Our Lady
The room at the top of the stairs, while the smallest in the house, may be the most sacred. In addition to two rare hanging tapestries, painted by the Sisters of Saint Joseph in the 19th century, the room’s prominent objects are two statues positioned in opposite corners that provide very different portrayals of the Blessed Virgin.

The statue, dressed in white, which greets you as you step to the threshold, is called the “Hurricane Lady.” The name derives from a story passed down from generation to generation here in St. Augustine. Apparently this statue was aboard a ship on its way from Spain to St. Augustine in the late 1700s. During the Atlantic crossing the ship was caught in the midst of a ferocious hurricane. The crew prayed to Our Lady to protect them in the storm, and they made a promise that if they made it safely to St. Augustine they would make sure that the statue remained in a place of honor. The storm subsided and they kept their promise. From that time, until the statue was donated to the Sisters of St. Joseph for display in the O’Reilly House Museum, the Hurricane Lady held a place of honor in a succession of homes of the descendants of Minorcan settlers, including the home of relatives of the great American poet, Stephen Vincent Benet.

The other statue is a rare depiction of the Pregnant Madonna. It was carved from a solid block of wood in Belgium in the 1600s. Kenneth Dow, a noted collector, whose property is now the site of the Old St. Augustine Village Museum, discovered the statue. Mr. Dow had been a neighbor of the Sisters from the 1940s until shortly before his death in 2002. Years before, he had presented the Madonna as a gift to the Mier family, who, upon hearing that the Sisters were planning to re-open the O'Reilly House as a museum, offered the statue as a donation.

At the entrance to the room, many visitors take the opportunity to pause, meditate, or say a prayer to the Mother of God.

The Hurricane Lady, credited with bringing a ship safely through a fierce Atlantic storm, has been kept in a place of honor since it arrived in St. Augustine in the early 1800s.

Portrayals of the Pregnant Madonna, or Maria Gravida, such as this solid wood carving from Belgium dating back to the 1600s, focused women's prayers on fertility and safe childbirth.

© 2004 Sisters of St. Joseph, St. Augustine, Florida