If you have ever met anyone by the name of Pilar, you will know someone
who makes a special effort to live up to her name. John Wayne's third
wife was Pilar Palette Wayne, the Peruvian born mother of Ethan Wayne,
Aissa Wayne, and Marisa Wayne. The name comes from the Spanish for
pillar or column and implies all that is strong, upright,
honorable, and reliable.
It all came about after the crucifixion of Jesus. Lead by Peter, the
Apostles of Jesus went forth throughout the known world to spread the
gospel of Christianity. It was James, around the year 40 A.D. (while Mary
was still alive), who arrived in Spain, in what was originally the ancient
sacred site of Salduba. Conquered by the Romans, it was renamed
Caesaraugusta after the Roman Emperor. The name became corrupted
by the Arabs to Saraqustah, and eventually evolved into
Zaragoza. The city is famous for the two Mary's, Magdalene and the
Blessed Virgin. There are two sacred places in the city, a small shrine
to Mary Magdalene and the much larger Cathedral to Nuestra Senora del
The latter location is the most significant, as it marks the spot where
the first recorded apparition of Mary occurred back around the year 40 A.D.
It was James, the Apostle, later to become St. James, who was the brother
of John, the Evangelist, who spent his years teaching in Spain. About 39
A.D., he arrived in what was then the small village of Saragossa.
When it looked as if James' mission was destined to be a failure, and he
was subsequently depressed, he was deep in prayer when he witnessed an
apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary atop a pagan standing stone. She is
said to have given him a small wooden statue of herself and a column of
jasper. The apparition spoke to him. "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."
One year passed before James arranged for the construction of a small
chapel. It was to become the first church in the world that was dedicated
to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The jasper column and the wooden statue can
still be seen on special occasions at the church. Before long, the chapel
became a center for the conversion of pagans. Because of the apparition
and the rapid rise of Christianity, Zaragoza quickly became a major
political and commercial center. The simple chapel was often updated,
growing in size into the existing Cathedral that was completed about the
The Apparition of the Blessed Virgin continued to appear throughout the
centuries, showing itself around the Pillar. The shrine has become a
place of pilgrimage for both Christian and non-Christian. Every October
12th, a statue of Mary, made in the 15th century is carried at the head of
a procession around the city. A few visitors will also visit the shrine
of Mary Magdalene, who was highly venerated in the medieval ages.
After James returned to Jerusalem, he was executed in about 44 A.D. by
Herod Agrippa, the first apostle to be martyred. His disciples removed
his body and returned him to Spain for final burial. A local queen,
witnessing several miracles by his disciples, converted to Christianity
and permitted his body to be buried in a local field. 800 years later a
local hermit rediscovered his gravesite, whereupon a cathedral was built
in his honor. It is called Compostella or starry field, and is
itself a site of pilgrimage to this day.
In the Philippines, in the south, is the city of Zamboanga. It was
founded in 1635 after the establishment of Fort Pilar (June 23,1635) by
the Spanish Jesuit priest, Friar Melchor de Vera, as a defense against
pirates and slave traders. One of the oldest and most Hispanic cities, it
came to be known as the City of the Flowers. Its patron saint was Our
Lady of the Pillar or Nuestra Senora del Pilar. As a result,
you will often encounter the female given name, Pilar. It was also
popularized in the school children's learner book, Pepe and Pilar.