Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar

Believed to be the first church dedicated to Mary

Catedral-Basílica
de Nuestra Señora del Pilar

Zaragoza, Aragon, Spain

Basilica of Our Lady

Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar
Photograph by Jiuguang Wang 1

Local traditions take the history of this basilica to the dawn of Christianity in Spain attributing to an apparition to Saint James the Great, the apostle who is believed by tradition to have brought Christianity to the country. This is the only reported apparition of Mary to have occurred before her Assumption.

Altar View - Basilica of Our Lady

Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar
Photograph by Sigfrido González 2

The Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar is one of two minor basilicas in the city of Zaragoza, and is co-cathedral of the city alongside the nearby La Seo Cathedral. The architecture is of Baroque style, and the present building was predominantly built between 1681 and 1872.

Altar View - Basilica of Our Lady

Altar View - Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar
(edited for: perspective)
Photograph by John Myers 3

"This place is to be my house, and this image and column shall be the title and altar of the temple that you shall build." - Mary, The Mother of Christ

About a year after the apparition James is believed to have arranged to build a small chapel in Mary's honor, the first church ever dedicated to the honor of the Virgin Mary.

Arches and Ceiling Dome - Basilica of Our Lady

Arches and Ceiling Dome - Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar
Photograph by Montxo Herrera 5

Numerous churches have been built upon this site through the years. The tiny chapel built by Saint James later gave way to a basilica-like enclosure during Constantine I's time; subsequently being transformed into Romanesque, then Gothic then Mudéjar styles.

Basilica of Our Lady

Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar
(edited for: perspective, content)
Photograph by Dan Fernandez 4

The present spacious church in Baroque style was begun in 1681 by Charles II, King of Spain and completed in 1686. The early constructions were supervised by Felipe Sanchez and were later modified by Francisco Herrera the Younger under John of Austria the Younger. In 1725, the Cabildo of Zaragoza decided to change the aspect of the Holy Chapel and commissioned the architect Ventura Rodríguez, who transformed the building into its present dimensions of 130 meters long by 67 wide, with its eleven cupolas and four towers.

Arches and Ceiling Dome - Basilica of Our Lady

Arches and Ceiling Dome - Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar
Photograph by Enrique López-Tamayo Biosca 6

Around the Holy Chapel are the vaults or domes painted with frescoes by Francisco Goya: The Queen of Martyrs and Adoration of the Name of God. By 1718 the church had been vaulted over. However, it was not until 1872 that the final touches were put to these vaults, when the main dome and the final spire were finished.

Basilica of Our Lady

Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar
(edited for: perspectibve)
Photograph by Martijn Hendriksen 7

During the Spanish Civil War of 1936–1939 three bombs were dropped on the church but none of them exploded. Two of them are still on display at the Basilica. 1

Architectural Summary

Architects:



Consecrated:

Date:

Style:

Felipe Sanchez,
Francisco Herrera,
John of Austria,
Ventura Rodríguez

1st Century

1681 to 1872

Baroque

The Basilica–Cathedral of Our Lady of the Pillar venerates Blessed Virgin Mary, under her title Our Lady of the Pillar praised as Mother of the Hispanic Peoples by Pope John Paul II. It is reputed to be the first church dedicated to Mary in history.

Basilica of Our Lady

Calle de Alfonso
(edited for: perspective)
Photograph by Marc 8

Many of the kings of Spain, many other foreign rulers and saints have paid their devotion before this statue of Mary. Saint John of the Cross, Saint Teresa of Ávila, Saint Ignatius of Loyola, and Blessed William Joseph Chaminade are among the foremost ones.

Basilica of Our Lady

Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar
Artist Unknown 10

According to ancient local tradition, soon after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, Saint James was preaching the Gospel in Spain, but was disheartened because of the failure of his mission. On 2 January 40 AD, while he was deep in prayer by the banks of the Ebro, the Mother of God appeared to him and gave him a small wooden statue of herself and a column of jasper and instructed him to build a church in her honor:

Basilica of Our Lady

Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar
(edited for: Perspective)
Photograph by Dan Fernandez 11

After James returned to Jerusalem, he was executed by Herod Agrippa in about 44 AD, the first apostle to be martyred for his faith. Several of his disciples took his body and returned it for final burial in Spain. This first chapel was eventually destroyed with various other Christian shrines, but the statue and the pillar stayed intact under the protection of the people of Zaragoza.

Basilica of Our Lady

Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar
Photograph by Dan Fernandez 13

The venerated shrines at Zaragoza date to the Christian Reconquest by King Alfonso I in 1118. A church in the Romanesque style was built under the pontificate of Pedro de Librana who is also credited with the oldest written testimonial to the Virgin at Zaragoza. A tympanum on the south wall of this Romanesque church still stands.

Basilica of Our Lady

Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar
(edited for: perspectibve)
Photograph by Xavier de Jauréguiberry 12

The area most visited is the eastern part of the chapel, because this is where the Holy Chapel by Ventura Rodríguez is built, which houses the venerated image of the Virgin.

Basilica of Our Lady

Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar
(edited for: perspective)
Photograph by Martijn Hendriksen 9

Basilica of Our Lady

Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar
Photograph by Jacqueline Poggi 14

Detail of Our Lady of the Pillar

Detail of Our Lady of the Pillar
Photograph by Dan Fernandez 15

Basilica of Our Lady

Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar
(edited for: perspective)
Photograph by Oleg Zubanov 16

References

Images

See Tabs: (Resources / Website / Image Resources) for common image sources.