In October of 1717, Dom Pedro de Almeida, the count of Assumar and Govenor of the province of Sao Pauulo and Minas Gerias was passing through the area of Guaratingueta during a trip to the gold mines at Vila Rica. The peoples in the town wished to hold a feast in his and honor and so three fishermen went down to the Paraiba river to fish. Domingos Garcia, Joao Alves and Filipe Pedroso kneeled and prayed to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception that God would grant them a good and bountiful catch.
For several hours they had no luck bringing in fish. Finally, Joao Alves decided one final try was in order and cast his net wide into the river. When he pulled the net back into the boat there was a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, all black with the head missing. He cast his net back into the water, and upon pulling up the second time, the missing head to the Marian statue was in the net. Joao felt the need to cast a third time while his companions looked over the statue and miraculously the net was completely full of fish.
The three fishermen reassembled the statue and cleaned in, placing it in the home of Filipe Pedroso. They named it Nossa Senhora da Conceição Aparecida or Our Lady of the Conception who appeared. As neighbors gathered more and more to venerate the statue, the title became slightly shortened to "Our Lady Appeared". The statue is dark brown and just shy of three feet tall. As miracles spread, the Pedroso family built a small chapel in the home, but the space was far too small for all of the visitors. The priest of Guaratingueta built a chapel on the Hill of Coconut Palms (Morro dos Coqueiros) and public visitations began in July of 1745.
In 1904, on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and the 50th anniversary of the 1854 proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, the archbishop of Sao Paulo Lino Deodato canonically crowned the statue in the presence of the Apostolic Nuncio. The crown placed upon Mary's head was donated by Princess Isabel (the exiled head of the Brazilian Royal Family - the country had become a republic less than twenty years beforehand). Pope Pius XI declared the Immaculate Conception under the title of Our Lady of Aparecida to be the patroness of Brazil and Saint John Paul II consecrated the shrine with the title of Basilica on July 4th, 1980.
Just a few years before the coronation, on may 16th, 1978, a person from a local evangelical protestant sect stole the statue from her niche in the basilica. Chased by guards and parishioners, he tripped and dropped the statue. When it hit the ground, it broke into several large pieces. Local artisans were able to piece the broken statue back together, though it was extremely difficult due to the clay statue having been under water in the river for so long.
The new basilica (Consecrated by Pope John Paul II during its construction) is the largest Marian Temple and second largest Basilica in the world (second to Saint Peter's). It can hold up to 45,000 people at a time. Traditionally, the pilgrimage of the laborers takes place on September 7th of each year (Brazil's Independence day) but nearly 8 million pilgrims come to the Basilica each year.
The feast day of October 12th falls on the same date celebrated as the foundation of the Empire of Brazil (1822) and is ranked a solemnity, a holy day of obligation in the Liturgical Calendar. The day has been celebrated as a national holiday since Saint Pope John Paul II's visit to the shrine in 1980.