The church of Our Lady of the Pillar in Zaragoza is the first church dedicated to Mary in history.
This Marian apparition was the first one in the history of Christianity and is the only one that happened while the Virgin Mary was still alive. It was actually bilocation of Our Lady. She was living with John the Apostle in Jerusalem.
After Pentecost, the 12 Apostles left to preach the Gospel all over the world. St. James the Greater (Santiago) preached in the Iberian Peninsula in modern-day Spain. This is why we have the Camino de Sanitago, The way of St. James.
He was confronted with great difficulties and was discouraged that the pagans of that land were not responding to the Gospel and converting to Christianity. At this time, he had only a handful of converts to show for his labors. He was at his lowest point. (a lesson to us all, even the disciples had their low points) In the face of what he thought was a failure, he prayed! He gathered his disciples and prayed by the Ebro river in modern-day Zaragoza.
There on October 12 in the year 40 AD. Mary appeared to him accompanied by thousands of angels, to console and encourage him. She was holding Baby Jesus in her arms and she was standing on a pillar.
She gave the pillar and a statue to St. James and asked that a church be built on the spot in her honor, using the two items for the altar.
“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… and the people of this land will honor greatly my Son Jesus.”
As tradition says, she promised that,
“It will stand from that moment until the end of time in order that God may work miracles and wonders through my intercession for all those who place themselves under my patronage.”
St. James fulfilled this mission. He built a small chapel as Our Lady requested, by the Ebro river in Zaragoza, Spain.
It remains standing to this day, having survived invasions and wars.
One miracle of this apparition site and Holy Church is during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) the Communists dropped three bombs from an airplane on the church. They went through the roof and hit the floor but none of them exploded. These three bombs are currently on display in one of the Basilica’s walls, don’t worry they have been deactivated.
This church is the first known Marian shrine in history. It became known as Our Lady of the Pillar, or Nuestra Señora del Pilar. The chapel has been replaced by larger churches over the centuries, the present stunning basilica being erected in the 17th century.
What happened to St. James after Zaragoza
According to history, in the same vision, Our Lady also asked St. James to return to Jerusalem. Later in 44 AD, he met his martyrdom in Jerusalem and was beheaded. According to Armenian tradition, his head still remains in Jerusalem. We visit this church on our Jesus Trail Pilgrimage.
The rest of his remains were taken by his followers back to Compostela, Spain, where a chapel was built in his honor. The chapel was later replaced by the famous Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, the most visited Catholic pilgrimage destination outside of Rome and the Holy Land.
Join us in Spain or Virtually along the Ignatian Camino and visit this Holy Shrine in Zaragoza!