Skip to content Skip to sidebar Skip to footer

Puerto Madryn: an underwater pilgrimage

“Ninety divers come out of the water, carrying a cross with them. It’s a sight to behold,” says Juan Gabriel Arias. Currently a missionary in Mozambique, Arias is known for being one of the first priests to dive (literally) into a rather unique experience: an underwater pilgrimage, following the Stations of the Cross.

The Underwater Stations of the Cross of Puerto Madryn (an Argentine city in the northeast of the province of Chubut, considered the diving capital of Argentina) has become an international event. And although it might seem strange at first glance, this “pilgrimage” has an enormous impact on the people who participate in it.

It’s been 20 years since the first time this pilgrimage took place. In just two decades, it has become an event that attracts people from all over the world. So much so that the city itself promotes it worldwide.

“The Underwater Stations of the Cross is a beautiful event with local, national, and international meaning. It leans on three main supports. The city hall wants to promote Madryn as a place to spend Easter. It is a well-organized touristic attraction. Then, you have the local divers who want to uphold Madryn as the national diving capital of Argentina. And then you have its religious dimension, which is the heart and soul of the whole event,” Arias adds.

The Stations of the Cross are a famous Christian practice that consists of fourteen stations narrating the most important moments of Jesus’ Passion. “Surely many people who participate in this underwater pilgrimage would not do so in a traditional church,” Arias comments.

“They were afraid that I would drown”

The tradition of these underwater Stations of the Cross began in 2000, with the blessing of the late Pope John Paul II and the approval of the then Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Bergoglio –now Pope Francis.

Arias made the first 10 editions of the Viacrucis Submarino. The last time he did it, more than 90 divers joined him underwater. Others accompanied them in kayaks, while 3000 people waited for them at the port and on the beach. Local authorities and the fire brigade did everything they could to ensure that the underwater pilgrimage could take place.

Puerto Madryn
Secretaría de Turismo | Municipalidad de Puerto Madryn

The texts accompanying the meditations for each Station were designed to be read underwater.

“The first two Stations of the Cross were done in a submersible, not in diving suits. That came later. I went in and out of the submersible at each station, swimming from one side to the other. The first time we did this, two people from the city hall accompanied me. They were afraid that I would drown, since I was obviously not a diver,” Arias said.

Praying at a depth of 8 meters

According to a note from the Chubut Tourism Department, everything begins at a local parish –the parroquia del Sagrado Corazón. From there, pilgrims visit the first eight stations of the cross in different parts of the city, until they reach the Comandante Luis Piedra Buena Pier. Once there, a huge cross of about four meters high is submerged in the sea, and the pilgrimage continues. The remaining stations, which cover half a kilometer, are eight meters deep.

Secretaría de Turismo | Municipalidad de Puerto Madryn

When the priest and the divers come out of the water, they carry the cross to the shore. There, those who have been waiting for them light candles, and local choirs sing by a large bonfire.

Puerto Madryn
Secretaría de Turismo | Municipalidad de Puerto Madryn

A “shocking” experience

What does it feel like to make a pilgrimage under the sea? For Arias, it is “a very personal experience. I have always loved contact with nature. Many people come to greet me afterward and ask me to bless them. Many people come with tears, emotionally moved. There are divers who have asked me to baptize them, to marry them, or to go to confession. Many of these divers are on a spiritual journey to get closer to God,” said Arias.


Puerto Madryn
Secretaría de Turismo | Municipalidad de Puerto Madryn

From Mozambique, Arias was waiting for permission from his local bishop to return to Argentina during the Holy Week. After several years away, he wished to participate in the 20th edition of Viacrucis Submarino. He even planned to celebrate Mass underwater in a structure specially prepared by some local friends.

The saint who got to an island that doesn’t exist

This post is also available in: Español Italiano

Leave a Comment