LOS ANGELES -- The parishioners at Holy Family Catholic Church in Artesia walked out into the chilly morning darkness to gawk at the puddle on the sidewalk.
Just minutes before, they had witnessed the spectacle that is the mananitas Mass: plumed Aztec dancers and traditional hymns to celebrate the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico's beloved patron saint.
Now, they stared at la jefa herself -- not in the flesh, but in the concrete. For the faithful at this church, la virgencita herself shone in the stain beneath their feet.
And she has, they believe, for a year now.
It was last December, just after this same Mass, that Holy Family members say Guadalupe first graced this sidewalk. Pilgrims came from across Southern California; reporters filed tongue-in-cheek dispatches.
The site seemed destined to join the roster of long-forgotten Southern California spots where believers say the Patroness of the Americas presented herself.
But the image never faded away.
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That was due, in part, to the industry of members of the church. They created a small shrine and even put four traffic pylons around the spot to protect it from heedless pedestrians who just see a stain. Runoff from the rectory's sprinklers replenishes the Guadalupe-like image every night, tracing its uncanny contours.
Votive candles are not allowed within the shrine because the melted wax "might ruin its integrity," said Father John Cordero.