Two Into One Will Go

Yesterday, October 12th was a national holiday in Spain; in fact it was two national holidays. El Día de la Hispanidad commemorates the day in 1492 on which Christopher Columbus reached the American continent (which he mistook for India), and celebrates the whole of the Hispanic world. At least people in Spain celebrate. The indigenous peoples of the Americas have more to rue than to applaud about the consequences of that day. Indeed, a couple of days ago I saw a ‘postcard’ online that appealed to me; “Let’s celebrate Columbus Day,” it said, “by walking into someone’s house and saying, ‘I live here now’”. But October 12th is also celebrated in Spain as El Día de Nuestra Señora del Pilar, (The Feast of the Virgin of the Pillar), a strange title that sent me digging around in Wikipedia. I was speculating recently on when Christianity arrived in the Iberian Peninsula, and conclude that it was probably within 25 years of the death of Jesus. According to the legend surrounding this manifestation of the Virgin Mary, it was even earlier - almost immediately after his death. Tradition says that on January 2nd AD 40, Mary appeared in bodily form (i.e before her Assumption into Heaven) to St James the Great (the apostle, brother of St John, who was later to be buried at what is now Santiago de Compostela) and the first seven converts in the city of Caesaraugusta (present-day Zaragoza). As a memorial of her appearance, it is said, she left behind a column of jasper. James and the others built an adobe shrine at the spot on the banks of the Ebro. Whilst Santiago went on to be declared the patron saint of Spain,Nuestra Señora del Pilar was later adopted as patron by the Spanish armed forces and the Guardia Civil.

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