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APPARITIONS OF MARY BEGAN ON PLAINS OF SPAIN WITH AN APOSTLE AS FIRST 'VISIONARY'
[adapted from The Last Secret]
It started on the plains of north Spain, along the Ebro River, wide but not so swift, cutting into the red soil that James the Apostle, on mission from Jerusalem, walked in search of souls.
It was A.D. 40, seven years since the death of Christ, and James had ventured from Jerusalem to work the Iberian Peninsula as Peter and John worked Samaria. He was near a place called Caesar-Augustus or "Saragossa," which recently had been conquered by Rome, and the territory was mysterious, the domain of fierce tribesmen whose origin was a puzzle.
There was a strangeness in the air, a feeling of occultism: As long ago as the Neanderthals there had been the ritualistic gathering of skulls and those customs had evolved into the more recent form of occult known as paganism, with all its gods and goddesses and spirits that hovered over the ramparts.
This was the kind of territory that James, son of Zebedee, had been told by Jesus to evangelize. It was dangerous, lonely work, and often the only consolation was in prayer. That's what James was doing when he encountered the first known manifestation of Mary. According to tradition the apostle, accompanied by eight of his own disciples, was in deep prayer and may have dozed when, as in Revelation 11:19, a flash of light jarred him awake and he heard the sound -- a distinct, unforgettable sound -- of heavenly music.
We don't have many details about Saragossa (also spelled Zaragoza) but we know that after the flash James saw the heavens "open" to reveal a woman. Immediately he recognized her. It was the mother of Christ, Mary of Nazareth. She had been in the care of his own brother John and in the years since Christ's death she had frequently prayed with the apostles in Jerusalem or Ephesus.
If early images were correct she had a small straight mouth, a thin chiseled nose, and a drawn look that was sometimes sorrowful. She was of medium height and had brown hair with dark fringes and eyebrows, her face neither long nor round but oval, her hands and fingers tapered, delicate, and long. She was a regular peasant in a small regular hillside house and her life had been one of prayer and drawing water and repairing clothes.
She had subsisted on fruit, fish, and bread, in manner always serene, strong, and demure, her complexion the color of wheat, her clothing wool in winter and linen in summer, a veil over her head if she had gone into the streets, feet bare or with sandals of wood and leather, wearing two garments: a chaste chemise and a robe or a gown.
Often James had seen her that way, as the sweet and gentle matron who kneaded bread and prayed for their missions, but now she was different. Now she was in splendor. Now her face was the same and her sweetness was the same but James was seeing her in apparition or bilocation, seated on a throne of light or a marble pillar along the Ebro, accompanied by angels.
Some knelt around her on transparent clouds while others sent forth the music. James must have gawked. He was certainly not new to unusual occurrences. He had been on the mount when Jesus transfigured (Matthew 17:2). He had witnessed the apparitions of Elijah and Moses. He had also been present at the raising from the dead of Jairus's daughter (Mark 5:39) and had seen many of Christ's other wonders. But now he was witnessing something else.
Now he was seeing a new miracle. Gazing in ecstasy, perhaps in the same way that Stephen had gazed upon a vision of Christ (Acts 7:56), James watched as the angels suspended Mary's pillar or throne.
Then the apparition spoke. "James, servant of the Most High, blessed be thou by God, and may He fill thee with His divine grace," she said. "My son James, the Most High and Mighty God of heaven has chosen this place that you may consecrate and dedicate here a church and house of prayer where, under the invocation of my name, He wishes to be adored and served, and all the faithful who seek my intercession will receive the graces they ask if they have true faith and devotion, and in the name of my Son I promise them great favors and blessings, for this will be my chapel and my house, my own inheritance and possession, and in testimony of my promise, this pillar will remain here, and on it my own image, which, in this place where you will build my church, will last and endure with the holy faith. Note well this pillar on which I am seated, which my Son and your Master sent down to me from on high by the heads of angels and around which you shall set up the altar of my chapel. On this spot the Most High will work miracles through my intercession for those who implore my protection in their need. And this pillar will remain in this place until the end of the world..."
The Virgin told James to build the chapel at once and then to return to Jerusalem, where it was correctly prophesied that he would be martyred. According to legend the apostle constructed a tiny chapel 16 feet long and just eight wide but marking the first church dedicated to Mary and marking her direct opposition to the prevailing pagan goddesses.
There along the Ebro was a chapel that would one day grow into a huge domed basilica the precise size of the most famous goddess temple in Ephesus.
There was also a small statue of Mary holding Jesus, the first of many times she would be shown with Him, the first of many statue miracles.
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