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Visit of Bishop of Gibraltar ro All Saints' Church 2000 PDF Print E-mail


Visit of Bishop of Gibraltar to All Saints' Church 2000

All Saints' Church, Ballymena had a visit from a group of Gibraltarians, led by their Bishop, Monsignor Charles Caruana. All the members of the group, including the Bishop, had spent time in Northern Ireland as evacuees. They had come to thank our people for kindness shown to them at that time. They presented the parish with a beautiful statue of Our Lady of Europe.

In Gibraltar the 'Shrine of Our Lady of Europe' has a long and interesting history. During a brief Spanish occupation of Gibraltar 1309-1333, the first mention of a Christian Shrine was recorded.

Historical notes on the Shrine of Our Lady of Europe


The Iberian Peninsula was invaded and occupied by the Moors from Africa. The first Moorish tribes came in 710 to spy out the land. Tarik Abu-Zara landed at the most southerly part of Europe, the area was called Tarifa in his honour.

In April 711, thousands of wild tribesmen under Tarik ibn Zeyad, scrambled ashore on or near the Rock and renamed it Jebel-Tarik, mountain of Tarik.

Between the years 742 and 1300 they had already built what is now known as the Moorish Castle. At the southernmost tip of the rock close to the sea, they built a mosque, a place of Islamic prayer. They lived in Gibraltar until 1309, when they were expelled from Europe.

There is historical evidence to corroborate the belief that the mosque was built before 1309. It is known that already at that early date, during a brief Spanish occupation (1309-1333) the mosque was used as a Christian shrine.

During 1333 Gibraltar was again occupied by the Moors and they remained here until they were finally expelled in 1462.

On 20th August 1462, on St. Bernard of Clairvaux's feastday, the Spaniards under Don Rodrigo Ponce de Leon recaptured Gibraltar from the Moors and expelled them once and for all. They found this little mosque and soon it was converted into a Christian shrine in honour of Our Lady as Patroness of Europe, with devout intention of consecrating to God, through Mary, the whole continent, from a place of prayer and worship at its southernmost point.

The Spaniards built a large chapel at right angles to the mosque's east wall and the whole area became the Shrine of Our Lady of Europe.

A statue of the Virgin and Child was installed in this shrine. The statue was quite small, only two feet in height, carved in wood and polychromed in royal red, blue and gold. The Virgin was seated in a simple chair, with the Child Jesus on her lap. Both were crowned and the Virgin held in her right hand a sceptre with three flowers denoting Love, Truth and Justice. The shrine prospered in fame and popularity, for well over two centuries. Ships passing through the Strait saluted Our Lady as they passed Europa Point and mariners often came ashore with gifts to the shrine. Provisions were made by them for a constant supply of oil so that a light could be kept burning not only in front of the image but also in the tower. We read of special favours and graces being granted to people who invoked her name.

Gibraltar suffered many raids during these years by Turkish pirates. The most notorious took place on 10th September 1540. The Turkish corsair Hali Hamat, one of Barbarossa's captains, guided by an Italian renegade called Caramanli, sacked the shrine and robbed it of all its valuables. They moved down to the town capturing many captives and tried to enter the Cathedral, which was well defended by a priest called Francisco Saavedra. The pirates set sail with their treasures and captives but were intercepted by the Spanish fleet under the command of Bernardino Mendoza and were defeated near Cartagena. Caramanli was killed in this battle. This incident led to the hermit who lived at the shrine to write to the King of Spain, Charles V, asking him to do something to protect the shrine. Charles V did nothing but his son, Philip II, had high walls erected around it. The shrine was used as a refuge whenever there was trouble in the town.

Portillo the Spanish historian of the 17th century gives evidence in his books of the many miracles that occurred at the shrine and how beautiful and richly endowed it was. Father Jerónimo de la Concepción who wrote a book on Our Lady of Europe also mentions the miracles.

In 1568 Giovanni Andrea Doria, son of the great Genoese sailor presented a beautiful silver lamp to the shrine. Don Juan de Austria, brother of Philip II, also presented two massive silver lamps to the shrine after winning the battle of Lepanto.

The small building was clearly painted in one of Don Luis Bravo's drawings. He had come to Gibraltar in 1627 to prepare a report for the Courts of Spain, showing the existing fortifications and buildings of the town.

On the 4th August 1704 Gibraltar was captured by the British fleet under Admiral Rooke. The shrine was stripped of all its valuables by the marines. The statue of the Virgin and Child was mutilated and flung onto the rocks below, but being made of wood it floated out to sea. The pieces were found by a fisherman, who took them to father Juan Romero de Figueroa, the priest in charge at the Cathedral. This priest took the pieces of the statue to Algeciras for safekeeping.

The shrine itself now ceased to be a place of worship. During the Great Siege of 1779-1783 the shrine was badly damaged and consequently the Spanish extension was demolished. The people of Gibraltar always sought the return of the statue, so a replica was made. The statue was decorated by the people with all kinds of precious jewels. The statue was taken to the Cathedral. It still reveals the numerous tiny holes that held the gems in position around the neck of Our Lady.

A guild of devotees to Our Lady of Europe was formed. Their main aims were to encourage devotion to Our Lady, organise pilgrimages and also the care of the poor. They provided funds to bury those who died without any money for a Christian burial.

In 1779 during the Great Siege, Father Mesa, seeing that the Cathedral was on fire, took the statue image to Windmill Hill Flats where the people had taken refuge.

The image was received with great signs of joy. It was housed in a little chapel they had there. When the siege ended the image of Our Lady was brought back to the main altar in the Cathedral, where it remained until 1932, when it was taken to the sacristy. The image saw the light again forty years later in 1973, when it presided at the altar in the R.A.F. hanger where Monsignor Rapallo was ordained bishop. Meanwhile the original statue of Our Lady of Europe, remained in Algeciras until May 1864, when Bishop Scandella, with the help of Pope Pius IX, received permission to recover the image to Gibraltar. On the day it was brought back the army lined the route of the procession from Waterport to the Franciscan Convent, opposite the present Government House. A copy of the statue was left in Algeciras.

During the First Vatican Council, Bishop Scandella succeeded in winning the Pope's enthusiastic interest for the shrine of Our Lady of Europe and he offered to help build a temporary chapel. This was completed by May 1866. It stood in what is now Mount Alvernia, (the old people's home), in St Bernard's Road. The Pope donated the marble for the altar. The front piece of the altar depicted the coat of arms of Pope Pius IX and Bishop Scandella's, together with a monogram of Our Lady. During the war in 1939 the image was transferred to the Cathedral for safekeeping.

Meanwhile the shrine had been used as an army storehouse for oil and packing cases. In 1910, E.R. Kenyon describes the shrine, in one of his books about Gibraltar, as "an ugly only little building which stands among the army barracks." Later the shrine became an army guardroom. The whipping post outside the shrine dates from this period. There are records that in 1928 it was used as a library for the garrison stationed in Gibraltar. In 1939 during the Second World War it again became a store.

During the Marian Year in 1954, on the evening of Sunday 15th August, the Feast of the Assumption, a torch-lit procession took place and the image of Our Lady was moved from the Cathedral to St Joseph's Church, the nearest parish church to the shrine.

By 1959 the military authorities had no use for the building and they decided to demolish it. However it was saved from demolition and was declared an ancient monument and so preserved. From then on the Church authorities worked to promote devotion to Our Lady of Europe and so prepare the way for installing the statue again at the shrine.

The keys of the building, which was in a very dilapidated state, were given to Bishop Healy on the 17th October 1961, at a private ceremony in the shrine. The work of restoration began in 1962. On 28th September in this same year Bishop Healy celebrated the first Mass at the shrine after 258 years, it was on the eve of his departure for Rome to attend the Second Vatican Council. The first Baptism was held in November 1966 and the first wedding was celebrated in July 1976.

On the 7th October 1968 came the triumphant moment when Bishop Healy was able to restore the statue of Our Lady to the shrine. It was brought in public procession from St Joseph's Church.

During 1973 the renovation of the shrine started. An extension was made to the chapel, a new altar and a pedestal for the image were made from the original marble donated by Pope Pius IX. When the existing canopy entrance, between the two large buttresses, was being constructed the workers discovered that another doorway had been there. It was the original entrance to the shrine at the foot of the tower. During the restoration work, the image was taken to Mount Alvernia, where it remained till the 14th February 1974.

To the joy of the Gibraltarians, the preamble to the New Constitution, stating that Gibraltar would never be handed to Spain or to any other nation without an Act of Parliament and without the people's consent, was published on the feast of Our Lady of Europe, 30th May 1969. This same year a hymn to Our Lady of Europe was written and composed by Sr J. Imossi. In 1979 Pope John Paul II officially approved the title of Our Lady of Europe as Patroness of Gibraltar and the transfer of her feastday to the 5th May, which was also Europe day.

The shrine was consecrated by Bishop Rapallo on the 5th October 1980. A commemorative postal cover was issued to mark this occasion.

On 10th. September I995, Gibraltar's National Day, the plans for the intended renovation and refurbishment of the Shrine, as a more worthy focus of the Marian devotion of the people of Gibraltar and pilgrims from abroad, were revealed.

These would include the building of an extension to accommodate the sacristy, office, toilets, shop and museum. The shrine itself would be extended and a tower built.

The Shrine's restoration was half funded by the European Commission and the Gibraltar Government. In conjunction with the fund raising a set of gold, silver and nickel commemorative medals were produced to be sold as collectors' pieces.

His Holiness the Pope, noted with particular interest the intended renovation and sent the following letter to the Bishop.

From the Vatican, 6th September 1995

My Lord Bishop,

The Holy Father was pleased to be informed of the ceremonies to be held at the Shrine, set up by King Ferdinand IV in the year 1309 and dedicated to the Mother of Christ under the title of Our Lady of Europe. He has noted with particular interest that the venerable building is currently being extended and refurbished as a more worthy focus of the Marian devotion of the people of Gibraltar and of the many pilgrims from elsewhere in Europe and beyond.

At a time when the unity of the continent of Europe is being fostered and strengthened, it is indeed appropriate that Gibraltar should house such a potent symbol of such unity, which belongs not only to the civil and political level but is also and specially a reality in the spiritual sphere.

It is the prayer of His Holiness that the Shrine will be an ever effective centre of unification, a place where, under the patronage of Mary, the human family will be drawn ever more closely into fraternal unity and peaceful coexistence.

With these sentiments the Holy Father invokes abundant divine graces upon those gathering for the religious observances, and with affection in the Lord he imparts his Apostolic Blessing to you and to the whole Church in Gibraltar.

With fraternal best wishes, I remain

Yours in Christ

G. B. RE


Information & pictures supplied by G J Linares MBE


The presentation of the statue occurred after the sermon of the Bishop at a special Mass, which was attended by our own Bishop Farquhar, our local priests and a large congregation. The choir provided beautiful hymns and music.

At the celebration the Bishop mentioned that two people in the Congregation had special links with Gibraltar - Monsignor Dominic McHugh and Sister Josephine McVeigh and they received a special blessing as the procession of priests left the Church.

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