To talk about Our Lady of the Pillar of Zaragoza, it’s necessary to delve into one of the earliest and most profound manifestations of faith in Spain. In the year 40, the Virgin Mary appeared to the apostle James the Great and the eight disciples accompanying him on the bank of the Ebro River, instructing them to build a church on the site. She appeared on a pillar that remained after the apparition disappeared. A church was built around this pillar, the first church dedicated to Mary in the history of Christianity. Very old works of art and written accounts contain references to the story of the apparition and to the existence of the church, which today is the site of the Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar in Zaragoza, one of the most grandiose churches in Spain.
Our Lady of the Pillar is Zaragoza’s most important and best-known festival. October 12th is the Día Grande of the Fiesta Nacional de España (National Festival of Spain) as well as International Hispanic Day. The most popular ceremony of the festival and the main attraction for visitors is the Offering of Flowers to Our Lady of the Pillar, which takes place over the course of ten hours from 7:00 in the morning until 5:00 in the evening. Thousands of people dressed in the traditional clothing of Aragon and other regions of Spain (and clothing from other parts of the world as well) make their way through the main streets of the city with bouquets of flowers that they bring to Plaza del Pilar, next to the basilica. There, the image of the Virgin presides over a huge metal structure on which the crowds hang their flowers, creating a beautiful mosaic of colors. The colored flowers are placed on the bottom while white gladiolus flowers cover the top.
Another important ceremony, although not as well-known outside of Aragon, is the Rosario de Cristal. The idea came from the first president of the Santísimo Rosario de Nuestra Señora del Pilar Confraternity, founded in 1889, who conceived a procession of the recitation of the Rosary with the faithful holding lanterns instead of the candles and banners that were previously carried.
But this festival is much more than acts of religious devotion. It is a celebration lasting several days that involves the entire city, whose inhabitants are particularly attached to their local traditions. Hundreds of local organizations celebrate the festival with group activities, taking to the streets at night dressed in the customary clothing of the region accompanied by the sound of Aragon’s traditional jotas.
The program of activities is full of ceremonies, fun events, and entertainment, including live music, theatre performances, sporting events, and bullfights. The Zaragoza Bullfighting Festival is one of the most important in Spain. Since it takes place in autumn—an especially rainy season—the city’s bullring can be covered so that bullfights can go on even in inclement weather conditions.