Our Lady of the Pillar

Rosario de Cristal de Zaragoza

Zaragoza, Aragon, Spain

According to ancient Spanish tradition, on January 2, 40 AD, in the early days of Christianity, James the Greater, one of the original Twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ, was preaching the Gospel in what was then the pagan land of Caesaraugusta (now Zaragoza), in the Roman province of Hispania. He was disheartened with his mission, having made only a few converts.

Fiestas del Pilar

Fresco by Francisco Goya
at the Basillica of Our Lady at Zaragoza

Fiestas del Pilar

Fiestas del Pilar
Photograph by Oscar Puigdevall

Fiestas del Pilar

Fiestas del Pilar
Photograph by Oscar Puigdevall

The apparition of Our Lady of the Pillar is a widely accepted sacred tradition. Popes from earliest times issued Papal Bulls attesting to the authenticity of the shrine and the appearance of the Virgin Mary. Pope Calixtus III issued a bull in 1456 encouraging pilgrimage to the Lady of the Pillar. It acknowledged the miracle of its foundation and the miracles that had taken place in the Spanish shrine. It was also through this bull that the name Lady of the Pillar was confirmed.

Fiestas del Pilar

Fiestas del Pilar
Photograph by Oscar Puigdevall

Fiestas del Pilar

Fiestas del Pilar
Photograph by Oscar Puigdevall

In the course of time a larger church was built and dedicated, which, with the dedication of Saint Saviour's, is kept as a festival in the city and Diocese of Saragossa on the 4th of October."

The pillar left by the Virgin Mary is presently enshrined in the same but larger Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar. It is believed to be the same pillar given and promised by Mary, in spite of numerous disasters that beset the church. A fire in 1434 burned down the church that preceded the present basilica.

Fiestas del Pilar

Fiestas del Pilar
Photograph by Oscar Puigdevall

Fiestas del Pilar

Fiestas del Pilar
Photograph by Oscar Puigdevall

The statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary is made of wood and stands 39 centimetres (15 in) tall while the 6 feet (1.8 m) pillar is made of jasper. The statue depicts Mary with the Child Jesus on her left arm, who has a dove sitting on his left palm. Since the 16th century, the pillar is usually draped in a skirt-like cover called manto (in English: mantle). As a whole, it is protected by a bronze case and then another case of silver. The image was canonically crowned in 1905 during the reign of Pope Pius X. The crown was designed by the Marquis of Griñi, valued at 450,000 pesetas.

Festival of the Pillar

Festival of the Pillar
Photograph by Oscar Puigdevall

Fiestas del Pilar

Fiestas del Pilar
Photograph by Oscar Puigdevall

While he was praying by the banks of the Ebro River with some of his disciples, Mary miraculously appeared before him atop a pillar accompanied by angels. Mary assured James that the people would eventually be converted and their faith would be as strong as the pillar she was standing on. She gave him the pillar as a symbol and a wooden image of herself. James was also instructed to build a chapel on the spot where she left the pillar.

It is generally believed that Mary appeared to James through bilocation, as she was still living either in Ephesus or Jerusalem at the time of this event. She is believed to have died three to fifteen years after Jesus ascended to Heaven. After establishing the church, James returned to Jerusalem with some of his disciples where he became a martyr, beheaded in 44 AD under Herod Agrippa. His disciples allegedly returned his body to Spain.

Fiestas del Pilar

Fiestas del Pilar
Arte y Fotografía Photograph by Tomás Vela

"Of all the places that Spain offers for the veneration of the devout, the most illustrious is doubtless the sanctuary consecrated to God under the invocation of the Blessed Virgin, under the title of our Lady of the Pillar, at Saragossa."

"According to ancient and pious tradition, St. James the Greater, led by Providence into Spain, spent some time at Saragossa. He there received a signal favor from the Blessed Virgin … tradition informs us, the Mother of God, who still lived, appeared to him, and commanded him to erect an oratory in that place. The apostle delayed not to obey this injunction, and with the assistance of his disciples soon constructed a small chapel.

Procession of the Virgin Mary

Procession of the Virgin Mary
Photograph by Oscar Puigdevall

The image of the Blessed Virgin Mary may or may not be the original. Some reports state that the original wooden image was destroyed when the church burned down in 1434, contradicting other reports that it is still the original statue.

Festival of the Pillar

Festival of the Pillar
Photograph by Oscar Puigdevall

The feast of Our Lady of the Pillar is celebrated on 12 October and she is the Patroness of the Hispanic peoples and the Spanish Civil Guard. A grand nine-day festival known as Fiestas del Pilar is celebrated in Zaragoza every year in her honor. From Wikipedia