The statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the Extremadura region of western Spain is not to be confused with the tilma of Our Lady of Guadalupe at Tepeyac, Mexico. The statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which was carved by Saint Luke the Evangelist, was given to Saint Leander, Bishop of Seville, by Pope Saint Gregory I in gratitude to Saint Leander for converting the Visigothic kings, Saint Hermengild¹ and Recared.
In the year 714, less than 150 years after Pope Saint Gregory had given Saint Leander the Statue, Seville fell to the Moors. The image was taken by priests, who were fleeing the Moorish armies, to the region along the Guadalupejo (now Guadalupe) River in Extremadura. The priests who fled north with the statue buried it in the hills near the Guadalupe River to prevent the Moors from discovering it. The statue was so well hidden that, in fact, the Moors never did find it; then again, neither did the Catholics.
At the beginning of the fourteenth century, a shepherd named Gil Cordero began to report apparitions of Our Lady in his field near the present day city of Cáceres. Our Lady ordered Gil Cordero to enlist the help of priests to dig at the place where She had appeared to him. The priests soon unearthed the statue along with all of the documents and found Our Lady of Guadalupe to be in perfect condition.
Alfonso XI, King of Castile and León, became one of the first regular pilgrims to Guadalupe. King Alfonso XI wanted to expand the chapel of Guadalupe into a church and monastery, but he died in 1350, so it was completed by Juan I of Castile. King Juan I entrusted the shrine to the Hieronymites, Order of Saint Jerome. The Monastery maintained its royal patronage until 1835, when Church properties were seized and religious orders dispersed in Spain during the First Carlist War.
Among the many noteworthy personages that visited the Monastery of Our Lady of Guadalupe were Queen Isabella I, King Ferdinand II, and Christopher Columbus. In 1486, during a Holy Week pilgrimage to this shrine, Columbus met with representatives from the court of the Catholic Monarchs to negotiate royal sponsorship of his voyages to India. After Columbus reached America in 1492 he returned to the Monastery of Our Lady of Guadalupe to give thanks to God, through the intercession of the Virgin of Guadalupe, who had granted him a safe voyage.
The shrine of Guadalupe is a stunning complex of five main structures: the Mudejar cloister, the Gothic cloister, the Plateresque portal, the church building itself, which dates back to 1730 and was designed by one of Christopher Columbus’ descendants, and a painting and sculpture museum that houses works by many of Spain’s finest artists.
In 1907, the Virgin of Guadalupe was canonically crowned and declared the Patroness of Extremadura. Our Lady’s patronage was extended in 1928 to the entire Spanish-speaking world. In 1955, Pope Pius XII declared the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe a minor papal basilica.
¹LEOVIGILD, King of the Visigoths, had two sons, Hermenegild and Recared, who reigned conjointly with him. All three were Arians until Hermenegild and Recared were converted by Saint Leander. Furious at their conversion, their father, Leovigild, had Hermenegild imprisoned and tortured in order to apostasies. Hermenegild refused and was beheaded on Easter night. A bright light shown from his cell letting all know of his martyrdom. On his death-bed, Leovigild–though still an Arian–bade his son Recared to seek out Saint Leander, whom he had himself cruelly persecuted, and, following Saint Hermenegild’s example, converted to Catholicism. On his father’s death, Recared labored so earnestly for the extirpation of Arianism that he brought over the whole nation of the Visigoths to the Church. Saint Hermenegild’s feast day is April 13.