Our Lady of El Pilar—Zaragoza, Spain (Feast—October 12)
Among the Twelve Apostles, three were chosen as the familiar companions of Our Blessed Lord, and of these St. James the Greater was one. He alone, together with St. Peter and his brother St. John, was admitted to the house of Jairus when the dead girl was raised to life. They alone were taken up to the high mountain apart, and saw the face of Jesus shining as the sun, and His garments white as snow; and these three alone witnessed His fearful agony in Gethsemane. What was it that won St. James a place among these three? Faith—burning, impetuous and outspoken, but which needed purifying before the “Son of Thunder” could proclaim the Gospel of Peace. It was St. James who demanded fire from Heaven to consume the inhospitable Samaritans, and who sought the place of honor next to Christ in His Kingdom. Yet Our Lord, in rebuking his presumption, prophesied his faithfulness to death. Indeed when St. James was brought before King Herod Agrippa, his fearless confession of Jesus Crucified so moved the public prosecutor that he declared himself a Christian on the spot. Accused and accuser were hurried off together to execution, and on the road the latter begged pardon of the Saint. The Apostle had long since forgiven him, but hesitated for a moment whether to publicly accept as a brother one still unbaptized. God quickly recalled to him the Church’s Faith, that the blood of martyrdom supplies for every Sacrament, and embraced his companion with the words, “Peace be with thee.” Together then they knelt for the sword, and together received the crown.
But before all this, in the years after the Ascension of Our Lord, 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 was 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.
A multitude of miracles have been wrought at the Shrine of Our Lady of El Pilar, but the following stands pre-eminent both for splendor and authenticity. Let those who impugn the devotion to Our Blessed Lady know that it stands on record that by means of it a man recovered, at this Church in Zaragoza, one of his legs which had been amputated. His name was Miguel Juan Pellicer, aged at that time 19 years, and born at Calanda, a town of Aragon and the home of his parents. One day the young man, being in the service of his uncle, Diego (James) Blasco, at Castellon de la Plena, in Valencia, fell out of a wagon and broke his leg. He was taken to the hospital at Valencia, and after many remedies had been tried in vain, he was taken to the great hospital at Zaragoza, where he was placed under the care of Juan d’Estanga, a celebrated surgeon.
The young man had a great devotion to Our Lady of El Pilar, and when he was taken to Zaragoza, he first received the Sacraments at Her Church. When the surgeon was obliged to amputate his leg—a finger’s breadth below the knee—Miguel invoked the Blessed Virgin with great fervor. When the wound had begun to heal, he dragged himself to Her image to offer up thanks and place his whole life in Her hands; and when, afterwards, he suffered intense pain in the sore limb, he used to go to the Church of El Pilar and anoint the stump with the oil from one of the lamps which burned before Her. He did this consistently, and for two years was known by everybody to frequent the Church of Our Blessed Lady, sometimes imploring Her aid, sometimes begging the charity of the passers-by.
In 1640 he returned to Calanda, and used to beg for his support. On March 29th, 1641, after having exhausted himself cutting grass, he hung up his wooden leg, and went to bed. Later that night his mother entered his room, and was amazed to see two feet in her son’s bed. 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 on awakening, “I dreamt that I was in the chapel of Our Lady of El Pilar, 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.” Miguel did not know it till then.
News of the event immediately spread all over the town, and the same night all the inhabitants came to witness the miracle. The next day a large crowd accompanied him to the church to render thanks, and all beheld him with two legs, who, the day before, was known to have but one. The young man was conducted to Zaragoza, and judicially examined. An advocate was named, witnesses were examined, the question was debated, and at length, on April 27, 1641, the most illustrious Lord Pedro Apaolara, Archbishop of Zaragoza, pronounced that the fact was true, and that it surpassed all natural powers. The verdict was also signed by the Prior of St. Cristina, the Vicar-General, the Archdeacon, the senior professor of canon law, and several other professors and provincials of Religious Orders.
To these testimonies may be added that of Jerónimo Brizius (quoted by the Bollandists in Acta Sanctorum, vi, p. 118), who made the following declaration: “By order of Sr. Gabriel de Aldamas, Vicar-General of Madrid, I have read the publication regarding the astounding miracle wrought by Our Lady of El Pilar. I know that it is true. In the first place, I knew the young man at Zaragoza, where, deprived of one leg, he used to ask alms at the door of the Church of the Virgin; and I afterwards saw him at Madrid, whence His Majesty had sent for him, walking on his two feet. I saw the mark which the Blessed Virgin left to attest to the incision; and the other Fathers of this royal College of the Society of Jesus saw it, like myself. I knew the parents of the young man, who were assisted by the Canons of Our Lady of El Pilar. I also knew the surgeon who made the amputation. Dated, Madrid, at the College of the Society of Jesus, March 12, 1642.”