After a long day of travels from Lourdes, we finally reached Saragossa. Upon our arrival, we were greeted by Blessed William Joseph Chaminade just outside the Basilica. After scrambling for a quick bite to eat, the pilgrims assembled for a tour of the basilica. The Basilica Cathedral of the Pillar is the most important shrine in Spain. Its influence has global outreach.
A church called the "Saint Mary House" already existed in Saragossa before the Muslim invasion in 711. In 1118, the Aragonese conquered the city and made it the capital of the Kingdom of Aragon. Only the tympanum still remains from the first Romanesque church built at that time.
Tradition of the "Pillar" probably began at a later date The "Pillar" is a column of alabaster on which the Virgin Mary would have stood during an apparition to Saint James the Great in the year 40. The story of this apparition only dates back to the 13 century; the mentality of that time insisted that all the saints have a holy apparition and there is no evidence for this story. Here's an excerpt:
"Saint James the Greater heard the voices of angels who sang: ‘Hail Mary, full of grace ...' He knelt down at once, saw the Virgin Mother of Our Lord Jesus Christ between two choirs of a thousand angels standing on a marble pillar [...]. Then, the Blessed Virgin Mary called Blessed James the Apostle very softly to come to her, and said: ‘You should place the altar of the chapel near this [...] the power of the Most High will do miracles and wonders to those who call to me in need. This pillar will remain in place until the end of the world and there will always be someone in this town to venerate the name of Jesus Christ my Son.' "
In 1434, a devastating fire forced the Church authorities to destroy the church and to rebuild a Romanesque Gothic-Mudejar building, completed in 1515. The building consisted of a single nave, cloisters and a chapel housing the Pillar.
When Spain was unified, the devotion of Our Lady del Pilar spread throughout Spain. Christopher Columbus discovered America on October 12, Feast of Our Lady of the Pillar! A simple coincidence?
For us Our Lady of the Pilar is the place where Blessed Chaminade had a close experience with Our Lady and was inspired to found the Society of Mary.