Aruba Articles


The True History of Alto Vista
by Wilbert Wever, Jr. THE NEWS

Suppose you knew of a place where you can feel your stress melt away like snow in the sun, where crashing waves in the far distance, and cacti growing on the sides of winding dirt roads are the only objects obstructing your view into the clear blue skies. Among this halo of tranquility, stands only one building, a little old chapel that emits a sense of peacefulness to all those who enter it's sacred doors to meditate and pray. Although the cross on its roof represent Catholicism, the little building does wonders to those of all faiths, even to those of no faith at all. If you ever wondered what the euphoria of world peace would be like, you should leave all your tension behind and pay a visit to the little Chapel of Alto Vista, on the North coast of Aruba

The yellow chapel of Alto Vista is considered to be the birthplace of Aruba's Catholic religion, the first Chapel to be built on the island by the Indians and the Spanish Pioneers over 250 years ago. One of these pioneers was Domingo Antonio Silvestre who came to Aruba from Coro, Venezuela. In the village that they had formed in Alto Vista, which literally translated would be high view; Birdseye view in proper English, he taught the Indians how to use the rosary. His intent of building a place of worship to have his special gatherings and Sunday prayers was realized using his own resources in 1750, when they built Aruba's first church with stone walls and a straw roof. The Chapel of Alto Vista was dedicated to our Mother of the Rosary, and was considered a special place since the very beginning.

Every year, people eagerly awaited the arrival of priests that would come from Coro to celebrate mass and perform Catholic Services such as baptisms and marriages three times a year. Talk about a long wait to consummate your marriage. And those days they did wait.

One of the priests brought along a one foot cross, which was placed on the altar.

After Domingo Antonio passed away, the charge of the chapel was left to Miguel Enrique Albarez, followed by Domingo Bernardino Silvestre, who was the last one to be in supervision of the church. Incidentally Domingo Bernardino Silvestre was the son of the late Domingo Antonio.

Tragically, the little town of Alto Vista was struck by a plague, that killed many, and made many more flee to the town of Noord, where they built Aruba's second Church, the Saint Anna's Church, which is also an enticement for visitors due to it's gorgeous solid wood altar. Sadly, the move of people to the neighboring villages caused the desolated Chapel of Alto Vista to be closed down in 1816 and it soon became a ruin. The old Spanish cross that had been left behind, a remembrance of the holy times in the chapel, was taken by a Gabriel Ruiz, who passed it down to Maria Johanna de Ruiz, who in turn passed it to Magdalena Luydens, who proceeded to pass it to Francisca Henriques Lacle.

Francisca was a schoolmistress who headed a small school for girls, in which she taught sewing, cooking, and other activities. While on a field trip with her girls, in search of the former location of the famed old chapel, they came upon the remains of a painting of the Virgin Mary, flowers, and some candles. This served as evidence to Francisca that people still honored the grounds of the historic chapel, making her decide that she wanted to build a new chapel to honor the virgin and have a place where the people could come and pray. People from all over the island lent a helping hand in collecting funds, and after the initial refusal from the Bishop in Curaçau to built, on the reason that there was no need for another church, she did not give up. By 1950 she had managed to raise 5000 Florins with picnics, and then left to the Netherlands, where they built a large statue of the Virgin Mary under her supervision. One year later, the statue arrived on Aruba and was placed in the St Anna Church, awaiting the Bishop to give permission to rebuild Alto Vista. The building finally received his blessing, and the construction took place from March to May 1952.

In 1954, the Virgin Marie of Alto Vista was adorned with a golden crown and 78 gemstones, which was made with contributions from the people of Aruba, who donated money, rings and other gold valuables. She was decorated in the Wilhelmina Stadium, now the site of the Guillermo Trinidad stadium on Stadionweg. In 1997 a nutcase, who does not deserve the milder title of mentally ill, unfortunately destroyed the statue.

The statue was replaced and the Alto Vista Chapel is open every day for visitors to come and be part of its rich

Bits and pieces: The two graves on the ground of Alto Vista are not of Indians as some legend has it, but are the graves of Domingo Antonio Silvestre and of Miguel Enrique Albarez. The 200-Year-old cross from the original altar is now kept in the St. Anna church in Noord.

Once a week, the priest of Noord holds mass at Alto Vista.

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