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Our Lady of Catalina

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Our Lady of Catalina
The Madonna of Grands Ballons
Patroness of the Gold Coast
Día de la Almudena (2016), Patrona de Madrid (cropped).jpg
Location Catalina Island, Channel Islands, Sierra (sighting)
Grands Ballons, Gold Coast, Sierra (Basilica)
Date May 9, 1768
Witness Blessed Jacques Sagard
Ignacio Borrero
Type Marian apparition
Holy See approval May 9, 1871 by Pope Pius IX
Shrine Basilica and Shrine of Our Lady of Catalina
Patronage Sierra (1945)
Western Anglo-America (1922)
Attributes A woman with medium complexion donning a blue tunic robe covered in an emblazoned beige mantle with six-pointed stars while she carries the Holy Child
Our Lady of Catalina (French: Notre Dame de Catherine; Spanish: Nuestra Señora de Catalina), also known as the Madonna of Grands Ballons, is a Catholic title of the Blessed Virgin Mary associated with a venerated image enshrined in the Minor Basilica of Our Lady of Catalina in Grands Ballons, Gold Coast. The basilica is the most-visited sacred site in Sierra, and was constructed in a way which is oriented in the traditional direction the Our Lady of Catalina appeared before the skies according to accounts.

Pope Pius X authorized devotion to the Marian title on May 9, 1871 and designated the date of celebration on the same day, commemorating the anniversary of the purported sighting of the Marian apparition. Pope Leo XIII granted the image a Canonical Coronation on December 19, 1896.

The image is based off of the principal accounts of the Blessed Jacques Sagard and Ignacio Borrero, a French seaman and a Spanish soldier respectively, as well as twelve other witnesses, who reported seeing the Marian apparition in the waters between the Channel Islands and the Sierran mainland. The event has been cited as one of the key events responsible for the development and growth of colonial Sierra, specifically for the Channel Islands and the Southwest Corridor. The Marian title and devotional image is closely associated with Saintiana, a cultural region spanning across Southern Gold Coast and coastal Orange. It is one of the most culturally significant symbols in Sierra, and has become the de facto representation of Catholicism in Sierra vis-à-vis Saint Junípero Serra.

Various miracles have been attributed to Our Lady of Catalina and believers have asserted that the enshrined image housed in the Minor Basilica has supernatural properties, including being able to withstand damage from falling over and other occurrences. The image is featured at many altars in Sierran Catholic homes and adorns various forms of religious objects including candles and rosaries.


During the late 18th century, the Spanish and French colonized southern Sierra and the Channel Islands respectively. The Spanish with the support of the Catholic Church, established a network of missions throughout its territorial holdings as a means to solidify their claims to the region, and to Christianize the indigenous Amerindian tribes. Although the Spanish made significant progress in exploring and mapping out the Sierran interior, interest in developing a large colony in Sierra was a low priority, as the Spanish Empire was primarily invested in the colonial and economic affairs of Mexico and its other Spanish American colonies. Despite rumors and reports that Sierra had gold and other bountiful resources, the Spanish did not discover any during their rule, and as a result, did not see any economic value to the colony beyond its ports offering anchorage to ships returning from the Asia-Pacific region. Nonetheless, the Sierran mainland was suitable for farming and ranching, which the Spanish divided into land grants which it allocated to colonists and soldiers. The Channel Islands also hosted a small colony of Frenchmen who settled with Spanish permission and support under the French-Spanish Condominium. A localized economy and trade developed between the Channel Islands and Spanish Sierra, though activity remained minimal in the years leading up to Our Lady of Catalina's initial appearance.

Marian apparition

According to official Catholic accounts, the Virgin Mary appeared before the Blessed Jacques Sagard three times and once before Ignacio Borrero, as well as a number of other witnesses, mostly soldiers and sailors. The first Marian apparition occurred on the Monday morning of May 9, 1768 before Jacques Sagard, a French fisherman, who was three miles offshore of Santa Catalina Island from the town of Little Gibraltar. Sagard fished alongside three other fishermen, all of whom also claimed to see the Virgin Mary. Sagard and his peers described the Lady as "outshining even the high noon sun" and claimed that the waters directly beneath her were calmly still, while the surrounding waters continued to crash violently. According to Catholic tradition, the Virgin appeared while holding the Holy Child close to her bosom. Later, though possibly dubious accounts by other witnesses claimed they saw the Virgin Mary from land on both the Channels and the Sierran mainland. Residents at the Grands Ballons estate of Julian Manuel Coronel, a soldier, also claimed to see the Virgin and produced similar descriptions of the Virgin, whose appearance lasted for nearly an hour in duration. Some accounts described witnessing a variety of supernatural phenomena, including birds circling the Virgin, while others only claimed to see a bright ball of light or woman hovering above the horizon.

The icon of Our Lady of Catalina at the Cathedral of Our Lady Catalina in Grands Ballons

Jacques Sagard is distinguished from the rest of the eyewitnesses during the first Marian apparition because it is believed he was able to hear and speak with the Lady herself directly. She revealed herself to him as the "holy mother of God" and told him that the Channels and Alta California (Sierra) were about to experience a "great age of prosperity", and requested that he build a church to consecrate the land. Sagard, overwhelmed by the experience, sought the confidence of the parish priest in Little Gibraltar, Oscar Picard Lafayette. Priest Lafayette did not initially believe Sagard's claims, despite numerous other witnesses and congregants coming before the church, reveling about the experience. On the same night of the first apparition, the Virgin and Child purportedly appear before Sagard again within his private home, imploring him to insist before the priest, and calling him to "bear testimony of the power of the Holy Trinity". He prayed to the Rosary and pleaded the Virgin to reveal herself to the priest and perform miracles "so that all may come to believe". The Blessed Virgin Mary accepted his request and promised to perform a miracle. Soon after the Virgin left his presence, Sagard found an image of the Lady imprinted on the wall of his bedroom.

The following morning, Sagard asked the priest to come to his house to see the miraculous image, revealing to him that he had seen the Virgin Mary a second time on the night before. The priest refused to come with him, believing Sagard was delirious from spending his days out at sea. Unable to convince the priest to come and see the image, Sagard reproduced the image himself on a parchment of paper, and showed the image to the priest. The Catholic Church claims that upon showing the image before the priest, the Virgin once again manifested herself before Sagard, and now the priest, while the paper "glowed a flurry of indescribable colors". Embarrassed by his denial and reluctance to believe Sagard, the priest asked for forgiveness before the Virgin, who disappeared alongside the image, which faded away completely. When Sagard returned to his home, the image which was imprinted on the wall had also miraculously vanished.


Throughout the centuries, the intercession of the Virgin Mary under the title of Our Lady of Catalina has been linked to numerous claimed miracles or miraculous events. At least four have been confirmed by the Catholic Church, two of which, including the original Marian apparition, have been cited for the Church's recognition of the title.

Catholic Church

Pontifical approbations

  • On May 9, 1871, Pope Pius IX authorized the devotion and celebration of the Feast of Our Lady of Catalina.
  • On June 13, 1945, Pope Pius XII declared the Blessed Virgin Mary, under the title Our Lady of Catalina as the Patroness of the Gold Coast and of Sierra. This declaration was made following the petition made by the Archbishop of Porciúncula and the Bishop of the Channel Islands.

Cultural significance


See also