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Perched high on a hill overlooking Aruba stands the Alto Vista Chapel, a tiny sanctuary that is often illuminated by dozens of candles that create its special ambiance. Everyone is welcome, both believers and non-believers, to enjoy the serene atmosphere or attend one of the weekly services. The current building dates from 1952, but the location has a much longer history, as this is where the first church on Aruba once stood.
The small yellow chapel is located on the north-eastern tip of the island close to the town of Noord and the Arikok Park. There is little in the surrounding landscape to interfere with the views of the island and sea – only cacti and low-growing shrubs protrude from the sand. Alto Vista, also often called ‘pilgrim’s church’, is located at the end of a long, winding road. White crosses mark the route. The road is unpaved, so expect lots of kicked-up dust.
The original Alto Vista Chapel was built in 1750 under the supervision of Venezuelan missionary Domingo Antonio Silvestre, even though there was no priest to be found on the entire island. He won the souls of the Caquetios and paid for construction out of his own pocket. But the chapel did not protect against the plague, which swept through the village 26 years after it was built. The surviving believers then left. In the many decades that it was abandoned, the chapel fell into such disrepair that little more remained than tragic ruins. But, thanks to a resolute school teacher, the chapel rose again, 136 years after its abandonment.
While on a hike with her class in the 1940s, school teacher Francisca Henriques Lacle found a small painting of the Virgin Mary surrounded by flowers and candles. She saw this as evidence that the locals still felt strongly about this place. Although the Bishop of Curaçao originally rejected her request to rebuild the chapel, Francisco raised 5,000 florins through picnics to have a large statue of the Virgin Mary made in the Netherlands. When it arrived on the island, she received the bishop’s blessing for construction. The chapel she helped build stands proudly once more.
Close to the chapel lies the peace labyrinth, used by modern pilgrims for prayer and meditation. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to walk through this modest maze. Each of the 11 paths has its own unique character. Choose a path at random and enjoy a peaceful, meditative experience.