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de Nuestra Señora del Pilar, Zaragoza, Spain
de Nuestra Señora del Pilar, Zaragoza, Spain.
Archdiocese of Zaragoza.
A large Baroque style basilica that was built in the 16th century
to replace the original cathedral, which was badly damaged by
battles during the medieval period and finally destroyed by
fire. There has been a shrine church on the site of the present-day
basilica since AD44. Many of the basilica’s domes and spires
on the roof were not fully completed until the early 20th century.
Inside, the basilica has a nave and two aisles, and many of
the ceiling vaults were painted by Spanish artist Francisco
Goya. Near the west entrance is the quire and the magnificent
organ by the world-renowned Johannes Klais Orgelbau of Bonn,
Germany (which, alas, remained silent). The high altar, where
pontifical mass is celebrated on Sundays and feast days, is
Gothic in design. There are numerous chapels within the basilica,
but in the east end, beyond the high altar, is La Santa Capilla
(the Holy Chapel) which houses the shrine of Our Lady of the
Pillar, and where low mass is celebrated frequently during the
day and evening on weekdays.
One of the world’s most important Marian shrines, Our Lady of
the Pillar is venerated throughout the Hispanic world. According
to legend, St James the Apostle came to Spain to spread the
gospel. When he reached Zaragoza, he was very disheartened to
find that the people there did not want to know. As he sat crying
on the banks of the River Ebro, the Virgin Mary came to him
carried by angels on a pillar of jasper. She told him to build
a shrine to her, and gave him the pillar of jasper and a wooden
statue of herself to place on top of it. St James duly built
the shrine, and his campaign to evangelise Spain was successful.
Zaragoza is probably the only city and archdiocese I have heard
of that boasts two cathedrals, both within a stone’s throw of
each other: The Basilica del Pilar and La Seo (literally "the
See" in the Aragonese dialect). Both buildings share co-cathedral
status in the archdiocese. The Basilica del Pilar is situated
on the banks of the River Ebro in the old quarter, or Casco
Antiguo. Outside the basilica is the large pedestrianised Plaza
del Pilar, where various other historic buildings are situated,
including La Seo, the archbishop’s palace, and La Lonja (the
medieval silk exchange, now a museum and gallery). On the opposite
side of the plaza are the obligatory tacky souvenir shops, as
well as bars and restaurants. The plaza is the most visited
and touristy place in the city, although most of the tourists
are Spaniards from other parts of Spain, as well as French and
An unnamed priest.
The date & time:
Wednesday, 23 February 2011, 7.00pm.
What was the name of the service?
Misa en la Santa Capilla (Mass in the Holy Chapel).
How full was the building?
It was full of tourists wandering around, as well as pilgrims
praying, lighting candles and venerating the Holy Pillar. About
20 or 30 or so people attended the mass, although it was hard
to keep count of them. Not everyone stayed until the end of
mass, whilst others drifted in half-way through and then drifted
Did anyone welcome you personally?
No. No one took much notice of anyone else.
Was your pew comfortable?
Fairly. It was a long wooden pew, although the hard wooden kneeler
How would you describe the pre-service
It was disappointingly and annoyingly noisy. There were lots
of tourists walking around the basilica chattering loudly, mobile
phones jangling, and I even spotted a few people having loud
mobile phone conversations. All this despite the signs asking
visitors to keep silence and respect the dignity of the place.
What were the exact opening words of the
The priest speaking in Spanish asked a group of children – they
might have been catechumens preparing for their first communion
– to come forward and help him put the manta or cape
on Our Lady of Pillar. As they did this, the priest said a prayer
invoking her aid and blessing on the people of the city of Zaragoza.
What books did the congregation use during the
What musical instruments were played?
None. I would love to have heard the organ being played, although
for the entirety of my four day stay in Zaragoza, there were
no organ recitals in the basilica.
Did anything distract
People wielding enormous cameras and camcorders barged between
the pews of worshippers and pilgrims during the mass as they
tried to take pictures and videos of Our Lady of the Pillar
from all different angles. I have no problem with this before
or after the mass, and indeed I took pictures myself, but I
think being so intrusive during the mass is going a little too
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
Formal low mass in modern Spanish, said as the priest faced
Exactly how long was the sermon?
There was no sermon.
Which part of the service
was like being in heaven?
The beauty of the building, the children being invited to help
place the manta on Our Lady, and the devotion of many
of the faithful who came to kiss and venerate the Holy Pillar.
I think the whole experience might have meant more to me if
I were Spanish or from Zaragoza.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
It annoyed me a lot that so many people behaved so inconsiderately with their talking and photographing in such as holy and historic place.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I went to look for a priest to bless a rosary I had bought for
a friend’s baby’s baptism. I found a priest sitting in an office
in a side-room off one of the chapels, and he looked up and
smiled as I approached. He was very friendly and chatty, complimented
me on my Spanish (well, sort of), and asked me if I was enjoying
my stay. He added that they get very few British tourists; I
wondered if he meant that as a good thing or a bad thing. Back
out in the nave, however, I don’t think there was much chance
of looking lost, as there were so many transient visitors to
the basilica milling around, and no one took much notice of
anyone else anyway.
How would you describe the after-service
There was none, but the streets immediately off the plaza are
famous for their excellent tapas bars, where I enjoyed
a couple of local delicacies with a glass of Rioja!
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 I would like to attend mass on the feast day of Our
Lady of the Pillar, which I have heard is spectacular, as they
really push the boat out and make it a week long celebration
with religious services led by the archbishop; choral services,
and religious processions and street fairs in the Plaza del
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The beauty of this historic building.
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