The First Marian Apparition: Our Lady of the Pillar

Did you know that the first Marian apparition occurred while the Blessed Virgin Mary was still living in Jerusalem?
In the earliest days of Christianity, the Apostles of Jesus spread the Gospel throughout the known world. St. James the Greater, one of the original twelve Apostles, traveled to Roman Hispania, which is now Spain. James and his older brother John were called by Jesus while fishing in the Lake of Gennesaret. In the Gospels, we learn James was with Jesus both at the Transfiguration and during his Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.
According to ancient tradition, St. James journeyed first to Galicia and established a fledgling Christian community, and then later settled in the Roman city of Cesar Augusto, which is today the city of Zaragoza, Spain. In those early days, St. James encountered much difficulty and resistance.
On January 2nd in the year 40 A.D., St. James had gone to the banks of the Egro river to pray and rest. From the shore, he and his disciples began to hear beautiful singing, and then the sky filled up with light. Angels appeared to them, escorting the Blessed Virgin Mary. St. James was astonished, as he knew that the Mother of God was living in Jerusalem at this time.
Our Lady of the Pillar
The Blessed Virgin first consoled and encouraged him and then asked St. James to build a sanctuary to honor and glorify God. She presented him with a pillar, carved with her image, which was to become a part of the sanctuary. She said that she would bless all the prayers offered devoutly in this sacred chapel. At the end of this apparition, Our Lady told St. James that once the sanctuary was complete, he should return to Jerusalem and that soon afterward, he would be martyred.
St. James began construction immediately and soon established what would become the first Christian church in Spain. After its completion, St. James returned to Palestine. In a few short years, he faced a campaign of Christian persecution in Jerusalem during the reign of Herod Agrippa. He was arrested, and on March 25th of 44 A.D., St. James was beheaded. His disciples recovered his body and secretly returned it to Galicia.
Throughout history, this first church in Spain became a site of great reverence and the destination of thousands of pilgrims. The apparition is known in Spain as Nuestra Señora del Pilar. The humble sanctuary of St. James has become the Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar in Zaragoza, Spain where that sacred pillar is venerated today.
Image: St. James and his disciples adoring Our Lady of the Pillar, painting by Goya (c. 1775–1780).