By Larry Peterson
Only seven years after Jesus death and Resurrection, on October 12, 40 A.D., an incredible event took place. That was the day the very first Marian apparition ever recorded took place. And yes, Our Lady was still alive at the time. This apparition occurred in Spain and it was Jesus' apostle, St. James the Great, brother of St. John, who the Blessed Virgin appeared to. This apparition is known as Our Lady of Pillar.
During the very early days of Christianity, James had traveled to a pagan land called Zaragoza, in the Roman province of Hispania which today is better known as Spain or Espana. Zaragoza was a foreboding place and James was having a very difficult time evangelizing the people in the area. They just did not seem to care and they did not even like this strange man from a different country.
Legend has it that James, despondent and dejected had fallen into (what we call today), a terrible "funk". No matter how much he tried he could not seem to lift his own spirits. One night, James was praying by the banks of the Ebro River. Suddenly a great light engulfed him. James knelt, staring into the light, and what he saw was beyond description. In the light was the Virgin Mary and she was surrounded by thousands of angels.
She told James that he should persevere because, ultimately, his work for Jesus would have great results and many would turn to the Faith. She asked that a church be built on the place where she appeared and left behind a pillar of "Jasper" to mark the spot where she had been. The Virgin Mary also left a small statue of herself holding the infant Jesus in her arms. The statue was sitting atop the Jasper pillar. Since the Blessed Virgin was still alive and living in Jerusalem, her appearance is considered an act of bilocation.
James immediately gathered some of his new followers and began work on a chapel on the designated site. The chapel is the first church ever dedicated to Mary and today, after many renovations, is known as the Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar. It is located in the exact place Our Lady appeared 2000 years ago.
James participated in the dedication of the small church and returned to Jerusalem. Ironically, he was the first apostle to die for the faith. In 44 A.D., Herod Agrippa, had James beheaded. The disciples of James took his body back to Spain for final burial. The statue and pillar were taken under the protection of the people of Zorogaza.
The many miracles surrounding the relic can attest to its heavenly origin. For example, it has been almost 2000 years and the statue has never needed dusting. In 1936, the Catholic-hating "Reds" bombed the shrine but the bombs that hit the church never exploded. No one is allowed to touch the statue except for the four priests assigned to its care and newborn infants can be lifted up to touch the image of their heavenly Mom.
Popes from the earliest times have attested to the authenticity of Our lady's appearance at the shrine. Pope Calixtus III issued a Papal bull in 1456 encouraging people to make pilgrimages to Our Lady of Pillar. The miracle of the shrine's foundation was even acknowledged.
The most prominent miracle occurred in the 17th century. A beggar named Miguel Pellicer from the town of Calanda, could not work due to having an amputated leg. He was constantly praying at the shrine for the Blessed Mother's help. She answered his prayers for sure because his leg was restored. When word of this spread, pilgrimages greatly increased to the shrine and it has been so ever since.
Over the centuries many controversial stories arose concerning the authenticity of this shrine. Pope Innocent III, answering an appeal from Spain, had twelve cardinals investigate all the data available. On August 7, 1723, the Sacred Congregation of Rites, affirmed the original. In 1730, Pope Clement XII, allowed the feat of Our Lady of Pillar to be celebrated throughout the Spanish empire. Eventually she was declared Patroness of the Hispanic World. Our Lady of Pillar's feast day is October 12.
One final thought. As a young seminarian, St. Josemaria Escriva, made daily visits to the shrine of Our Lady of Pillar. He always prayed for guidance and eventually founded Opus Dei. The members honor her feast day each year.
Our Lady of Pillar, please pray for us.
Photo courtesy: commons wikimedia.org