Portillo claims of the Shrine having been the scene of many miracles, which “the Saviour, through the intercession of his beloved Mother, has performed numerous miracles, many of which we have witnessed with our own eyes…”9 He stated that as a result, the Shrine had received many gifts from the residents, and silver lamps with an endowment of oil from the Generals of the galleys.10 He enumerates several of these lamps, one of which was presented in 1568 following the capture of five Turkish galleys in the Straits by Juan Andrea Doria, son of the famous Genoese admiral and himself a commander of one wing of the Christian fleet at the Battle of Lepanto.11 Another was bestowed through the devotion of Fabricio Colona, commander of the Sicilian galleys and who died in this city in 1580. Don Martin de Padilla, Count of Santa Gadea, Chief Governor of Castille, and commander of the Spanish galleys, gave another lamp; as did Don Pedro de Toledo, Duke of Fernandina, and Marques of Villa Franca. An inhabitant of the city, Francisco de Molina gave another silver lamp as did Don Baltazar Benitez Rendon, another gentleman of the city and yet another was presented by Fernando de Biedma, who made a fortune in India, which he brought to Gibraltar, his birth-place, and where he died a great devotee of this Holy Saint. Other ornaments included a sceptre presented by Don Luis and Miguel Bravo gave a mantle piece.12
Ayala observed that Chapel appeared to have been the works of the Moors, for its arabesque arches still remained but that further alterations to the structure resulted in the Church being enlarged to twice its original size.
Such was the significance of this shrine that Don Juan of Austria, the hero of Lepanto himself, is reputed to have presented two massive silver lamps after his famous action. Three or four of these huge lamps, including one given by Doria, were found in the Cathedral of St. Mary the Crowned in 1961. They are solid Spanish silver, beautifully wrought and are the only treasure saved from the pillage in 1704.13
The Shrine was described by Ayala as a ‘Hermitage’ that was sacked by the Turks in 1540. The attack was carried out by Turkish Corsair Captain Hali Hamat, one of Barbarossa’s captains and again when the English and Dutch took Gibraltar in 1704. Amongst the items looted were the relics and twelve silver lamps, candelabra, lecterns, consecrated vessels and other ornaments as well as the clothing and belongings of many families who had fled there during Rooke’s bombardment. They also removed the crown and jewels from the venerated image of the Virgin and Child and dragged it out and poured paint over the statue as well as removing their heads, mutilating the Child’s legs and arms and then the fragments were flung onto the ground amongst the rocks.14
Don Juan Romero de Figueroa, the Spanish priest who defiantly remained in possession of the Cathedral of St. Mary the Crowned after the capture of Gibraltar found parts of the broken statue, recovered it and wrapped it in sacking which he buried in a gully. The pieces were later smuggled out of Gibraltar and carried to Algeciras.15
According to Ayala this was not the only religious artefact that was smuggled out of Gibraltar during the early days of occupation. Amongst the items smuggled out by Romero de Figueroa were the four silver lamps that were later found in the Cathedral, possibly returned from San Roque at some point in time. Ayala states that for “his stratagems for conveying to San Roque the valuables of the Church, ignominiously expelled, being drummed out of the garrison.”16
After the British occupation of Gibraltar in 1704, the Shrine was solely used for military purposes becoming a guard-house for the southern defences. James speaks of it as a Captain’s Guard in his time.17 A whipping post, dating from the 18th Century still stands outside the Shrine in testament to its former use. In 1771, James tells us that “…in the ruins there are two rooms still remaining which were coved in the Moorish style.”
The Shrine already partly ruined suffered heavy damage during the Great Siege and was subsequently demolished with a new one rebuilt on the same site in subsequent years. It may have been during the siege that the tower was removed – when the order to remove all towers and potential marks for enemy fire was issued by Eliott. Drinkwater that “opposite the Guard-House may be traced the remains of a building erected by the moors, but used by the Spaniards as a Chapel and called Nuestra Señora de Europa.”