Each year on January 21st, thousands of devoted visitors make the trek to a church in HigĂĽey, Dominican Republic to see a portrait of their patroness, Our Lady of Altagracia. They bring offerings and ask favors of La Virgen.

Her portrait adorns many U.S. Dominican homes, depicting Mary after the birth of Jesus, with Joseph behind her. Devoted Dominicans will pray to her for cures from whatever troubles them.

When acclaimed Dominican-American writer Julia Alvarez was looking for a book about Our Lady of Altagracia, she was disappointed. “I found nothing on our own protectora. And so, I made a promesa to La Virgencita that I would write a book about her.”

So she did! The children’s book “A Gift of Gracias” incorporates the legend of Altagracia, and details how the painting of la Virgen mysteriously disappears, and later reappears in an orange bush. That’s where her church in Higüey was eventually built.