Heaven’s Bright Queen – Shrine of Our Lady of the Pilar, Saragossa, Spain

Article

Among the twelve, three were chosen as the familiar companions of Our Blessed Lord, and of these James was one. He alone, with Peter and John, was admitted to the house of Jairus when the dead maiden was raised to life. They alone were taken up to the high mountain, apart, and saw the face of Jesus shining as the sun, and His garments white as snow; and these three alone witnessed the fearful agony in Gethsemane. What was it that won James a place among the favorite three? Faith, burning, impetuous, and outspoken, but which needed purifying before the “Son of Thunder” could proclaim the Gospel of Peace. It was James who demanded fire from Heaven to consume the inhospitable Samaritans, and who sought the place of honor by Christ in His kingdom. Yet, our Lord, in rebuking his presumption, prophesied his faithfulness to death.

When Saint James was brought before King Herod Agrippa, his fearless confession of Jesus crucified so moved the public prosecutor that he declared himself a Christian on the spot. Accused and accuser were hurried off together to execution, and on the road the latter begged pardon of the Saint. The Apostle had long since forgiven him, but hesitated for a moment whether publicly to accept as a brother one still unbaptized. God quickly recalled to him the Church’s faith, that the blood of martyrdom supplies for every sacrament, and embraced his companion, with the words, “Peace be with thee.” Together then they knelt for the sword, and together received the crown.

The Apostle James the Great, after Our Lord’s Ascension, went to Spain. One day, as he stood on the banks of the River Ebro, the Blessed Virgin appeared to him seated on the top of a pillar of jasper, surrounded by a choir of angels. And the Apostle having thrown himself on his face, she commanded him to build on that spot a chapel; assuring him that all this province of Saragossa, though now in the darkness of pagan ism, would at a future time be distinguished by devotion to her. He did as the Holy Virgin had commanded, and this was the origin of a grand and famous church known as Our Lady of the Pilar, which became the cradle of the Spanish Church; and in it the pillar consecrated by the feet of the Mother of God has received the veneration of the faithful from that date to this, and Saint James has remained the Patron Saint of the land which he apostolized.

The chapel was very small, and in course of time a church was erected above it, which, after various vicissitudes, was replaced in the seventeenth century by the present magnificent edifice.

The Cathedral of Nuestra Senora del Pilar is a quadrangular building, 500 feet in length, surmounted by clustering domes roofed with green, yellow and white glass tiles, to which the sunlight imparts a dazzling splendor. There are three great waves, and in the center is the venerable sanctuary of Our Lady, which is elliptical in shape and now adorned with fine jasper columns and many old Moorish banners trophies of the victories over the infidels won “by the sword of the Lord and of Santiago.”

Upon the sacred pillar stands a statue of Our Lady carved out of black resinous wood in very ancient times and held in great esteem. The pillar is surrounded by a silver railing and the image upon it is usually covered by a heavy cloth.

The choir of the cathedral is very fine and contains 115 elaborately carved oaken stalls, made by Juan Moreto in 1542.

There is also a superb iron grating, made in 1574, which is the masterpiece of Juan Celma. There are some fine frescoes on the interior, and in a crypt beneath the chapel are the remains of a number of eminent ecclesiastics and noblemen, including the heart of Don John of Austria, that brilliant Christian hero, “beautiful, commanding, chivalrous and magnanimous,” who was at the head of the Christian army in the great naval victory of Lepanto, in which the Turkish power was finally broken, and which is still commemorated throughout the Catholic world in the festival of the Most Holy Rosary.

The principal altar is of alabaster in the Gothic style, and has always been much admired. It is the work of Damien Forment. The altar-piece represents the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, and is the finest work of its kind in Arragon. This birth place of the Spanish Church is naturally very dear to the whole nation, and on the 12th of October, the anniversary of Our Lady’s Apparition to Saint James, pilgrims congregate there from all parts of Spain, sometimes to the number of forty or fifty thousand. Innumerable miracles have taken place at this Shrine of Our Lady of the Pilar, and by the application of the oil taken from the ever-burning lamps before it.

It is constantly enriched by votive offerings of every kind, including reproductions in solid silver of members restored or healed through the all-powerful intercession of the Mother of Mercy.

A multitude of miracles have been wrought at the Shrine of Our Lady of the Pilar, but the following stands pre-eminent both for splendor and authenticity. Let those who impugn the devotion to Our Blessed Lady know, that it stands on record that by means of it a man recovered at this Church in Saragossa one of his legs which had been amputated. His name was Michael Juan Pellicer, aged, at the time, nineteen years, and born at Calanda, a town of Arragon. His parents belonged to that town. The young man, being in the service of his uncle, James Blasco, at Castellon de la Plena, in Valentia, happened to fall out of a wagon, and broke his right leg. He was taken to the hospital at Valentia, and, after many remedies had been tried in vain, he was taken to the great hospital at Saragossa, where he was placed under the care of Juan d’Estanga, a celebrated surgeon.

Here we must observe that the young man had great devotion to Our Lady of the Pilar, and that on being taken to Saragossa he first received the sacraments at her church, and that when the surgeon amputated his leg (which he was obliged to do, and cut it off a finger’s breadth below the knee), during the operation, he invoked the Blessed Virgin with great fervor. When the wound was cauterized, he dragged himself to her image to offer up thanks and place his whole life in her hands; and when, afterwards, he suffered pain in the sore limb, he used to go to the Church of Our Lady of the Pilar and anoint the stump with the oil from one of the lamps which burned before her. He did this constantly, and for two years was known by everybody to frequent the Church of Our Blessed Lady, some times imploring her succor, sometimes begging the charity of the passers-by.

In 1640 he returned to Calanda, the place of his birth, and used to beg for his support. On March 29th, 1641, after having tired himself cutting grass, he hung up his wooden leg, and went to bed. At eleven o clock at night his mother entered his room, and was amazed to see two feet in her son’s bed. At first she thought one of the soldiers quartered in the town had got into the house, and ran to tell her husband. Her husband came, saw it was his son, and awoke him. The son cried out, on awakening, “I dreamt that I was in the chapel of Our Lady of the Pilar, where I was anointing my stump with the oil of the lamp!” The father instantly answered: “Give thanks to God, my son. His Holy Mother has restored you your leg.” The young man did not know it till then. The news of the event immediately spread all over the town, and the same night all the inhabitants came to witness the miracle. Next day a large crowd accompanied him to the church to render thanks, and all beheld him with two legs, who, the day before, was known to have but one. The young man was conducted to Saragossa, and judicially examined. An advocate was named, witnesses were examined, the question was debated, and at length, on 27 April 1641, the most illustrious Lord Pedro Apaolara, Archbishop of Saragossa, pronounced that the fact was true, and that it surpassed all natural powers. The verdict was also signed by the prior of Saint Christina, the vicar-general, the archdeacon, the senior professor of canon law, and several other professors and provincials of orders.

To these testimonies may be added that of Jerome Brizius (quoted by the Bollandists), who makes the following declaration: “By order of M. Gabriel de Aldamas, Vicar-general of Madrid, I have read the publication regarding the astounding miracle wrought by Our Lady of the Pilar. I know that it is true. In the first place, I knew the young man at Saragossa, where, deprived of one leg, he used to ask alms at the door of the Church of the Virgin; and I afterwards saw him at Madrid, whence his Catholic Majesty had sent for him, walking on his two feet. I saw the mark which the Blessed Virgin left to attest the incision; and the others fathers of this royal college of the Society of Jesus saw it, like myself. I knew the parents of the young man, who were assisted by the Canons of Our Lady of the Pilar. I also knew the surgeon who made the amputation. Dated, Madrid, at the College of the Society of Jesus, 12 March 1642.”

MLA Citation

  • William J Walsh. “Shrine of Our Lady of the Pilar, Saragossa, Spain”. The Apparitions and Shrines of Heaven’s Bright Queen, 1905. CatholicSaints.Info. 9 July 2014. Web. 21 November 2017. <>