A Divine Gift of Treasure: Crown of the Andes

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The Crown of the Andes is a sixteenth century colonial crown made in Popayan, Colombia for a life size statue of the Virgin Mary. The exquisite 22 carat gold, emerald covered, crown was eventually sold by the city and is now exhibited world wide. However

The world’s most beautiful and precious crown wasn’t made for any king, queen, emperor or empress. It was made for a higher power, Mary Mother of God. The crown of the Andes is an ornate Spanish colonial crown made of 22 carat gold and decorated with 450 of the finest Colombian emeralds. Its past is the stuff of myth and legend, and those who cherish it believe an angelic atmosphere surrounds it.

In 1537 the town of Popayan in south western Colombia (originally an old Inca town) was conquered by Sebastian de Belacazar. The Spanish settled the town, built houses and churches and the town became an important trade route from the viceroyalty of Quito to the Caribbean ports. A cathedral was built in the town and a life size statue of the Virgin Mary was placed in the cathedral to protect the town’s inhabitants.

Sebastian de Belacazar.

The History of the Crown of the Andes.

The story goes that in the 1590’s a devastating small pox epidemic reached Quito and threatened to engulf the region. The people of Popayan prayed to the Virgin Mary for months and asked to be spared. When the disease diminished and the town was largely spared the people were immensely grateful and determined to give praise and thanks to the Mother of God. The Bishop and the Spanish nobles brought the best jewelers and goldsmiths from Spain and they set about creating a crown to be more exquisite than any other. It took twenty four craftsmen over six years to make the crown. Legend has it that the crown was made entirely from a 100 pound slab of gold. Although when it was examined at Christies, New York in 1995 experts concluded its parts were melded, probably between the 16th and 18th centuries. Of the crown's 450 emeralds the largest is the Atahualpa Emerald at 46 carats. The emerald was originally believed to have belonged to an Inca Prince called Atahualpa. It is thought that when the prince was imprisoned his emerald was taken.

Atahualpa.

After the crowns creation a splendid ceremony was held in the cathedral and the crown was placed on the head of the statue of the Virgin Mary. In the years that followed the crown had to be carefully hidden in various locations. On a number of occasions it was stolen but was always eventually returned to its owners. In the 19th century the town of Popayan fell into decline and a decision was made (with Pope Pius X permission) to sell the crown. In 1909 the crown went up for sale and there were some interested buyers including Czar Nicholas II of Russia. However the crown remained unsold until 1936 when it was brought to America by an American foundation. Since then the Crown of the Andes has been on display at exhibitions and museums in the USA and Germany. Its last public appearance was in 2009 when it went on display at the Indianapolis Museum of Art as part of an exhibition called Sacred Spain. Many hope and pray that the Crown of the Andes will one day be returned to the town of Popayan and the cathedral that its once graced.

Photos from commons.wikimedia.org

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Posted on Jan 31, 2011
Pat Bartels
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Posted on Apr 11, 2010