In 1565, the Spaniards landed in what is now Saint Augustine, Florida. They built an altar before they built any houses, believing the land would be blessed if the altar was older than the hearth. There they offered the first Mass in this land. These people to whom faith was more important than anything, also brought their devotion to Our Lady of La Leche (Our Lady of the Milk). The statue they brought from Spain depicts Mary nourishing the baby Jesus while gazing on Him with pure maternal affection. The Spaniards built a small shrine to house our lady and to this day, throngs of pilgrims visit her there to ask for her prayers and blessings for their families.
Her feast day is October 11.
Our Lady of La Leche is the first shrine dedicated to Our Blessed Mother in the United States. The history of the devotion to the Mother of Jesus as 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 Mary as a nursing mother to Spain in the Middle Ages.
During the reign of Phillip III in Spain, word spread of a woman and her baby, both expected to die during the birth of the child, who were spared as a result of the intercession of Nuestra Señora de La Leche y Buen Parto (Our Lady of the Milk and Happy Delivery). The statue, placed in a Cathedral by Phillip III, soon found a place in the hearts of many throughout Spain.
By the early 1600s the devotion, under the title of Nuestra Señora 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 the land, 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 children. Many write requesting remembrances in Masses and prayers not only for motherhood but for petitions and intentions of all kinds. All who visit the Shrine find it to be a place of spiritual comfort and renewal.