Our Lady of El Pilar, Zaragoza

Notes for a Pilgrimage to Zaragoza, Spain

by Fr. Tommy Lane

When Pope John Paul II came to this Shrine of Our Lady of El Pilar in Zaragoza on pilgrimage he called Our Lady of El Pilar the Mother of the Hispanic Peoples. We could say that for the Hispanic peoples the Shrine of El Pilar in Zaragoza holds a similar significance as Fatima to the Portuguese or Knock to the Irish.

Various sources describe Our Lady’s connection with Zaragoza as follows. While Our Lady was in Ephesus before her Assumption, Jesus appeared to her and asked her to go with the angels to see St. James who was in Zaragoza at the time. She was to tell James that Jesus wished him to return to Jerusalem to be martyred. The tradition of the shrine of El Pilar, as the Spaniards call it, as given by Our Lady in an apparition to Sr. Mary Agreda described in The City of God, is that Our Lady was carried on a cloud by the angels to Zaragoza during the night. While they were traveling, the angels built a pillar of marble, and a miniature image of Our Lady. Our Lady gave the message to St. James and added that a church was to be built on the site where the apparition took place. The pillar and the image were to be part of the main altar. Special graces and protection would be granted to the people of Zaragoza in exchange for a pure devotion to Our Lord and Our Lady. Mass began to be celebrated at the little church and people began to venerate Our Lady through the image left there by her and the angels. For twelve years before Our Lady’s Assumption into heaven the people of Spain were venerating Our Lady as Our Lady of the Pillar. According to Sr. Mary Agreda, Our Lady was 54 years of age and living in Ephesus when this happened and she was 67 years when she was assumed into heaven thus making her appearance in Zaragoza twelve or thirteen years prior to her Assumption. This is the only apparition of Our Lady we have heard of taking place prior to her Assumption. The year when this apparition occurred was c. 40 or 41 AD.

This was delivered when I was Spiritual Director for a pilgrimage while engaged in parish ministry in Ireland before joining the faculty of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.