Our Lady of Solitude

La Soledad

Feast Days: December 18 and Holy Saturday

Patroness of Oaxaca and Acapulco, Mexico; Badajos and Parla, Spain; Porto Covo, Portugal; and Cavite Province, the Philippines; patroness of mariners and sailors.

Invoked against loneliness, for consolation in bereavement, as a reminder of Christ’s wounds; invoked for a happy death and protection in general.

Essay by Karen S. Billings

Spanish devotion to Our Lady of Solitude, distinct from Our Lady of Sorrows, dates to 1506, when it was popularized by Queen Juana who was mourning the premature death of her husband, Felipe I, King of Castile. Images of La Soledad represent the Virgin Mary on Holy Saturday, after the Crucifixion and before the Resurrection; She is often considered to represent the Church itself, after the Crucifixion, when the disciples had fled in fear. The original imagen de vestir (a statue meant to be dressed) of La Soledad was created by Sculptor Gaspar Becerra (1520-1570), based on a painting that the wife of King Felipe II brought from France. The statue was installed in the Chapel of Our Lady of Victory in Madrid in 1565 and is dressed as a wealthy widow of the early sixteenth century, in black velvet with white trim and a gold crown set with pearls and gemstones. According to legend a mule driver passing through Oaxaca, Mexico, around 1620 noticed that he had somehow acquired an extra animal in his train. This mule collapsed under the weight of a huge crate on its back and, when its burden was lifted, the poor animal stood up briefly and then died on the spot. Local officials found a beautiful statue of the Virgin of Solitude, dressed in black satin and ornamented with pearls, gold thread, and lilies. The Basilica of Our Lady of Solitude in Oaxaca was built to house the statue; a rock in the entrance is said to mark the spot where the burro died.

Retablos of Our Lady of Solitude were created in Mexico so the faithful could have their own images of the venerated statue. The painters strove for accuracy, including not only a portrait of the imagen de vestir in her finery, but also including the details of her setting, such as candles, flowers, draperies, pedestals, and altars. Our Lady of Solitude is depicted as a sculpture of a solitary woman in mourning, her hands folded in prayer while she contemplates the Passion. She is usually clothed in an elegant black cloak over a black or red gown, which may be decorated with pearls, lace, and gold, red, and white embroidery. Other depictions show her dressed as a nun, with a black cape and a white tunic, possibly holding or contemplating the implements of the Passion on a white cloth, as the statue would be included as part of some Good Friday services. She wears a gold crown decorated with pearls and gemstones and a large circular halo surrounding her head and crown. She may wear a rosary or hold one in her folded hands.

Three retablos in the collection depict the image of Our Lady of Solitude as she would appear on an altar. The first retablo (fig. 1) presents La Soledad standing on a black crescent moon over a brown pedestal on a dark brown floor or altar. She stands in front of a blue-green background bordered with reddish-brown drapes, flanked on each side by a cherub kneeling on a fluffy white cloud holding a long, thin lighted taper candle. God the Father is painted above her, dressed in red and blue robes, holding a sphere in one hand and pointing two fingers of the other hand in benediction. La Soledad wears a gold crown and a halo of 12 stars that radiate beams of light. She wears a black cloak with decorative white embroidery over a red dress decorated with gold and white embroidery, along with a pearl necklace. The second image of La Soledad (fig. 2) is painted in a much simpler style, showing La Soledad standing on a white crescent atop a white pedestal in front of a blue-green background; the pedestal is placed on a white base, possibly an altar. She wears a dark blue cloak with white embroidery over a red robe trimmed with lace cuffs and a decorative lace collar.

Two strands of white beads, possibly a rosary, are draped across the lower front of her gown. She wears a gold crown on her head, surrounded by a gold halo and emanating gold rays. The third retablo of La Soledad (fig. 3) shows her standing on a brown pedestal with gold trim, on a white or grey ground or altar. She stands in front of a brown background festooned with swags of red draperies and green cords, flanked on each side by a gold candlestick with a white lighted taper candle. La Soledad is dressed in a plain black cloak over a white tunic. Her black cloak is gathered into a bow in the front of her tunic, much as it would be during Good Friday services at the Basilica in Oaxaca, and she hold a white cloth in her hands, which would have been used to display the implements of the Passion as part of these services. She wears a black rosary draped across the front of her tunic, and her head is surrounded with a gold halo with emanating gold rays. She is clearly identified at the bottom of the retablo as “Nra Sra de la Soledad” (Our Lady of Solitude), but the painting also includes a knife in her heart, which is normally part of the iconography of Our Lady of Sorrows and is inconsistent with a depiction of La Soledad.

Figure 1. Our Lady of Solitude / La Soledad

Anonymous, Mexico. Nineteenth Century.

Oil on tin. NMSU Art Gallery Collection #1966.2.10.

Figure 2. Our Lady of Solitude / La Soledad

Anonymous, Mexico. Nineteenth Century.

Oil on tin. NMSU Art Gallery Collection #1968.3.63.

Figure 3. Our Lady of Solitude / La Soledad

Anonymous, Mexico. Nineteenth Century.

Oil on tin. NMSU Art Gallery Collection #1966.6.5.


Chorpenning, J. F, ed. Mexican Devotional Retablos: From the Peters Collection. Philadelphia: Saint Joseph’s University Press, 1994.

Fitzgerald, Waverly. “Our Lady of Solitude.” December 18, 2018. Accessed March 12, 2019. https://www.livinginseason.com/events/our-lady-of-solitude/.

Hall, James. Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art. New York: Harper & Row, 1974.

Holweck, Frederick. “Feasts of the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary.” Accessed March 15, 2019.http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14151b.htm.

Olvera, Alfonso. “The Legend of Our Lady of Solitude and the Mule.” July 3, 2016. https://www.inside-mexico.com/legend-of-lady-of-solitude-donkey-2/.

Perna, Tom. “‘Mondays with Mary’ – Our Lady of Solitude.” January 19, 2015. Accessed March 12, 2019. https://tomperna.org/2015/01/19/mondays-with-mary-our-lady-of-solitude/.

Pierce, Donna, Rogelio Ruiz Gomar, and Clara Bargellini. Painting a New World: Mexican Art and Life; 1521-1821. Denver: Denver Art Museum, 2005.

Regis University Library. “Santo Collection: Titles of Mary.” Accessed March 13, 2019. http://libguides.regis.edu/c.php?g=53879&p=346926m.

Stracke, Richard. Nuestra Señora de la Soledad.” January 1, 2016. Accessed March 13, 2019. http://www.christianiconography.info/soledad.html.