Our Lady of the Pillar and St. Josemaria Escriva
Our Lady of the Pillar is considered the first Marian apparition and one of the oldest Marian invocations venerated by the Church. Her feast day is celebrated on October 12. According to tradition, when the Mother of Jesus was still living in Jerusalem, Saint James the Greater saw her arrive in mortal flesh on the banks of the Ebro River, accompanied by a group of angels carrying a column.
St. James had been one of the first to travel to the western confines of Europe — the Iberian Peninsula, the finis terrae, then part of the Roman Empire — to preach the Gospel. The Apostle was downcast by the difficult work and Mary Most Holy wanted to show her motherly care by appearing and encouraging him. According to the same tradition, St. James received from the Virgin the order to build a chapel in her honor in the place of the apparition.
Today the column of the apparition is preserved in the Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar in Zaragoza, Spain where visitors have venerated it throughout the centuries. The Gothic carving of the Virgin Mary dates back to the 15th century and is slightly over 15″ tall. The figure of the Baby Jesus does not follow the same Gothic style of the Virgin and was undoubtedly added later on either to complete it or, more probably, to replace a previous one that was destroyed or deteriorated. The Baby holds a little bird in one hand and with the other he clings tightly to his Mother’s mantle. The statue of the Virgin and Child sits on the Pillar– a smooth jasper column covered with embossed silver that is adorned with an embroidered mantle, which is changed daily (except on the 2nd, 12th and 20th of each month).
OUR LADY OF THE PILLAR IN ST. JOSEMARIA’S LIFE
“My devotion to Our Lady of Pilar has always accompanied me: my parents, with their Aragonese piety, instilled it in my soul since I was a child,” said St. Josemaría.
In 1909, when he was seven years old and went to the Piarist school in Barbastro, they used to sing the popular invocation to Our Lady: “Blessed and praised be the hour when Mary Most Holy came in mortal flesh to Saragossa…” And this devotion accompanied him until the end of his life.
In Rome, in the bedroom used by St. Josemaria, there are two built-in shelves where, in the last two or three years of his life, he kept a small image of Our Lady of the Pillar that he kissed every morning when he woke up; and in his office there is another life-size representation of this invocation.
St. Josemaría prepared for the priesthood and lived in Zaragoza from 1920 to 1927. During these years, he visited Our Lady every day. “As I had good friendship with several of the clergymen who looked after the Basilica, I was able to stay in the church one day after the doors had closed. I went to Our Lady, with the complicity of one of those good priests who has already passed away, and climbed the few stairs that the infantrymen know so well. As I approached, I kissed the image of Our Mother. I knew that this was not the custom, that kissing the mantle was allowed exclusively to children and to the authorities (…). However, I was and am sure that my Mother of the Pillar was happy that for once I skipped the established customs in her cathedral. I continue to treat her with filial love. With the same faith with which I invoked her in those times, around the 1920s, when the Lord made me sense what he expected of me: with that same faith I invoke her now (…). Under his protection, I continue to be happy and secure”. That prayer before our Lady of the Pillar, asking him to see and be what God wanted for him, prepared the foundation of Opus Dei.
St. Josemaría celebrated his first solemn Mass in the Chapel of Our Lady of the Pillar in Zaragoza. When he moved to Madrid and, years later, to Rome, he continued to visit Our Lady of the Pillar whenever he could. The last time was on April 7, 1970. A phrase of St. Josemaría, found in the Book of Aragon, recalls that “the Pillar is a sign of strength in faith, in love, in hope.”
A PRAYER TO OUR LADY OF THE PILLAR
St. John Paul II visited the shrine in 1982 and consecrated the country of Spain to Our Lady. During his visit, he recited the following prayer:
Holy Virgin of the Pillar: increase our faith, strengthen our hope, revive our charity. Help those who suffer misfortune, those who suffer from loneliness, ignorance or hunger or lack of work. Strengthen the weak in faith. Arouse in the young an availability for a total surrender to God. Amen.
Article adapted from and reprinted here with permission from Opus Dei Information Office.