Maria Estrella del Carmen Valcárcel
named Madre Covadonga

A brief biography.

The Dominican sister Maria Estrella del Carmen Valcárcel was born in Campomanes, Asturias, Spain, in 1922. She entered the Spanish Dominican Missionary Congregation of the Rosary in Covadonga, and received the name sister Mary of Covadonga, Patroness of Asturias. Her name is closely involved in the history of the province of Asturias.

History of the province of Asturias.

The Arabs considered Spain a conquered country and were preparing to enter the Gaul of the Goths when they heard about the revolt of the Austurians. In the year 722, the Moors sent a well trained army under the command of General Alkamar with orders to destroy Don Pelayo and his men.
Don Pelayo prepared the resistance to meet the large Muslim army at Alzeba Mountain, where the cliffs offered an advantage to the greatly outnumbered Catholics. He placed his men strategically along the cliffs, and while they waited for the enemy to advance, he went to the nearby Cave of Covadonga. The name Covadonga, comes from two words, cueva meaning “cave” and donga meaning “deep”, so it means “deep cave.”
There he had placed a statue of Our Lady and asked for her special protection in the coming battle.

The Moors began the attack, sending arrows at the Catholic soldiers behind the stone cliffs. But already, at this first attack, something extraordinary happened: the arrows returned against the Moorish archers who had drawn the bows, killing them. A group of Catholics advanced to fight, while others shot arrows and threw stones and trunks from the Alzeba Mountain down over the enemy troops. After a short while Suleiman, the second in command, fell dead, disorder erupted in the army, and Alkamar gave the order to retreat.

At that moment a terrible storm broke out. Thunder roared, lightning lit the dark slopes, and heavy rain caused mudslides that sent boulders and trees tumbling down the mountain and falling over the retreating Arab troops. Struggling in the mud, many Moorish soldiers slipped and fell into the Deva River, where they drowned. The Holy Virgin made the mountain itself fall over the soldiers of Muhammad. Even Arabian historians refer to this battle with astonishment, without hiding the enormous numbers of Muslims who died during it.

The Virgin of Covadonga
the statue, the chapel, the monastery, the cathedral.

The battle of Covadonga (722) was won, and Pelayo was proclaimed King of the Asturias. In recognition of the miraculous intercession of
Our Lady, King Alfonso I the Catholic (739-757) commanded that a chapel be built on the site in honour of Our Lady of Covadonga. Later
a monastery was built at the foot of the cave which guarded “la Santina”, the Virgin of Covadonga, the patroness of Asturias. The Dominican monastery and the statue of the Blessed Virgin were destroyed by fire
in 1777.
From the cave a long tunnel has been bored through the rock which contains the tombs of Don Pelayo and his wife, and King Alphonso I.

The tunnel leads to the Basilica of Covadonga built between 1877 and 1901. A new statue of the Blessed Virgin was later replaced by the great Basilica that was consecrated in 1901. From the Dominican monastery sister Maria Covadonga was sent to Peru in 1947. 

Sources: Tommy Lande, O.P. and others on Internet. Photo of the statue from wikipedia.

Mother Covadonga

Sister Maria Covadonga adopted  Peruvian citizenship in 1974. Placed in Ayacucho in 1978 she was during the war  in the strife-torn Peruvian region of Ayacucho the only foreign missionary who did not leave the inferno of Ayacucho.

She tells: "In 1982 the situation was bad, our superiors saw that Ayacucho and death were one and the same and they asked us to leave," She recounts in an interview with Efe "I stayed."
That decision marked her life forever and that of a considerable number of Ayacucho inhabitants as well. "When I returned home from the dreadful sights at the hospital, the legs, the heads, I asked myself: "What am I doing in Ayacucho?"

In that way she decided to combat the Shining Path's message which had already taken root among the young people. "I devoted myself to serving the people, anyone, if they were grieving and in pain they were accompanied, advised and helped. In the cemetery, at vigils for the dead, in the streets and villages, by streams and in the valleys," the missionary said. "The vigils and burials were the most dangerous because it could be either a terrorist or a soldier, but it didn't matter who it was, I was there."

Her strategy was to bring messages of peace, which were heard at secret meetings in her house attended by between 300 and 500 women each week. Mothers and wives of dead guerrillas and soldiers were her chief allies and because of that she became the target of threats. She recalls how Shining Path founder and leader Abimael Guzman spat at her one day: "Today I'm going to kill you." Hours later she received a call: "Tonight its the Dominican sisters' turn."

Even more frightening were security forces: "The terrorists were bad, they came in here and asked for food, but then they left; the army would say 'give me something to eat' and then bam, bam, right then and there they put you in a room and burned you, and they did it viciously." 
"The Senderistas were young country people caught up in an idea, but the army was premeditated," she said, adding that no government tried to stop the bloodshed that - according to Peru's Truth Commission - left almost 70,000 dead. Today our people are sick with a cancer, we have been bowed down for 14 years, unable to defend ourselves," the old nun said.

For Mother Covadonga, "the future of young people is terrible, hopeless. Jobs go to the friends (of those in power)...that is causing a sick feeling inside that may God never allow to explode into the open because the injustice, the abuse and corruption continue."  She also blasted non-governmental organizations: "They came to trick us, they brought projects, they said we're going to plant corn, then they ran out of money and left us stranded - that scarred the people's hearts even more. We're wounded, disappointed, but we've learned our lesson. If in times of terrorism 10 percent of the people were poor, now 80 percent of them are, despite the 100 or so NGOs in Ayacucho", she told Efe.

The octogenarian nun does not wish to die without seeing the last of her dreams come true: the creation of a center for invalids and the elimination of the epilepsy and vision problems that afflict so many in Ayacucho. In 2003 she reached her goal of establishing a mental-health center to attend traumatized people in this part of Peru, many still suffering the shattering experiences of the civil war.

Source: World – Politics. EFE: 04/04/2007-16:12:00 by Esther Rebollo.

Mother Covadonga, honoured by countless human-rights organizations, is the voice of conscience of Ayacucho in this remote corner of the Andes, and above all she is a survivor of the 1980-2000 conflict set off by the Maoist-inspired Shining Path against el gobierno.
In their brief Rationale ‘Dominican Women’s Contributions to Social Ethics’ the Dominicans Ruth Caspar and Toni Harris noted on 7 December 2007 about Madre Covadonga:
'After three decades  living side by side with the victims of war, the 85 year old Sister from Spain, known as “Madre Covadonga” is an undisputable point of reference for the much victimized Peruvian region of Ayacucho. Having received awards from a large number of human rights organizations, this Spanish Dominican Sister is the voice of conscience in this remote Andean place. Above all she is a survivor of the conflict waged by the Maoist group, Sendero Luminoso, against the Government (1980-2000).'

In 1988 King Juan Carlos of Spain conferred her a high title for her efforts for the prisoners of the jail in Ayachucho.
On 13 January 1994 the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Javier Peréz de Cuellar, vice-chairman of the Peruvian Council for Peace, presented the peace prize ‘Maria Elena Moyano’ to Mother Covadonga.
Pope John Paul II visited Peru and was in Ayachucho on 21 August 1989.
She received her most recent award on March 22, 2007 from the Defensoria del Pueblo, as an acknowledgement for her work in search of peace and for her support to victims of violence.


Victory of Covadonga (722). Revillagigedo Palace, Gijón,
with the monument to Don Pelayo.

Spain 1997, Mi Bl  71; Sc 2914.   





 the Basilica of Covadonga built between 1877
and 1901,and consecrated in 1901.
A new statue of the Blessed Virgin was here placed.

Spain 2001, Mi 3650, Sc - .             




Pope John Paul II in Ayacucho in 1985.

Peru 2006, Mi 2117, Sc



I have not find a stamp honouring Mother
(Madre) Covadonga.


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