The Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar (better known simply as El Pilar) is one of two major cathedrals in the heart of Zaragoza, Spain. It is an important pilgrimage site, thanks to an ancient pillar said to have been given by the Virgin Mary to Saint James on this very spot.
History of El Pilar Basilica
According to local legend, in 40 AD the apostle Saint James the Greater was praying on the banks of the Ebro River in Zaragoza (then the Roman town of Caesar Augusta) when the Virgin Mary appeared to him. She was still living in Jerusalem at the time; this is her only reported apparition prior to her Assumption.
The Virgin gave James a small statue of herself and a pillar made of jasper, and instructed him to build a church called Our Lady of the Pillar. As instructed, Saint James built a small chapel on the spot, which would make it the first church dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
Many churches were subsequently built on the site, each one more impressive than the last. Today's version was designed in 1681 by Felipe Sánchez y Herrera but significantly remodeled in the 18th century by Ventura Rodríguez. The towers were finally finished in the early 20th century.
El Pilar has received many distinguished pilgrims over the centuries, including Saints Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross and Ignatius Loyola, as well as virtually all the kings and queens of Spain. Pope John Paul II visited in 1982. It has also become a tradition for Spanish children to make a pilgrimage to El Pilar at the time of their first communion.
Today, Our Lady of the Pillar is the second-most visited pilgrimage destinatination in Spain after Santiago de Compostela (also associated with St. James). Thousands of pilgrims come every year to kiss the small statue given by the Virgin herself, and the El Pilar Festival is one of the most popular in Spain.
What to See at El Pilar Basilica
Inside there are a number of artworks, but the star attraction is the famous statue of Our Lady of the Pillar, located in the Holy Chapel. Made of wood and standing only 15 inches tall, is located near the center of the basilica in a glittering shrine. There is an opening behind the statue allowing pilgrims to kiss it. The cupola of the Holy Chapel was frescoed by Francisco de Goya.
The Museo del Pilar houses the jewelry used to adorn the Pilar statue as well as sketches by Goya and other artworks.
Festivals and Events
The Fiestas del Pilar are held annually in honor of the Zaragoza's patron saint, the Virgin of the Pillar. Festivities begin on the Saturday before October 12 and run for nine days.
During the festival, large quantities of flowers and fruit are brought to the Virgin's shrine in the basilica, while the streets are filled with processions, street performers, music and dancing. Bullfights and theater performances are also held. Book accommodation early during the festival: the city's population triples during this period!
Quick Facts on El Pilar Basilica
|Names:||Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar · El Pilar Basilica|
|Dedication:||Virgin Mary (of the Pillar)|
|Dates:||17th, 18th C|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||41.656992° N, 0.878509° W|
|Address:||Plaza de las Catedrales|
|Hours:||Cathedral: Tue-Sun 7am-8:30pm|
Museum: daily 9am-2pm, 4-6pm
|Lodging:||View hotels near El Pilar Basilica|
- Catholic Shrines of Western Europe, 212-14.
- Sacred Places of a Lifetime, 308.
- Review of Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar - Frommers.com
- Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar - LonelyPlanet.com
- Fiestas del Pilar - official website
- Photos of El Pilar Basilica - here on Sacred Destinations
Map of El Pilar Basilica, Zaragoza
Below is a location map and aerial view of El Pilar Basilica. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.