I had joked with my daughter Tammie, on the bus about the next city we were visiting in Spain. Its name could be spelled either Zaragoza or Saragossa. I’d told her the second spelling made me think of the Harry Potter stories, commenting with a chuckle, “I can see Hermine in a Spells and Incantation class doing it right…giving her wand a pert flip and twitch and clearly enunciating, ‘Sara-goes-AH!’”
Our pilgrimage bus finally pulled to a stop and we filed off. A warm breeze playfully fluttered the name tag on the lanyard around my neck. Adjusting the travel purse on my shoulder, I glanced around, taking stock of where we were. My sense of direction told me we were on the north bank of Rio Ebro. Our pilgrimage visit for today was the Basilica de la Senora del Pilar. I saw the huge church on the south bank of the River Ebro. The numerous spires of the massive building were impressive.
Walking across the bridge, Tammie stopped mid-way to take a picture of the basilica. I stopped and waited, pondering its history, which extends back to just several years after the death of Jesus.
James, one of the twelve apostles who followed Jesus during His three years of public life. He, along with the other eleven men, had the Holy Spirit descend upon him at Pentecost. They all followed Jesus’ command to go out and, “Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” The country James went to was Spain.
The Iberians living along the river Ebro were slow to convert. One night in grief over his apparent failure, James knelt on the bank of Ebro and prayed. As he prayed, Mary, Mother of Jesus suddenly appeared on a jasper pagan standing pillar. She gave James the pillar and a statue of herself holding Jesus as an infant. She told him, “This place is to be my house…the people of this land will honor greatly my Son Jesus.”
Saint James immediately went about building a chapel in that spot. He dedicated it to Mary, naming it, Our Lady of the Pillar; the first church in the world dedicated to her. Soon after that, pagans began to convert to Christianity in great numbers. As the years went by, the simple chapel was often updated and enlarged. The existing building was completed in the 17th century.
As we crossed the plaza in front of the basilica, I said to Tammie, “Mary appeared to Saint James in the year 40 AD.”
My daughter answered, “That’s what’s recorded in history books. Why do you mention it?”
I stopped and turned to Tammie and said, “You do know Mary was still alive then, don’t you? To appear to Saint James, she would have had to bi-locate. This was not only her first apparition, but her only apparition before she was assumed into heaven.”
That afternoon was sunny and warm, but inside the Basilica the air felt cool. The jasper column was partially covered. We stood in line to take turns touching an exposed spot on the stone. When it was my turn, I discovered that the droves of visitors touching it for two millennia had worn a recess into the hard surface.
As we toured the building, I commented to Tammie, “Isn’t it interesting that Mary chose to appear standing on a pagan pillar? Pagans put up those pillars to worship their many gods. It was like Mary was showing that those false beliefs would be replaced.”
One of the last things we spotted before ending our tour, was a wall decorated with flags and bombs. I stopped in my tracks to exclaim, “I’d forgotten all about this bit of Our Lady of the Pillar history!”
Taking a picture of the wall, Tammie reminded me, “These are the three bombs that were dropped on the basilica during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930’s. It was strange that not one of them exploded.”
“There’s a reason for everything.” I mused. “Did Mary intercede? Although there’ve been fires and many other disasters at this Spanish home of hers, the pillar and the wooden statue of her and Jesus have survived for two thousand years. Apparently, our first lady in heaven wants the physical manifestation of her apparition to remain with us.”