Knowing the history of the Virgen del Pilar will help us to understand the cultural concept that has been created around it, its scope and how it has become one of the references as a religious destination of pilgrimage and symbol in Aragon.
What is the origin of the Virgen del Pilar?
The origin of the Virgen del Pilar is an exciting story full of nuances and unique events that are detailed below. Focusing on the historical context where the apparition takes place, this happened in AD 40, the age at which the city of Zaragoza was known as Cesaraugusta, named after the Roman emperor Cesar Augustus in 14 BC.
The present history goes back to the time immediately following the Ascension of Jesus Christ, when the apostles, endowed with the power of the Holy Spirit, began to preach the Gospel.
The apostle James or James the Greater, born in Bethsaida, Galilee in 5 BC, brother of John and Son of Zebedee, was entrusted with the mission of Evangelizing the Celtiberian peoples of Hispania, then divided into the following regions, Lusitania, Tarraconesis, and Betica.
As St. Gregory the Great records in his Magna Moraria, a document of which we shall speak later, the apostle James, before departing to pagan lands, kissed the Virgin’s hands and asked for his blessing, to which she replied with the following words:
“Go, son, fulfill the command of the Master, and for him, I pray that in that city of Spain, where more people turn to the faith, you will build a Church in my memory, as I will show you”
Thus James proceeded to what he had known as Iberia, by his Greek nomenclature, and having preached in the lands of the Astures and the Galicians, he crossed the spartan plains until arriving at the city of Caesaraugusta, where his preaching got the conversion from many pagans to the True Faith. Finding great resistance in the conversion of souls to the Lord, the apostle was saddened for having made only one man in the lands of the Astures, and eight in Caesaraugusta. Without being overcome by the temptation of unhappiness, Santiago continued to preach, seeking moments of prayer in the company of the eight new Christians, who retired at night on the banks of the river Ebro to rest and talk about Our Lord.
When did the appearance of the Virgen del Pilar take place?
As reflected in this copy of the Magna Moralia of St. Gregory the Great (Moralia, sive Expositio in Job, written between the years 578 and 595, consists of about 35 volumes), dating to the thirteenth century currently preserved in the cathedral Zaragoza, and whose original documents date from the sixth century, on the night of January 2, 40 AD, Santiago met his disciples by the river Ebro when he heard voices of angels singing Ave Maria, full gratia and saw the Virgin Mother of Christ appear, standing on a jasper pillar.
The Blessed Virgin, who still lived in mortal flesh, asked the Apostle to build a church there, with the altar around the pillar where he stood and promised that “this place will remain until the end of time for the virtue of God work miracles and wonders through my intercession with those who in their needs implore my patronage. ”
This appearance has 3 fundamental distinctions with respect to any other in the world:
- The Blessed Virgin appears when she was still in mortal life in Palestine, under the protection of the Apostle St. John: “With no nation did any such thing.”
- The column or pillar was brought by the Virgin Mary herself so that the first chapel was built on it, which would become the first Marian temple of all Christendom.
- The linking of pillar tradition with the Jacobean tradition (of the Sanctuary of Santiago de Compostela).
This is why the Basilica of the Pillar of Saragossa and the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, has constituted two fundamental axes around which has turned for centuries the spirituality of Spain.
After the appearance disappeared the Virgin and remained there the pillar. The Apostle James and the eight witnesses of the prodigy began to build in that Celtiberian city called Caesaraugusta, today known as Saragossa, the first Marian temple of Christianity, and the first in the world dedicated to the Virgin.
The original temple is said to have been built in adobe, one of the oldest and most used building materials at that time composed of sand, straw, and clay. Before the Church was finished, James ordained one of his disciples to the service of the priest, consecrated it and gave it the title of Santa Maria del Pilar before returning to Judea.
After preaching in Spain, Santiago returned to Jerusalem, where Herod Agrippa sent him to execute around AD 44being thus the first martyr, after which his disciples, took his body and took it to Spain, more concretely to Iria Flavia for his funeral.
Testimonies that confirm the truthfulness of the Church in Honor of the Virgin of Santa María del Pilar
Many historians and researchers defend this tradition and argue that there are a series of monuments and testimonies that demonstrate the existence of a church dedicated to the Virgin of Saragossa. The oldest of these testimonies is the famous sarcophagus of Santa Engracia, which has been preserved in Zaragoza since the fourth century when the saint was martyred. The sarcophagus represents, in a low relief, the descent of the Virgin of the skies to appear to the Apostle Santiago. The Said sarcophagus is currently in the parish of Santa Engracia, the front, and the two sides are carved in marble from the Island of Marmara by a workshop near the one that worked in the Arch of Constantine in Rome.
Also, around 835, a monk of St. Germain of Paris, called Almoino, wrote some writings in which he speaks of the Church of the Virgin Mary of Saragossa, “where the great martyr St. Vincent had served in the third century” whose remains were deposited by the bishop of Saragossa, in the church of the Virgin Mary. It is also attested that before the Muslim occupation of Saragossa (714) there was a temple dedicated to the Virgin.
For the Christians of Caesaraugusta, the small sanctuary of the Virgen del Pilar, became an important center of Christianization, succeeding in becoming a diocese in the third century, during the persecution of Diocletian. From the Pillar of Saragossa, it went out to Evangelize all the provinces of Hispania, turning to people and kings alike. The Visigothic invasion brought with it the heresy of Arianism, but from the Pillar, he begged for the conversion of the Visigothic kings to Catholicism, which was achieved in the person of Recaredo I in the sixth century.
Summary of the history of the Virgen del Pilar
On the night of January 2 nd of AD 40, as quoted in Magna Moralia of St. Gregory the Great, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared before the Apostle James in the city of Saragossa on a pillar or column while it still existed in mortal flesh.
The Virgin Mary ordered him to build a monument in his honor, promising that he would remain until the end of time so that the virtue of God could work wonders and wonders. The Virgin disappeared and the pillar remained.
The Apostle James and the eight witnesses of the prodigy began to build in Saragossa the first Marian temple of Christianity, and the first in the world dedicated to the Virgin.
You can download the History of the Virgin of the Pillar in this PDF.
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