Santa Librada of Las Tablas is the patron saint of this city that is the capital of the province of Los Santos. But how did she become the town’s patron saint?
History of Las Tablas
Las Tablas was founded on July 19, 1671 by a group of Spaniards who came from Andalusia and Galicia. These people were forced to flee the city of Our Lady of the Assumption of Panama, now known as Panama Viejo.
The English pirate Henry Morgan attacked the city to sack it and it is not clear if it was the pirates or the governor Juan Perez de Guzman himself who set fire to the gunpowder houses causing the first Spanish city in the Pacific Ocean to be destroyed by flames. This city was the point of expeditions to Central and South America, and it was the place where all the gold and silver looted by the Spanish arrived to be taken back to Spain. Casco Viejo was the second city in Panama where the majority of the population went, except for a group that ended up in Las Tablas.
These Spaniards had no intention of ending up on the Azuero Peninsula. It is not clear what their final destination was, whether Costa Rica, Lima or New Granada. What is known is that their ship ran aground at the mouth of a river in the Azuero peninsula. The ship was in poor condition, so they had no choice but to look for towns nearby. When they got off, a golden image of the Virgin Mary the size of a real person fell into the waters of the river. A cacique (local tribe leader) tried to help and this cost him his life. The Spanish named the river “Mensabe” in his honor.
There are several versions of the name “Las Tablas” and of Santa Librada of Las Tablas. The first version of the story tells that the Spaniards met some fishermen when they arrived who took them to a village called La Ermita de Santa Cruz that was located in the Punta Fogon neighborhood, currently Las Tablas. The houses were built with the boards of the ship that ran aground. As a joke, the locals said “let’s go to the houses of the tables.” These Spaniards were devoted to Santa Librada and promised to make an altar for her in a church when they reached the mainland.
The Legends of Santa Librada of Las Tablas
The second version is more connected with Santa Librada of Las Tablas. The Spaniards in their search for towns found some rocks adorned by the sun’s rays that showed a saint with her beautiful and radiant face. The legend of Santa Librada of Las Tablas tells that the Spanish fell on their knees recognizing the image of the young martyr Santa Librada. They took the rock statue to their new town but mysteriously the statue disappeared. Days later they found her again in the same place. They would move the statue to the camp and the statue would return to its original place.
They understood that Santa Librada of Las Tablas wanted to be in that place and that they should move their camp to this area that fortunately had a nearby water source (the La Ermita stream). Unfortunately, the area was swampy and in the rainy months it was not suitable for buildings except for the area where the Church of Santa Librada is located in Porras Park of Las Tablas.
It is said that these Spaniards already worshiped Santa Librada, who is the patron saint of ill-married women. This supposed virgin martyr of Portugal. The unclear legends of it basically say that her father, King Lucio Castelio, proposed her for marriage and she did not want to get married so she stopped eating. Her father had her crucified for disobeying him. Santa Librada was never canonized, but it is common to see images of her in Spain and Portugal. She is revered for breaking up unwanted marriages.
The church of Santa Librada of Las Tablas began between the years 1671-1679. On July 20, 1679, the main altar was inaugurated, placing the Virgin on her throne. The temple was completed in 1725. In 1797, the Parish of Santa Librada of Las Tablas was officially founded and separated from La Villa de los Santos (where you can go to see Corpus Christi in Panama). This parish served the southern areas of Los Santos including Pedasi, Pocri, Tonosi, Guarare and Canajagua.
The same community was called the Town of Santa Librada of Las Tablas. The Patron Saints of Santa Librada are celebrated on July 19, 20 and 21 each year. Devotees bring jewelry and valuable belongings to give in gratitude to the saint. There are many activities within the framework of the celebration including masses, a procession and the National Pollera Festival. Expect to see fireworks, musical tunes, dancing, Carnival queens, food stalls, and bullfights, typical of a party in Las Tablas. It is possible to stay in a hotel in Las Tablas or stay at our farm in Pedasi and drive.