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Santa María la Antigua, Panama City, Panama

Commemorated on September 9
Santa María la Antigua, Panama City, Panama
In 1510 Martín Fernández de Enciso and Vasco Nuñez de Balboa founded a town in Chief Cémaco's territory on the west shore of the Gulf of Urabá, initially named La Guardia and a few months later renamed Santa María la Antigua, fulfilling a vow they made to the Virgin if they emerged alive from the confrontation with the natives. Chief Cémaco's house was converted into a chapel in honor of St. Mary the Ancient, named for the Madonna in the cathedral in Fernández de Enciso's home town of Seville, Spain. A Christian community developed there composed of native converts and Spaniards. On September 9, 1513, Pope Leo X created the first mainland diocese with the bull "Pastoralis Officii Debitum," transforming the little chapel of St. Mary the Ancient into a cathedral under the Archdiocese of Seville. Later the see moved to the newer city of Panama, whose cathedral was dedicated to Santa María la Antigua on April 4, 1796. In 2001 the Vatican confirmed St. Mary the Ancient as patron of the Republic of Panama, setting September 9 as her feast day for the country. (Information from Conferencia Episcopal Panameña, www.iglesia.org.pa. Picture from Hispanic Heritage Plaza 2003, www.hispaniconline.com.)

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