There are, in fact, a few virgins left in Vegas.
The Weeping Virgin stands proudly in the driveway of a residential home on the edge of North Las Vegas. Eyes askew, immaculate in her blue-green robes, she inhabits what looks like an old phone booth, its white paint flaking off. The booth is webbed in Christmas lights; a video camera is perched at the top.
A gold curtain frames Mary. There’s a picture of Saint Lucy with her trademark dish, upon which rest two plucked eyeballs. A ceramic Noah’s Ark burdened with animals. A black Saint Martin statuette posing with his broom. Flowers, dead and fake, surround the Weeping Virgin. Grocery-store prayer candles line a makeshift votive altar. Chairs and benches are arranged for visitors.
The driveway is covered by a crisp blue tarp. Everything else, though, seems a bit untidy. The dusty yard is completely devoid of grass and full of junk: Rusty AC unit. Charred grill. Shattered foosball table.
The neighborhood, predominantly Mexican, is a little on the loud side. Cars blast by on I-15 and someone nearby persists in lighting firecrackers in mid-August. A jet from Nellis Air Force Base screams overhead.
Otherwise, it’s the perfect prayer space.
Why would anyone want to pray here? Well, Our Lady of Guadalupe is originally from the Basilica in Mexico City. A man named Pablo Covarrubias brought her with him to North Las Vegas in 1991. According to Pablo’s friends and family, it’s true the statue was almost destroyed by U.S. customs. They assumed it was full of heroin. But Pablo prevailed, placing his personal Mary on a stone pedestal in the backyard of his home in North Las Vegas.
Two years passed before Pablo’s daughter Martha saw the statue weeping real tears. Pablo contacted KLAS-TV Channel 8. Video cameras were dispatched. But reporters insisted the statue be removed from its pedestal — just in case there was, you know, a water source hidden beneath? Pablo complied. Mary cried on cue.
At least that’s how Pablo’s people tell it. KLAS no longer has the tape, and Pablo took his copy with him when he returned to Mexico in 2004. According to religious Internet sites, the footage clearly shows tears falling down the plaster statue’s face.
But that’s not all that’s special about the Weeping Virgin. Her tears, when absorbed by cotton balls, have healing powers. They’ve remedied troubled pregnancies, corrected bad vision, and cured cancer. Also, the angel (that carries the moon Mary stands on) sweats a rose-scented oil. Over the years, other miracles have supposedly occurred — visions of Mary herself, crosses appearing on the statue’s forehead — but since the statue was moved from Pablo’s backyard to its current home in North Las Vegas in 2004, the miracles have come to a halt.
“I’ve never seen her cry,” says Juan Serrano, whose family now cares for the Weeping Virgin, “so I can’t say. But you never know. People come here from all over — Denver, Phoenix, L.A. — and for them it’s just enough to be in her presence.”
Juan maintains that he and his family dance for the Virgin on the Day of the Dead, and on Dec. 12, the Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Juan is a mestizo (a person of mixed Spanish and Amerindian blood), for whom dancing is a beautiful and sacred rite.
“We dance out of respect for Mary,” he says. “We dance out of happiness. We dance in celebration. And we dance so that Mary won’t feel so lonely.”
Juan doesn’t just dance in his front yard. He dances at the Winchester Cultural Center in Las Vegas with other mestizos at the Day of the Dead fiesta each year. The dancing involves the hypnotic rhythms of Indian drums, wild costumes and masks. Very intense.
Pablo transferred ownership of the statue to Juan and his family last year before moving back to Mexico. Juan invites kind and respectful people who wish to pay their respects to Mary to drive to 2809 Samantha Court (between Basin and Darby) on the Northwest end of the Community College of Southern Nevada’s Cheyenne campus.
Bring tissues. Just in case.