The Catholic Southern Front

Chapter 9/11 – The Blessed Virgin in England and Spain

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The Island of England was from early antiquity associated with the white cliffs of Dover and thus referred to as ‘Albion’ or ‘White Island.’ In ancient tales of folklore, giants were supposed to inhabit the Island and a certain Brutus visited Albion in 1200 BC, the inhabitants of Albion were, henceforth, referred to also as ‘of Brutus’ or ‘Britons.’ England received its first bishop, Saint Aristobulus, who was a Palestinian made bishop by Saint Paul. Aristobulus left the first ‘house church’ of Senator Pudens in Rome, where Peter and Paul lived, and together with Saint Timothy (grandson of the English warrior Caracticus and grandson of Senator Pudens) and Saint Eurgen, left for the British Isles to accomplish work of evangelization among the Islanders. In Christian terms, a real story of giants developed.

A pagan lived in the Roman town of Verulamium (modern day’s St Albans), and sheltered a Christian monk who was being persecuted by Diocletian’s minions. The pagan imitated the Christian, was converted to the Faith, left his habitation and was in turn persecuted and martyred. The martyr’s name was Alban and died in 303, the same year of St George’s martyrdom. Certain historical sources state that Saint Alban was martyred under Septimus Severus and date the time of his execution anywhere between the years 209 and 259. In 306, on the same Island, Constantine was proclaimed Emperor. A few Catholic writers have put forward the interrogative notion, whether it was Alban’s sacrifice, which was the price of deliverance, which brought about Constantine’s election and conversion. This notion greatly magnifies the significance of the sacrifice of one person, when considering that roughly 500,000 Christians were martyred solely in one wave of persecution during Diocletian’s reign. However, during the fifth century in England, while Pelagius was spreading his heresies, denying both the truths of Original sin and the need of God’s Grace for salvation, Saint Alban supernaturally aided Saints Lupus and Germanus to stamp out the heresy in Brutus’ Island. If another Brutus had murdered a Roman Emperor, ‘Briton’ or Brutus’ Island produced a giant Christian Roman Emperor by the name of Constantine. This fact contrasts greatly with the Englishman’s loathing of Roman authority.

Our Lady was the intercessor for the English, be they Picts, Celts, Angles, Jutes, Saxons or Normans. Throughout British history she was invoked for the conversions of the invaders, the Royalty and the people of the Great Isles. In 63 AD, Saint Philip sent Saint Joseph of Arimathea and another twelve companions to Britain. Saint Joseph of Arimathea was said to be the Blessed Virgin’s uncle and in Britain constructed a small wattle chapel in 63-64 AD, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. A handful of Christians evangelized the Celtic English and Glastonbury was the Christian base in England. This small wattle chapel was the: “…first chapel dedicated to the Blessed Mother”(1) in England. This wattle chapel later became the ‘Yniswitrin of the Arthurian cycle’ and today known as the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey in Somerset, the South West of England. In the late sixth century, the historical figure of the legendary King Arthur, showed a great devotion to Our Lady and in legend was said of having been a descendent of St. Joseph of Arimathea. Proving the existence of this mythical figure was the discovery of Arthur’s tomb by Gerald of Wales, in the twelfth century in Glastonbury. King Arthur fought many battles against the Saxons, who progressively invaded and settled in England. It is recorded that he nurtured a devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, which might have originated in the following manner. A Chapel dedicated to Saint Magdalene and later to Saint Brigit was constructed at Glastonbury. King Arthur was on one occasion living at Wearyall and experienced a recurring dream where he was admonished to visit the chapel. As Arthur did not visit the chapel immediately, his squire also experienced a dream whereby he entered the same chapel, stole a candlestick and received a mortal blow for the theft. The squire awoke in pain, discovering to his horror that both the candlestick and the blow were real. He died and in memory of the event, the candlestick was placed either in Saint Paul’s Cathedral or Westminster Abbey. King Arthur visited the chapel alone and witnessed the Blessed Virgin offering her infant Son to a priest for Holy Sacrifice. Evidently this represented the ultimate Sacrifice of Our Lord’s death upon the Cross for the redemption of mankind. It also parallels our contemprory understanding of Divine Mercy as described by Saint Sister Faustina Kowalska of the Sisters of Mercy in Krakow, Poland. The Blessed Virgin was offering His sorrowful Passion (For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have Mercy on us oh Lord) to draw the graces needed for her bestowing and dispensing upon humanity, the English part of humanity.

 The Virgin presented Arthur with a crystal cross, who returned the kind gesture by replacing his coat of arms with a silver cross and the image of the Virgin and Child upon the right side. In later years the monks at Glastonbury Abbey adopted King Arthur’s coat of arms. King Arthur was the Abbey’s greatest benefactor, giving alms and supporting the monks. More than any other place of worship, he loved the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God in Glastonbury. His devotion to her was shown especially in the battlefield. Arthur carried a full length portrait of the Blessed Virgin, painted on the back of his shield, in the heat of the battle he could always gaze upon her and when close to the enemy, he kissed her feet devoutly. The Blessed Virgin’s assistance against the Saxons was granted. Following the Battle of Camlan, Arthur received numerous wounds; a female ruler called Morgana (sister?), who hoped to heal Arthur, carried him off. King Arthur died and was buried alongside his wife in a secret location, a place that the Germanic Saxons would never discover.

The Christian Celts were not interested at evangelizing the heathen Saxons. When Pope Saint Gregory the Great 540-604, saw a fair haired youth in a slave market, he inquired from where had the youth originated and His Holiness, the Roman Pontiff said: “Non Angli sed Angeli or Not Angles, but angels: de ira Dei (from the wrath of God) they shall be saved.”(2) In 597, on the first opportunity the Pontiff sent the Roman monk Saint Augustine to convert Kent, and Augustine became the first Archbishop of Canterbury. His appointment followed the conversions of King Ethelbert and Queen Bertha of Kent; Bede in his ‘Conversion of Edwin’ recounts this event. However, in the year 600 Augustine wrote to Pope Gregory, commenting on the fact that at Glastonbury he had: “…found a church constructed by no human art, and by the hand of Christ Himself, and for the salvation of his people. The Almighty has made it manifest by many miracles and mysterious visitations that He continues to watch over it as sacred to Himself, and to Mary, the Mother of God.”(3) In fact the Charter by Henry I (1185) for rebuilding Glastonbury, revealed that Glastonbury is: “The mother and burying-place of the saints, founded by the very disciples of our Lord.”(4) Within ‘The History of Melchin,’ c. 560, there is written: “The disciples… died in succession and were buried in the cemetery. Among them, Joseph of Marmoure, named of Arimathea, received perpetual sleep, and he lies in linea bifurcata near the south corner of the oratorio, which is built of hurdles.”(5) In 530, Saint David of Menevia consecrated a chapel to Our Lady, on the East Side of the church. As a sign of deep veneration he adorned the golden altar with a sapphire of inestimable value which was received from the Patriarch of Jerusalem. It was called the Great Sapphire of Glastonbury. The Irish Saint Aiden, a monk from Scotland who founded the Monastery of Lindisfarne, evangelized Northumbria. Other saints such as Saint Cedd, Saint Chad, Saint Cuthbert and Saint Wilfred, evangelized the Saxons.

The Silver Chapel of Our Lady was stored with costly gifts and King Athelstan and King Edgar the Peaceable, both performed pilgrimages to the Shrine. King Edgar the Peaceable placed his scepter on the Blessed Virgin’s altar and solemnly committed his kingdom under her patronage. King Ina of Wessex (689-728) built the Chapel of Saints Peter and Paul, while the abbot Saint Dunstan (940-957) established the rule of Saint Benedict at Glastonbury. Being previously conquered by the Caesars of pagan Rome, the Celts had (even then) the inborn antipathy against anything Roman (reminiscent of the pagan Roman conquerors) and the protestors were keen on having an autonomous Church. However, the Synod of Whitby in 664, ruled out against the Celtic Christian autonomous traditions and Oswiu King of Northumbria imperatively desired to stand by “the Roman Keybearer,”(6) the successor of Saint Peter in Rome. In those days the veneration of Our Lady was common place amongst the English. Aldhelm and Alcuin sang her praises in Latin, Cynewulf in Anglo-Saxon. A tenth century litany bears the following invocations to Our Lady the Blessed Virgin Mary in Latin.

Holy Queen of the World,

Holy Saviouress of the World,

Holy Redemptress of the World,

Pray for us.(7)

 

 

*****

 

Saint James preached in the lands of Spain and at Zaragoza beheld a vision of the Blessed Virgin standing on a marble pillar and bidding him to erect in her honor, a church on that site. The cathedral became the center of pilgrimages for the Aragonese. While Our Lady was still in Ephesus, the Lord her Son, appeared asking her to visit Saint James and to bid him return to Jerusalem where he was to be martyred. Angels bore her up and took her to James in Zaragoza. Saint James the Greater was spreading the gospel, but was displeased at his little progress in Spain. Our Lady’s apparition to the Apostle, coincided with this moment of dejection and questioning. After encouraging the saint, she conferred to Saint James her invitation for martyrdom; the pillar of marble and an Image said to be made by the angels, were left and eventually placed on the altar of the constructed chapel. According to Saint Mary Agreda in, ‘The City of God,’ the above mentioned events occurred when Our Lady was fifty-four years old. The Virgin’s Assumption took place when she was sixty-seven years, therefore, the devotion to ‘Our Lady El Pilar’ in Zaragoza started well before the Assumption of Our Lady into heaven.

Saint James was martyred in Jerusalem and his followers removed his corpse to Spain intending to bury him in an old Roman cemetery. The Spanish pagan Queen refused to inhume him in the region’s cemetery, following her experiences of miraculous phenomena, she permitted his burial. In 844, Saint James appeared in the sky at the Battle of Clavijo. Witnesses saw the saint riding a white horse and killing Moors by the thousands, this earned him the title of ‘Saint James the Moorslayer.’ Along with the Blessed Virgin’s Holy Name, Catholic troops in battle invoked Saint James’s name for protection. The Umayyad Empire was expanding and in 711, the Islamic conquest of the Iberian Peninsula commenced, by the defeat of the Visigoth Christian King Roderick of Spain at Rio Barbate. A nobleman named Don Pelayo, who succeeded at expelling Munuza, the Moorish Emir from the district, reconquered the province of Asturias. The nobleman was proclaimed King and established the Dynasty of the Asturias in Spain. The King attributed the victory to the aid granted by the Madonna at Covadonga. The initiating factor of a second Spanish Royal Dynasty is therefore attributed to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

In the beginning of the eight century Spanish Visigoth King Vitiza murdered the Duke of Fafila and captured his son Pelayo. When Vitiza died, a certain Rodrigo Duke of Betica proclaimed himslef King. Vitiza’s sons sensing the betrayal of the people sent messengers across the Sea to Africa revealing Spain’s weak points of defense, this enabled an Islamic invasion. In 711, the African Tariff Bem Zijad won successfully the Southern Spanish regions for Islam. At the Battle of Guadalete, King Rodrigo and his forces were defeated by a combined army under Tariff Bem Zijad and Vitiza’s sons. Pelayo fought in this battle against Rodrigo. However, the Moors became ever more powerful and the African Governor himself crossed to Spain to conquer further Spanish territories. During this time a certain Moor by the name of Munuza desired to take Pelayo’s sister as his wife, Pelayo opposed this union and was arrested. Pelayo succeeded at setting himself free and together with a handful of his followers sought refuge in the mountains of the Cantarbrian region. During one particular incident, Don Pelayo chased a troublemaker up a mountain side and into a cave. He found the troublemaker clinging to a hermit beside an image of Our Lady. The hermit asked Pelayo to forgive the transgressor, as Pelayo forgave him the hermit said that Our Lady would bless him for this and placed a cross in his hand saying, “Behold the sign of victory.”

In 721, after having experienced a defeat at the Battle of Toulouse at the hands of Odo of Equitane, the Moors returned from France and desired to consolidate themselves at Covadonga before attempting another invasion of the French territory. Nevertheless, the local resistance under Pelayo in Spain was proving to be a menace and destroying Pelayo’s stronghold was high on their agenda. As the Islamists under the command of Alqama overran his territory, Pelayo organised his men on the mountains, he himself occupied the hermit’s cave. The Commander sent messengers to Pelayo to induce him into surrendering. He also sent Don Opas, Bishop of Seville and relative of Pelayo to convince him on the futility of his resistance. Pelayo replied that the Church of Christ was like the moon which grew once again after being eclipsed, he trusted his 105 Goths in the hands of Our Lady who would multiply (their strength) like seeds from a tiny grain of mustard. Don Pelayo refused and Alqama ordered his best troops to crush the ‘rebels.’ In the cave Don Pelayo spent nights in prayer and vowed to win a victory against the Moors or perish and begged for the Virgin’s assistance. For his noble action, the hermit prophesied that the Virgin would assist Pelayo and his troops, granting great triumphs in his lifetime. The hordes of the Moorish Emir arrived in the valley below Covadonga together with their weapons of war. Arrows darkened the skies. To their surprise, the Islamists realized that their projectiles merely bounced off the rocks, causing no injury to Pelayo’s men. Pelayo’s 105 strong guerilla army, or ‘wild donkeys’ as the Islamic chronicles would describe them, descended into the valley and slaughtered the Moors at the Cangas valley. The Commander Alqama fell to the Spanish blows and on beholding this, his warriors fled. The villagers of the Asturias emerged with their agricultural tools and cut down the fleeing Moors. It is reported that a rainstorm caused the Deva River to overflow and a mudslide crushed many, finishing the enemy who had not been killed by the villagers. The Emir Munuza gathered his force and met Pelayo near Proaza; he was defeated and perished in battle at Oviedo.

The Battle of Covadonga fought in the mountains of the ‘Picos de Europa,’ was the first victory waged against the Islamic invasion, which had threatened the Ostro/Visigoth Kingdom in Spain. The victory is attributed to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin, who is remembered at this site even in our modern day. The Kingdom of Asturias established by Don Pelayo, received its first new King in accordance with the Visigothic tradition by election. He returned to the cave where he thanked the Blessed Virgin, pledging fidelity to ever defend the Cross against the invading Islamic warriors. King Pelayo died in the year 737. The ‘Madonna of Covadonga,’ who evidently granted the victory by her intercession, became known throughout Catholic Spain as ‘Our Lady of Battles.’ It is right to point out that peace between Muslims and Christians is possible, however Christian lands have rightly, throughout history, been protected from the ‘more’ aggressive Islamic warrior or warmonger. Our Lady is the Queen and Mother of all mankind.

In 1989, while Pope John Paul II was on pilgrimage to the Shrine of Santiago de Compostella, he stopped at Covadonga. There, His Holiness said, “Covadonga is one of the foundation stones of Europe. It is why, in my pilgrimage to Compostella, to the sources of Christian Europe, I confidently lay at the feet of the Madonna of Covadonga, the project of a Europe that has not rejected the Christian roots from which it grew.”(8) September 8 is reserved for the Feast of Our Lady of Covadonga, which is the annual holiday of the region. The Feast of ‘Our Lady’s Nativity’ or the ‘Birth of the Blessed Virgin,’ is also celebrated universally on September 8. The celebration of this feast began in Jerusalem and in the seventh century in Rome (Byzantine Rite). This feast is today celebrated on September 8 in the Syriac Rite and on September 7 in the Coptic Rite. September 8 is also reserved for the Feasts of Our Lady of Meritxell and Our Lady of Charity. On September 8, 2001, the Feast Day of ‘Our Lady’s Nativity’ and of ‘Our Lady of Covadonga,’ 15,000 modern day pilgrims, including the Prince of Asturias, Don Felipe de Borbón and several hundred civil, religious and military dignitaries, visited an exhibit in commemoration of the centenary of the completion and Consecration of the Basilica of Our Lady of Covadonga. Pope John Paul II also referred to ‘Our Lady El Pilar’ as the ‘Mother of the Hispanic People.’ The Feast of Our Lady of the Pillar is celebrated every year in Spain on October 12, the eve of the future ‘miracle of the sun’ at Fatima. The Shrine of Our Lady of the Pillar survived the bombing of Zaragoza during the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War.

 

 

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