Wednesday, October 12, 2022

(269) Nuestra Señora del Pilar (Our Lady of the Pillar) and Christendom College…. Did Mary have a role in the fledgling Church while still living on earth?


A depiction by the artist, Ramón Bayeu y Subías in 1780 of Nuestra Señora del Pilar, the patroness of Spain and the Americas.  This is the very first apparition of Mary in history and the only known one while she was living on earth.  See  

      Did Mary have a role in establishing the Church after the descent of the Holy Spirit on the first Christian Pentecost?  What did she do before being assumed into Heaven in about 44 AD?  Perhaps a strong tradition and devotion in Spain, but largely unknown in the United States, might give us an idea. 

That is the Tradition of Our Lady of the Pillar. According to one story handed down, St. James was discouraged at making little or no progress in his mission of evangelizing Spain.  Mary, Mother of the Church and of the apostles even before the Assumption, bi-located and appeared to St. James on a pillar in 40 AD, giving him consolation and encouragement.  Other saints, such as San Martín de Porres and St. Padre Pio, had the gift of bilocation.  This is the very first apparition of Mary and the only one while she was living on earth.  

According to another version, Mary was transported by angels, who built a pillar of marble and a small statue of her for the altar of the church she asked St. James to build on the spot where she appeared.  

Yet another tradition holds that on 2 January 40 AD, while St. James was deep in prayer by the banks of the Ebro River, the Mother of God appeared and gave him a column of jasper and 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", promising that “it will stand from that moment until the end of time in order that God may work miracles and wonders through my intercession for all those who place themselves under my patronage.”   

The feast of Our Lady of the Pillar, celebrating the first apparition of Mary to Hispanic people, is on October 12.  Christopher Columbus was well aware that it was on her feast day he discovered America in 1492 and the first Mass was said in the Western Hemisphere.  Incidentally, the name of the flagship of Columbus was named after Mary, the “Santa María”.

Little is known about Mary from Pentecost to the Assumption.  We do know that she must have helped St. Luke and St. Matthew write about the Nativity narrative in their Gospels.  There are so many details that we must conclude that they interviewed Mary.  The apostles must have asked Mary about the circumstances of the birth of their Master, our Lord Jesus Christ and listened with fascination.  That ten day period of waiting for the descent of the Holy Spirit in the upper room after the Ascension was a good time for telling them about her son. 

Only Mary knew the details of the Annunciation, the Visitation, the virgin birth, the Presentation, and the Christ child being lost in the temple.  We know that the shepherds and the Magi shared their experience with Mary and Joseph.  The 19th Century mystic Anne Catherine Emmerich shared in a book what was revealed to her about the life of Christ and Mary.  Her life and her books are easily googled.

The tradition of Our Lady of the Pillar seems to indicate that Mary, while still living on earth, had a role in early Christian evangelization, helping St. James and probably other apostles plant the seeds of what was to later become medieval Christendom.  We know that Mary was with the apostles during the first Pentecost and also received the Holy Spirit as she did during the Annunciation. 

As mother of the Church and of the apostles, Mary probably did not have a leadership role, but nurtured, encouraged, consoled, supported them with prayer, and perhaps advised the apostles as they evangelized at great personal risk.  She probably accompanied St. John to gatherings of the apostles.  We know from Acts that the apostles had to confront obstacles, hardships, difficulties, frustrations, and setbacks.  Perhaps scholars could find out more from investigating early Christian writings that have survived and what has been passed down as tradition.

Mary certainly prayed for the apostles as any devout Christian mother would.  It would not be surprising if God granted her the gift of knowing how they were doing hundreds of miles away as she did with St. James.  For an idea of where each apostle evangelized go to  There are stories of more than one mother feeling a sudden burst of pain at the moment her son was wounded in combat during World War II on a distant continent.  

Over the centuries Mary has done much of the same for the Church and her children, all of us from Pope to everyone who goes to her.  Some of the great cathedrals of medieval Christendom are dedicated to her, particularly the magnificent Notre Dame and Chartres in France.  That medieval age inspired the founding of Christendom College and Mary is part of it.  Mary our mother continues to nurture our faith at numerous shrines from Guadalupe to Lourdes and from her altars in every Catholic church.  She bilocates all over the world to be with us when we call. 


The great Basilica of Nuesta Señora del Pilar, a very popular national pilgrimage site since the 13th Century, in Zaragosa, Spain.

      The Cathedral – Basilica of Nuestra Señora del Pilar in Zaragosa, Spain (pop 675,000) in northeastern Spain…..111 miles south of Pamplona which is on the primary route (French Way) of the famous El Camino de Santiago or the Way of St. James which extends 500 miles to Santiago de Compostela on the west coast.  The venerated shrines and pilgrimage site at Zaragoza date to the Christian Reconquest by King Alfonso I in 1118, during the medieval era of Christendom. 

The apostle St. James built a tiny chapel there as instructed by Mary.  This would be the very first church dedicated to Mary.  Despite multiple destructions and a fire, the 15 inch statue of Mary given by her to St. James and the 6 foot pillar that she appeared on are preserved.  Over the centuries several churches were built over the site in the Romanesque, Gothic, and Baroque styles in that order.

A statue of Mary on a pillar in the Cathedral-Basilica of Nuestra Señora del Pilar in Zaragosa, Spain.

The baroque Cathedral-Basilica above was begun in 1681.  In 1725 the architect Ventura Rodríguez transformed the building into its present dimensions of 130 meters long by 67 meters wide, with eleven cupolas and four towers.  

The area most visited is the eastern part because this is where the Holy Chapel by Ventura Rodríguez (1754) houses the venerated image of the Virgin. Around the Holy Chapel are the vaults or domes painted with frescoes by Francisco Goya.  

Pope Calixtus III, who reigned from 1455-1458, issued a bull encouraging pilgrimage to Our Lady of the Pillar and confirming the name and the miraculous origin. A commission of 12 Cardinals appointed by Pope Innocent XIII to investigate the authenticity of the tradition, confirmed it in 1723 and the Congregation of Rites gave its stamp of approval.  On 20 May 1905, Pope Pius X granted the image a canonical coronation (the right to crown the statue).

During the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), the Communists dropped three bombs on the shrine, but none exploded.  They are on display today.


      Perhaps, the reader might be interested in what motivated me to write this article.  It was Christendom College that aspires to restore the Christian culture of medieval Christianity.

The statue of Our Lady on a pillar outside of the library at Christendom College is much taller (about 12 feet above the base) than the 6 foot pillars and statues in Zaragosa, Spain and other churches.  However, it can serve as a representation for devotional and educational purposes.  Thus Christendom College really has its own version of Our Lady of the Pillar, a beautiful landmark on campus.

    Recently, my wife Jaga and I visited our daughter Stephanie, our grandson Anselm, and son-in-law Daniel Spiotta, a new member of the English and Literature faculty of Christendom College.  With my background in Academia and currently professor emeritus at the University of Rio Grande, I was very interested in exploring Christendom College.  Upon visiting the library, I was enthralled and excited by the sight of the statue of Mary upon a pillar, some 20 feet high.  I have yet to learn about its origin.

The sight of Mary on a pillar immediately brought to mind my 14 years in Arequipa, Perú, where I was a Lay Missionary (the old Papal Volunteers or PAVLA).  I often assisted at Mass and went to confession at the parish church of Nuestra Señora del Pilar or in English “Our Lady of the Pillar”.   During my time there in the 1960s and 1970s it was staffed by the American Maryknoll Fathers.  There is a certain devotion to her in Latin America and particularly in Spain, centered around her great shrine in Zaragosa.  There are also churches dedicated to Our Lady of the Pillar in St. Louis, MO, Dallas, TX, Corpus Christi, TX, and Santa Ana, CA.

  Relevance to Christendom College. Whether donated used or newly constructed, the acquisition of the statue of Mary on a pillar seems to be providential because it provides a link to Spain where the concept of Christendom College originated during a retreat that Dr. Warren Carroll, the founder, attended there.   It was in medieval western Europe where a Christian culture prevailed and thus is known as Christendom which had to defend itself against the invasions of Islam the same as we are confronting the threat of secularism today and have the mission of restoring the Christian culture we once had.        

Furthermore, the statue of Mary on a pillar, provides a link to her before the Assumption and to the apostle St. James in his mission of evangelizing pagan Spain.  In 40 AD St. James and Mary planted the seeds for the development of medieval Christendom after which this college is named and has the mission of restoring Christian culture in the United States and the world.

Read about the Miracle of Our Lady of the Pillar at

     Ideas That May Be Considered.   Christendom College might consider celebrating the feast of Our Lady of the Pillar on October 12 with her story as part of the homily at Daily Mass.  The Mass could be said outside the library at the foot of the statue, weather permitting.  A permanent plaque briefly describing the history and link to Christendom College could be placed at the foot of the statue in front of the library.  

    An annual lecture on October 12 on Our Lady of the Pillar and her shrine might attract interest.  Perhaps a student and faculty exchange program with the University of Zaragosa as a sister university would be feasible. 

      Christendom College faculty and students could do research to develop an accurate history of Our Lady of the Pillar, her importance in history, and her relevance to Christendom College.  Perhaps research could discover at least from tradition the role of Mary in the fledgling Church before the Assumption.  

    The Director of the Library, who grew up in Spain, could be a big help in providing his own experience, making a recommendation, and acquiring a few books on Christianity and Marian devotion in medieval Spain, Our Lady of the Pillar, and the Cathedral–Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar as a shrine, etc.  This article is intended not as a scholarly work, but to stimulate solid research and education.

Fr. Daniel Gee, pastor of St. John the Baptist Church, could say a Mass in Spanish on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe and Fr. Thomas Szczpanczyk of the same parish could say an annual Mass in Polish for the Feast of Our Lady of Czestochowa or on September 11, the anniversary of the Battle of Vienna in which Poland saved Western Civilization from Islamic conquest in 1683, giving the students a vision of the universal Church.  There must be some Polish and Spanish speakers in the Christendom community.  Many of these ideas are in a brainstorming mode.     - Our Lady of the Pillar - Why Our Lady of the Pillar is the patroness of Spain and the Americas - Cathedral-Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar – Zaragoza

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