Our Lady of the Pillar (officially in Spanish, Nuestra Señora del Pilar de Zaragoza,) is recognized as the first Marian apparition in the history of Christianity and is the only one that happened while the Virgin Mary was still alive.

Although it was technically a bilocation of Our Lady, because she was living with John the Apostle in Jerusalem, it is still regarded as an apparition by the tradition of the Church.

According to tradition, James the Greater, brother of Saint John the Evangelist, traveled with great effort to Roman Hispania (modern-day Spain) to evangelize the local tribes.  

He not only confronted great difficulties but he also saw very little apostolic fruits of conversion. Tradition says that when he was at his lowest point of discouragement, in A.D. 40, while he was sitting by the banks of the Ebro river in Zaragoza (back then known as Caesaraugusta) Mary appeared to him accompanied by thousands of angels, to console and encourage him.  

The Virgin Mary, with the Child Jesus in her arms and standing on a pillar, asked Saint James and his eight disciples to build a church on the site, 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.”

Apparition of our Lady of the Pillar by Goya. Public Domain
Apparition of our Lady of the Pillar by Goya. Public Domain

The church of Our Lady of the Pillar in Zaragoza, is the first church dedicated to Mary in history and it remains standing to this day, having survived invasions and wars. 

During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) the Communists dropped three bombs on the church from an airplane, the bombs tore through the roof and hit the floor, but none of them exploded. The three now deactivated bombs are currently on display in one of the Basilica’s walls. 

Our Lady is also said to have given the small wooden statue of the apparition to Saint James, which now stands on the pillar she arrived on.

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The wooden statue is a relatively simple image 15 inches high, standing on a jasper pillar 5.9 feet tall. But the crown adorning her head is a masterpiece. It was made in 44 days by 33 workmen. The sun-like crown is made of 2,836 diamonds cut triangularly, 2725 roses, 145 pearls, 74 emeralds, 62 rubies and 46 sapphires. The crown of the baby Jesus is identical in shape although not in size.

The Basilica was redesigned and expanded several times during its history. The current structure was completed in the 17th century, includes 11 brightly colored tiled domes, and is the second biggest church in Spain.

Nuestra Señora del Pilar is not only the patroness of Spain, but also of all Hispanic peoples since it was on Oct. 12, 1492, the feast of Our Lady of the Pillar, that Christopher Columbus arrived at American land and the first Mass in the Americas was celebrated.