written by local friend and organist extraordiaire
Perhaps the oldest devotion to Our Lady, in Europe, is the devotion to Our Lady of the Pillar. Her feast day of October 12 coincides with the discovery of the Americas, by Christopher Columbus, on October 12, 1492, under the sponsorship of King Ferdinand of Spain.
According to tradition, seven years after the death of Jesus, the Apostle James (the Greater), had traveled as far west as Spain to preach the Gospel. Named "Son of Thunder" (Mark 3:17), St. James had a faith that was burning, impetuous, and outspoken. His mission in Spain, however, had little success, and St. James was ready to give up his efforts to evangelize the pagans there, when Our Lady suddenly intervened by miraculously appearing to him on January 2, 40 A.D., atop a pillar of gemstone carried by angels, and accompanied by celestial music. She gave him the six-foot jasper
pillar (the jasper cannot be matched anywhere in the world), and also a fifteen-inch wooden statue of herself with the Infant Jesus on her left arm, who Himself holds a dove sitting on His left palm. With encouraging words, Mary assured the Apostle James that the people of Hispania would become Christians and that their faith would be as strong and durable as the pillar on which she stood. With these words, she instructed him to build a church in Her honor: "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." This apparition of the Mother of God is the only known one to have taken place before her Assumption into Heaven, which did not occur until at least twelve years later.
About a year after the apparition, James arranged to build a small chapel in Mary's honor, the first Church ever dedicated to the honor of the Virgin Mary. The pillar left by the Virgin Mary is presently enshrined in the Basilica-Cathedral of Our Lady of the Pillar, in Zaragoza, Spain, and numerous healings throughout the ages have been attributed to the Virgin by those visiting the site seeking Her help. The pillar has survived numerous disasters that beset the church, including fire and bombing. In 1936, two aerial bombs were dropped on the shrine church, but neither exploded. Those bombs now hang on the shrine wall, showing the power of Our Lady's protection.
The German Augustinian stigmatist and visionary of the early 19th century, Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich, describes Mary of the Pillar's apparition, in Chapter 14 of her "The Life of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ": "...all the solicitude of our great Mother and Lady was centered upon the increase and spread of the Holy Catholic Church, the consolation of the Apostles, disciples and the other faithful, and in defending them from the persecution and assaults prepared by the infernal dragon and his hosts. Before Our Blessed Lady departed from Jerusalem to take up her abode in Ephesus, She ordered and arranged many things, both by herself and her holy Angels, to provide for the needs of the Church in Her absence. The most effectual service She could render was Her continual prayer. She offered special prayers for St. James the Greater, as She knew this Apostle would be the first to shed his blood for Christ.
On the fourth day before leaving for Ephesus, Our Blessed Lady asked Our Lord: "Lord, what dost Thou command me to do? What dost Thou desire of me?" Repeating these words, She saw her Divine Son descending in Person, with all His court to visit Her. The humble and devout Virgin worshiped Him in deepest reverence from the inmost of Her purest soul. Our Lord replied to Her petition: "My most beloved Mother... I am attentive to Thy petitions and holy desires and they are pleasing to Me. I shall defend My Apostles And My Church, and I shall be their Father and Protector, so that It shall not be overcome, nor the gates of Hell prevail against It (Matt. 18:18). It is necessary for My glory that the Apostles labor and follow Me to the Cross and to the death I have suffered
for the whole human race. The first one to imitate Me is My faithful servant, James, and I desire that he suffer martyrdom in this city of Jerusalem. I desire that thou go to Zaragoza, where he is now, and command him to return to Jerusalem. But before he leaves that city, he is to build a church in Thy name." After expressing her sincerest gratitude to her Divine Son, She asked that She be permitted to promise the special protection of Her Divine Son and that this Sacred place shall be part of Her inheritance for the use of all who call with devotion upon Her Son's Holy Name, asking Her to intercede for them. Our Divine Lord promised His holy Mother that all She asked would be fulfilled according to Her will and power at this sacred Shrine.
At the command of Our Lord, a great number of Angels placed Her on a throne formed by a resplendent cloud, and proclaimed Her Queen and Mistress of all creation. The Purest Mother, borne by Seraphim and Angels, departed body and soul for Zaragoza in Spain. St. James was lost in exalted prayer when the Angels placed the throne of their Queen and Lady within sight of the Apostle and his disciples. The Angels bore with them a small column hewn of marble or jasper, and a small image of their Queen. Seated on Her throne on the cloud, She manifested herself to St. James. The Apostle prostrated himself and in deepest reverence venerated the Mother of his Creator and Redeemer. At
the same time he as shown the image and the pillar in the hands of some of the Angels. The loving Queen gave him Her blessing and said, "My son James, this place, the Most High and Omnipotent God of Heaven has destined to be consecrated by thee upon earth for the erection of a church and house of prayer, where, under My patronage and name, He wishes to be glorified and magnified, where the treasures of His right hand shall be opened up for all the faithful through My intercession, if they ask for them in true faith and sincere piety. This column, with My image placed upon it, shall be a pledge of this truth and of My promise. In the church which thou shall build for Me, it shall remain and be preserved until the end of the world. Thou shalt immediately begin to build this church, and after thou hast completed it, thou shalt depart for Jerusalem."
At the Queen's command, the holy Angels set up the column, and upon it the sacred Image, in the same place where they now stand. St. James, together with the holy Angels, celebrated the first dedication of a Church instituted in this world under the name and title of the great Mistress of Heaven and earth. Our Apostle gave most humble thanks to his Blessed Mother Mary and asked for special protection of this Spanish kingdom, and particularly of this place consecrated to Her devotion and name. Our heavenly Mother granted him all his requests, gave him Her blessing, and was carried back to Jerusalem."
After James returned to Jerusalem, he was executed by beheading, by Herod Agrippa, in about 44 A.D., becoming the first apostle to be martyred for his faith. Several of his disciples took his body and returned it for final burial in Spain.
to bed. Later that night, his mother was amazed to see two feet appearing from below the cloak that covered her son. At first she thought one of the soldiers quartered in the town had got into the house, and ran to tell her husband. But when Miguel's father arrived, he saw it was his son, and awoke him. The son cried out, "I dreamt that I was in the chapel of Our Lady of the Pillar, 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." News of the miracle spread, and an investigation and formal
inquiry were conducted. On April 27 of 1641, the archbishop of Zaragoza officially declared the authenticity of the miracle. Recordings show that the restored leg was the same one as that which had been amputated two and a half years before, for it could be re-identified through some bruises and scars that were there before the amputation. Also, the hole in the cemetery of the hospital in which
the amputated leg had been buried, was excavated and found empty.
Our Lady of the Pillar is a symbol of firmness and constancy of faith. Spanish Catholics Have seen in the Pillar a clear analogy with the column that guided the people of Israel in their pilgrimage to the Promised Land. Therefore, through the centuries, they have been able to sing Columnam disciples habemus: "We have as a guide, a Column that accompanies us to the new Israel."