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Bolivia mining town erects huge statue of Virgin

Friday - 2/1/2013, 3:41pm  ET

A large statue of the Virgin Mary holding a baby Jesus stands on Santa Barbara hill overlooking the mining city of Oruro, Bolivia, as it is unveiled for the first time on Friday, Feb. 1, 2013. The virgin, known in Spanish as "Virgen del Socavón," or the Virgin of the Tunnel, is Oruro's patron, venerated in particular by miners and folkloric Carnival dancers. The statue's inauguration marks the start of Carnival in Oruro, which coincides with celebrations honoring the Virgin that starts on Saturday, Bolivia's largest religious event. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)

ORURO, Bolivia (AP) -- The Carnival celebrations in this Andean mining city already rival Brazil's Rio de Janeiro for color and culture, if not for size. Now Oruro has erected a huge statue of the Virgin Mary that's a little taller than Rio's famed Christ the Redeemer.

Oruro formally dedicated the new statue Friday as it kicked off its Carnival celebrations, which have been recognized as part of the patrimony of humanity by UNESCO.

The Virgin of Socavon is almost 150 feet (45 meters) high -- a shade shorter than New York's Statue of Liberty and 23 feet (seven meters) higher than Rio's image of Christ. It's built of cement, iron and fiberglass to withstand the fierce winds of the high plain.

"If Rio has its Christ and its Carnival, Oruro has its Carnival, and now it has the Virgin. We're complete," said Virginia Barrios, a neighborhood leader.

She said construction of the statue cost $1.2 million and took four years.

During Carnival each year, more than 30,000 people dance in procession through the streets, some in elaborate costumes, and brass bands blare. They honor the Virgin of Socavon, the patron saint of the city of roughly 250,000 people.

President Evo Morales, who was a musician in Oruro in his youth, participated in the inauguration of the statue and Pope Benedict XVI sent a message of blessing.


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