By Andrea Phillips
When Our Blessed Lord ascended into heaven, He left His most holy Mother here on earth for several years to help the young Catholic Church. All of the Apostles and disciples held her in great esteem and sought her counsel in all things. She, the holiest, wisest, and most blessed of women, always had a word of encouragement and precious advice to answer their requests.
At times, as the Apostles and disciples went on their journeys to far off places to preach the Faith, she would send one or several of her many guardian angels to strengthen or console them in some way.
She also prayed constantly for their work and begged God to deliver them from the assaults of the devil, who from the very beginning has unceasingly prowled around seeking to destroy God’s Church.
Our Lady and Saint James
The Apostle Saint James the Greater, brother of Saint John the Evangelist and a cousin to Our Lord Jesus, had a most special and tender devotion to Our Blessed Lady.
Possessed of a generous nature, he preached the word of God with such zeal and fearlessness that he aroused the fury of all who hated Our Lord and His Church.
The more the evil people persecuted him the more ardently and louder he preached. Some say that he had a powerful, booming voice, in keeping with his designation as a “Son of Thunder.” He knew how needful he was of Our Lady’s help and sought it constantly.
One day, about a year and a half after the death of Our Lord, Saint James traveled to Spain to carry the true Faith to the people there. In imitation of his Master, he took twelve disciples with him. One of the first cities he and his disciples visited was Granada in the south of Spain. In Granada were several Jews who hated the new Faith of Jesus and watched the newcomers closely. Saint James and the disciples fearlessly began to preach as if nothing were wrong. While several of these Jews became impressed and listened, others became even more hardened against these holy men and began a terrible persecution against them. Seizing one of them, they brought him to his martyrdom.
Yet another day they managed to seize Saint James and the remaining eleven and took them to a field outside the walls of Granada to put them to death. As had occurred so many times before, Saint James prayed to the Blessed Mother to assist them. If they were to die for her Son, then he wished that somehow he be allowed to see her before dying.
Our Lady interceeds
Back in Jerusalem, by a special gift granted to her by her Divine Son, the Holy Virgin, saw everything that was happening, and her mother’s heart went out to this devoted son who sought her help. She felt a great sorrow that she was so far away, but knowing that nothing is impossible to God, she besought her Son to allow her to aid Saint James and his friends.
Our Lord, seeing His Mother’s holy desire from heaven, commanded the angels of her guard to carry her to Spain. Immediately, one thousand angels appeared before her and, placing her on a shining throne of clouds, carried her across the sea to Granada.
All the while, Saint James and his disciples remained in great danger. The Jews already had their swords bared and ready to strike when, looking up, the Apostle beheld his beloved Queen and Mother coming on this dazzling cloud surrounded by angels. She spoke beautiful words of encouragement to this faithful son and made him understand that he and his companions were not yet to shed their blood for her Son.
At her command, their fetters and chains fell to the ground. Simultaneously, the would-be executioners fell as if dead and remained stunned for many hours. The devils that had accompanied them and incited them to this terrible deed were hurled into the deepest abysses of Hell, leaving Saint James and his friends completely free.
Saint James was filled with joy at the sight of his Queen and what she had done. He thanked her from the depth of his heart and, bowing his face to the ground, thanked God Our Lord for such a favor. Although the other disciples had not seen her and the thousand angels, they understood that a great miracle had taken place, and Saint James later told them what he had seen to increase and confirm their Faith.
Before leaving, the Most Holy Mother wished to bless Spain even further by sending Saint James all over its territory to preach the new Faith of her Son. For this she assigned hundreds of her own angels to accompany him and his disciples wherever they went, showing them the way and protecting them from every danger. In this manner, the Son of Thunder and his worthy friends traveled throughout Spain and brought about many conversions.
Eventually they entered the old city of Saragossa. There, the Mother of God came to visit Saint James once more. This came about in the following manner.
Spain honored by a second visit from the Mother of God
One day, Our Lord Jesus decided in heaven to visit His mother in her home in Jerusalem to speak with her about Saint James. While she prayed, He entered her room seated on a shining throne and surrounded by thousands of angels. He told her that He wanted her to visit Saint James in Saragossa and have him build a house of prayer in her honor so that through her He might be specially honored there.
Once again the angels built a shining throne of clouds and, placing their Queen on it, carried her over the land and sea to far away Spain. This time, however, Our Lord had commanded them to travel slowly so that along the way they might sing beautiful songs to her. Their repertoire included the “Ave Maria,” “Salve Sancta Parens,” “Salve Regina,” and “Regina coeli laetare,” chanted by various choruses of angels in the most pleasing harmony.
During this joyous celestial singing, the most humble Lady returned all this praise to God Most High: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth, have pity on the poor children of Eve. Thine is the glory, Thine the power and majesty. Thou alone art holy, the most High and the Lord of all the heavenly armies and of all creation.”
Meanwhile, Saint James was camped outside the walls of Saragossa with his disciples. He was praying by himself some distance from them when he suddenly perceived the most beautiful music he had ever heard.
The disciples, some while praying and others awakening from sleep, likewise heard this heavenly chorus, and their hearts filled with an ineffable joy. Looking up, they saw a most brilliant light forming a luminous globe. Evidently something marvelous was happening.
To his immense joy, the holy Son of Thunder once again beheld, within this brilliance, his holy Mother coming across the sky to visit him. All resplendent with the very light of God as she sat on her throne of clouds, the great Lady far outshone her angel escort.
The angels placed the throne with their Queen within sight of the Apostle who, beside himself with joy, bowed low to the earth. The loving Queen greeted him sweetly and then gave him a blessing in the name of her Son Jesus.
Our Lady of the Pillar of Saragossa
Saint James noticed that some of the angels held a small marble column and a small statue of their Queen holding the Infant God. Our Lady relayed to him the desire of her Divine Son that he build a temple on that very spot to be dedicated to her name so that, through her, Her Son might be glorified.
In His name she promised great favors and blessings to those who sincerely requested her intercession in this church, as well as her protection and assistance, “for this is to be my house and temple, my inheritance and possession.” The column and the statue were presented as a pledge of this promise: “In the temple which thou shalt build for me, it shall remain and be preserved, together with the holy faith, until the end of the world.”
She told him that he should begin building this church immediately. When it was finished, he was to return to Jerusalem where he would be called to imitate his Lord Jesus, the first of the Apostles to surrender his life for Him. She assured him that she would be there to assist him.
As she finished speaking, she ordered the angels to place the column with her statue on the ground. As soon as this was done, both the angels and Saint James gave thanks to God and celebrated this spot as the first place on earth to be dedicated to the name of Mary Most Holy for the greater glory of Almighty God.
Such was the beginning of the famous shrine of Our Lady of the Pillar of Saragossa. The original chapel built by Saint James has grown into a great church that stands today on the very site of Our Lady’s visit nearly 2000 years ago.
Our Lady guaranteed this before leaving by appointing one of her angels to guard the statue and the place against every attack of devil or man. And attack it the devil has done, throughout all these years, but that mighty angel has foiled every attempt of the infernal fiend.
So, dear reader, if you wish to see this great marvel that is, still today, the great church of Our Lady of the Pillar, the very first place dedicated to Holy Mary even as she was still on this earth, you have only to go with a sincere heart and you will certainly receive her sweet favor.
Adapted from The Mystical City of God, by Venerable Maria of Agreda, “The Coronation,” Chapters 16 and 17.