Nuestra Señora de la Leche is one of the titles or advocations of the Blessed Virgin Mary, mother of Christ. Since ancient times artists have created images of mother goddess figures suckling their divine offspring. This image has persisted into Christian iconography with the Virgin breast-feeding the Christ Child.
When the Spanish established the Florida colony of San Agustin in the 16th century they erected a chapel to the Virgin under her title of Nuestra Señora de la Leche. The chapel is the oldest extant shrine to the Virgin in what is currently the United States. La Leche, as she is commonly called, is the patron of nursing mothers and their infants.
Her feast day is October 11.
The history of the devotion to the Mother of Jesus under the title of Our Lady of la Leche may have roots in a 4th Century grotto in Bethlehem. To this day the Franciscan community maintains a shrine there called the Milk Grotto. Its centerpiece is the Blessed Virgin nursing the infant Jesus.
Many believe that the crusaders brought the devotion to Spain in the Middle Ages. During the reign of King Phillip III of Spain, word spread of a nobleman's wife and baby, expected to die during the birth of the child, who were both spared as a result of the intercession of Senora de la Leche y buen parto (Our Lady of the Milk and Happy Delivery). The statue, in possession of the nobleman, soon found a place in the hearts of many throughout Spain.
By 1598 the devotion, under the title of Senora de la Leche y buen parto, had a special place in the lives of the Spanish settlers and the converted Native People in St. Augustine. It was on these same Mission grounds that the Spanish built the first Marian Shrine in America, a devotion that continues to this present day.
Thousands of visitors and pilgrims make their way to the Shrine every year. Many ask for the blessings of motherhood, beseeching the intercession of Our Lady of la Leche that God will grant them a safe and happy delivery, and healthy, holy children. Many write to the Director requesting remembrances in Masses and prayers not only for motherhood but for petitions of all kinds. All who visit the Shrine find it to be a place of spiritual comfort and renewal.
Prayer to Our Lady of la Leche:
Lovely Lady of la Leche, most loving mother of the Child Jesus, and my mother, listen to my humble prayer. Your motherly heart knows my every wish, my every need. To you only, His spotless Virgin Mother, has your Divine Son given to understand the sentiments which fill my soul. Yours was the sacred privilege of being the Mother of the Savior. Intercede with him now, my loving Mother, that, in accordance with His will, I may become the mother of other children of our heavenly Father. This I ask, O Lady of la Leche, in the Name of your Divine Son, My Lord and Redeemer. Amen.
—Excerpts from the Mission of Nombre de Dios