Altagracia

PhotographerSantiago Vidal
PrizeHonorable Mention
Entry Description

Altagracia is a photographic essay planned and produced to expose the cultural and religious identity of a part of America who is still today strongly influenced by the blend of european colonialism and african roots. The project aims at the particular devotion that the inhabitants of La Hispaniola island -shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti- have for La Virgen de la Altagracia. The religious icon was brought to the island by two spaniards, in one of Christopher Columbus last trips to the new world. It soon started to be worshiped by the catholic community, who were imposing by force the catholic cult and saints to the lower class made of native workers and African slaves. The slave community started using the icon of La Virgen for their cult, but in fact they were worshipping their own African gods, transposing the attributes of the catholic icons. La Virgen de la Altagracia cult spread in the island even before the division in two nations, so it is a celebration that brings up the common roots between two countries that have become nowadays very different, one being the poorest country in America, and the other having survived decades of misery and dictatorship. At this present time, La Virgen de la Altagracia is worshipped largely by the three main religions in the island: catholicism, Santería and the Vodou (a.k.a. Voodoo), both in the Dominican Republic and Haiti. She is also considered “Protector and Queen of the hearts of the Dominicans”, and the patron saint of the Dominican Republic. The feast day of January 21st is a national holiday in the Dominican Republic, and is marked by Mass, festivities, celebrations, and a major pilgrimage from every corner of the island to the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia in the city of Higuey, to the east of the Dominican territory. The Altagracia Day is surely one of the oldest traditions celebrated in America since Columbus put his feet in this ground. Brought by the Spaniards, this celebration is nowadays a cultural heritage output of european colonialism and african roots created by the own interpretation of the inhabitants of La Hispaniola.