On October 12, the Church celebrates the feast of Nuestra Señora del Pilar, or Our Lady of the Pillar.
The first Marian apparition in history appeared to St. James the apostle, the brother of St. John the Evangelist, at the river Ebro in Saragossa, Spain. Unlike every other recorded apparition of Mary, this one occurred during her life on earth.
According to tradition, Mary promised James that when he needed it most, as he brought the Gospel to the pagans in what is now Spain, she would appear to him to encourage him.
In the year 40 AD, while he prayed on the riverbank, James saw the Virgin Mary, with the Child Jesus, standing o a pillar. She asked James and his eight disciples to build a church on the site, and promised 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.”
The church they built, Our Lady of the Pilar in Zaragoza, is the first church dedicated to Mary in history. It stands to this day, having survived invasions and war. In the Spanish Civil war of 1936-1939, three bombs were dropped on the church, but none of them exploded.
Our Lady is also said to have given a small wooden statue of the apparition to James, which now stands in a pillar in the church.
Nuestra Señora del Pilar is the patron of Spain and of all Hispanic peoples. On her feast day in 1492, Christopher Columbus first sighted American land, and the first Mass was celebrated in the Americas.