Founded in 1756 on the site of a shrine containing a tiny ceramic figure of the Virgin Mary, LUJÁN, about 70km west of Buenos Aires, is now one of the major religious centres in Latin America. The Virgin of Luján is the patron saint of Argentina and the epic basilica erected in her honour in 1887 in Luján attracts around eight million visitors a year. This Neo-Gothic edifice is one of the most memorable – though not the most beautiful – churches in Argentina. The town’s other major attraction, the vast Complejo Museográfico Enrique Udaondo, is a multiplex museum with an important historical section, as well as being Argentina’s largest transport museum. Away from the museums and the basilica, all grouped around the central square, Luján is pretty much like any other provincial town, with some elegant, early twentieth-century townhouses and less-elegant modern buildings.
For a real flavour of Luján in full religious swing, you should visit at the weekend, when as many as eight Masses are held a day – but, unless you desperately want to take part, avoid visiting during the annual pilgrimages, when the town is seriously overcrowded. These take place on May 8, the day of the Coronation of the Virgin; the last Sunday of September for the Gaucho pilgrimage, when up to a million gauchos come to honour the Virgin of Luján; the first Sunday of October, when young people walk here from Buenos Aires; and December 8, when smaller pilgrimages mark the Immaculate Conception, a national holiday.