Perhaps the oldest devotion to Our Lady in Europe is the devotion to Our Lady of the Pillar. In Spain, Pilar is a popular girl’s name, as is Mercedes for Our Lady of Mercy. (In fact, General Franco named one of his daughters Pilar, just as one of the Carmelite Martyrs written of in this issue was named Sister Maria del Pilar.) In the year AD 36, while She was yet on earth, Our Lady bilocated and appeared to Saint James on the banks of the river Ebro, near the city of Caesar-Augusta (now Zaragoza or Saragossa). She appeared, accompanied by celestial music, on a six-foot pillar of jasper. Her purpose was to comfort and encourage St. James and his disciples. Our Lady commanded that a chapel be built on the spot in Her honor and She promised Her assistance to those who invoke Her. The Apostle was quick to carry out the wishes of the Queen of Apostles.
The present church, built by Charles II the late 1600s, is the last of several replacements and enlargements of the original edifice. King Ferdinand VI, in 1753, commissioned an architect to build the special side chapel which houses Our Lady’s pillar. On the pillar, whose jasper cannot be matched anywhere in the world, is erected a fifteen-inch statue of Our Lady with the child Jesus, Who holds a dove (cf. Canticle of Canticles 2:14 & 6:8). One tradition says that Our Lady Herself gave the statue to Saint James, while another states that Saint James commissioned it. Regardless of its origin, many miracles attest to Heaven’s predilection for the relic. Among its many prodigies is the fact that, in almost 2,000 years, the statue has never needed dusting.
No one is allowed to touch the statue, except for the four priests assigned to its care and clothing, and newly baptized infants who are lifted up so that the new children of God might touch the image of their heavenly Mother. The pillar itself has been covered with silver and bronze, except for an opening where pilgrims may venerate it, and the spot is quite worn away from the millions of kisses it has received. The choirboys and acolytes who serve the chapel form a special group of boys, known as Infantes. It is considered a great privilege for a family to have a son in the special uniform of the Infantes.
In 1936, the Reds dropped bombs on the shrine, but the two that hit the church failed to detonate. This incident showed the perfidy of the Reds and the power of Our Lady’s protection.
(This was originally published in From the Housetops as a sidebar of an article called “Spain’s Crusade, 1936-39.” The Feast of Our Lady of the Pillar is October 12, which is the date originally intended to coincide with Columbus Day — though that civil observance is always “observed” on the nearest Monday to make a three-day weekend.)