Soon after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, Saint James was preaching the Gospel in Spain. (This also would have been around 10 years after Mary was taken to heaven. Other sources say that Mary was still alive and living in Palestine – so she bilocated!?) James was disheartened because of the failure of his mission in Spain. On January 2nd, 40 A.D., while he was deep in prayer by the banks of the Ebro, the Mother of God appeared to him and gave him a small statue of her image holding Jesus and also a column of jasper. (picture 1) She instructed him to build a church in her honor.
“This place is to be my house, and this image and column shall be the title and altar of the temple that you shall build. The faith of the people will become as strong as this pillar”
About a year after the apparition, James arranged to build a small chapel in Mary’s honor – the first church ever dedicated to the honor of the Virgin Mary. After James returned to Jerusalem, he was executed by Herod Agrippa in about 44 A.D. – the first apostle to be martyred for his faith. Several of his disciples took his body and returned it for final burial in Spain.
Although this first chapel was eventually destroyed along with various other Christian shrines, the statue and pillar stayed intact under the protection of the people of Zaragoza, Spain. Today, a Baroque-style church, completed in 1686, exists on this site and houses the precious items given to James by the Virgin Mary in 40 A.D.
During the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939, three bombs were dropped on the church, but none of them exploded. Two of them are on display in the basilica today. (picture 2 and 3)