it’s worth seeing.

Las Lajas Sanctuary seen from the hiking path in the valley beneath

Las Lajas Sanctuary seen from the hiking path in the valley beneath

Also, there is a hiking path in the valley below with some nice views.

Cable car to/from Las Lajas Sanctuary

Cable car to/from Las Lajas Sanctuary

In addition, you can take a cable car across the valley for more spectacular views of the church and the valley below. But warning, this isn’t the most direct route to return to Ipiales.

The cable car drops you off essentially in the middle of nowhere. From there, you can either catch a taxi, or jump on a bus, which will take you into town.

The church can get busy on holidays, photo by Arabsalam

The church can get busy on holidays, photo by Arabsalam

Furthermore, keep in mind this church is a popular site and on religious holidays it can get very busy.

The Beautiful Churches in Medellín

We have also been looking at the beautiful churches in Medellín on this website in a series. We have looked at the following 20 churches in our series and we plan to look at a few additional churches in the Medellín area.

  1. Catedral Basílica Metropolitana – the main church of the Archdiocese of Medellín and the largest church in the city.
  2. Iglesia Nuestra Señora del Rosario– a church located in Bello that is arguably the most beautiful church in the Medellín metro area.
  3. Iglesia de La Candelaria – the olde st church in Medellín.
  4. Iglesia San Antonio and Plaza San Antonio – the church with the largest dome in Medellín located next to Plaza San Antonio with four Fernando Botero sculptures.
  5. Iglesia Jesús Nazareno – another of the most beautiful churches in Medellín.
  6. Iglesia de Santa Gertrudis – a beautiful church in Envigado located next to Parque Envigado.
  7. Iglesia de Santa Ana – a very popular church in Sabaneta located next to Parque Sabaneta.
  8. Iglesia Nuestra Señora del Perpetuo Socorro – a beautiful Gothic-style church in Medellín.
  9. Iglesia del Sagrado Corazón de Jesús – a beautiful neo-Gothic-style church located in Barrio Triste in Medellín.
  10. Iglesia de San José – a beautiful Boroque-style church located in El Centro, Medellín.
  11. Iglesia del Señor de las Misericordias – a beautiful neo-Gothic-style church located in the Manrique neighborhood of Medellín.
  12. Iglesia San José – a beautiful Romanesque-style church located next to Parque Poblado in El Poblado.
  13. Iglesia de la Veracruz – a beautiful colonial church with a history that goes back to 1682, which makes it one of the oldest churches in Medellín.
  14. Iglesia de San Ignacio – a beautiful church in El Centro with a Baroque-style exterior and colonial interior.
  15. Iglesia de Nuestra Señora – a beautiful Roman-style church located next to Parque Belén in Medellín.
  16. Nuestra Señora Chiquinquirá – a beautiful church in La Estrella with a Neo-Gothic-style.
  17. Iglesia el Calvario – a beautiful Romanesque-style church in the Aranjuez comuna in Medellín.
  18. Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Sufragio – a beautiful neo-Romanesque-style church in the Boston barrio in Medellín.
  19. Iglesia de San Benito – a beautiful neo-Romanesque-style church with a history that traces back to 1678, which make it one of the oldest churches in Medellín.
  20. Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Dolores – a beautiful Neo-Byzantine-style church in the La América comuna in Medellín.

In the metropolitan Medellín area, there are over 300 Roman Catholic churches. Most notably, a complete list of churches for the Archdiocese of Medellín can be found here.

Las Lajas Sanctuary at night, photo by Laurian Verre

Las Lajas Sanctuary at night, photo by Laurian Verre

The Bottom Line: Las Lajas Sanctuary

Las Lajas Sanctuary (Santuario de Las Lajas) is one of the world’s most beautiful churches. And it’s definitely worth visiting if you are crossing the Ecuador/Colombia border by land.

This beautiful and breathtaking church has remained off the radar for most foreign tourists to Colombia. This is due to it being located a long way from the major cities in Colombia. So, it’s still an off the beaten path destination.

And this may not change as there really isn’t very much to do in the small town of Ipiales in my experience besides seeing the nearby church. But if you happen to be visiting Pasto, Ipiales and this amazingly beautiful church are only about two hours away.