The setting is a small town named Cupang, a community set in an arid landscape. The townsfolk believed that the ongoing drought was a curse placed upon them for driving away a leper some years before.
During a solar eclipse, a local girl named Elsa (Aunor), reports seeing experiencing an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary near a tree atop the barren hill where her adoptive mother Aling Salíng (Labalan) found her as a baby. Elsa soon after engages in faith healing the local residents. She is assisted by her friends Chayong (Centeno), Sepa (Quiambao), and Baldo (Almeda) who eventually became part of her “Seven Apostles”, which later includes the entrepreneur Mrs. Alba (Palileo). Word spreads, drawing pilgrims and the curious to Cupang and Elsa’s house, which is marked with a large banner proclaiming “Elsa Loves You”. At the same time, enterprising residents of Cupang begin selling religious articles, offering accommodation–all capitalising on the sudden influx of local and foreign patients and tourists.
A Manila-based filmmaker named Orly (Manikan) arrives in town to make a documentary on Elsa, interviewing her and the people who personally know her. Around the same time, Elsa’s childhood friend Nimia (Dueñas), now a prostitute, has returned to Cupang. Nimia establishes a kabaret (nightclub/brothel) for tourists, which is later ordered closed by Elsa’s Seven Apostles.
One day, Orly approaches the town’s vicar (Lamangan) in the local church’s confessional. He tells the priest that he saw two drugged youths from Manila raping Elsa and Chayong on the hill of the apparitions. Orly tries to unburden himself of his tremendous guilt.
A cholera epidemic spreads throughout Cupang, with Sepa’s two children dying after eating tainted meat. A still-traumatised Chayong then hangs herself out of shame following the rape. As the townsfolk bring the three bodies to the graveyard, a fourth coffin follows; the deceased’s mother chastises Elsa, accusing the seer of failing to heal her child. Authorities quarantine Elsa’s house, closing it off from would-be patients, while Elsa blamed herself for all of the deaths and decided to stop healing. Eventually, the pilgrims and tourists stopped coming, returning the town to its sleepy state.
Elsa is seen throwing up from morning sickness, indicating her pregnancy from the rape. Mrs. Alba erroneously concluded that it is an “Immaculate Conception” (when she really meant the Virgin birth), and then declares it proof of Elsa’s sanctity. At that exact moment, thunder roars from the skies, followed by a sudden downpour. The townspeople rejoice, convinced that the miracle has returned and that the curse has finally been lifted. Mrs. Alba and the crowd rush to Elsa’s house and called out to her while dancing in the rain. Elsa emerges at her window, and commands her devotees to assemble the townsfolk and pilgrims on the hill.
Speaking in front of an eager crowd, an initially apprehensive Elsa confesses that there were no miracles, no sightings of the Virgin, and that it is man who invents gods, miracles, and curses. In the middle of her passionate speech, a gun is fired at Elsa, mortally wounding her. A violent stampede ensues, with the old, the children, and the infirm being injured or killed in the mass hysteria.
Ensconced in her mother Salíng’s arms, Elsa takes her last breath as she gazes at the sky as Orly and the media film her final moments. Baldo announces Elsa’s death, eliciting wailing and weeping from the people who then rush towards the makeshift stage. To convey Elsa’s corpse into a waiting ambulance, her followers lifted her lifeless body–lying as though she was crucified–above the heads of the crowd clambering to touch her. People scamper all over the hill to follow Elsa’s ambulance as it speeds away. Against her husband’s will, Sepa addresses the crowd, proclaiming Elsa a martyr whose devotion to the Virgin must continue. Sepa and the congregation then fall on their knees and creep up the hill while repeatedly reciting the Hail Mary