Shrine of Our Lady of Europe
The Shrine of Our Lady of Europa is a Roman Catholic parish church and national shrine of Gibraltar located at Europa Point. The church is dedicated to Our Lady of Europa, the Catholic patroness of Gibraltar.
The exact date of construction is unclear but it is believed that in the early 14th century, during Gibraltar’s Moorish period, a small mosque was erected in Europa Point. But whether this mosque was the building that is now the shrine is unclear as recent archaeological research disputes this, claiming instead the medieval mosque may in fact have been located further east. Excavations carried out close to the present Shrine of Our Lady of Europe revealed evidence of what appears to have been a 14th Century Moorish Guardhouse instead.1
In 1309, the Spanish King Ferdinand IV captured Gibraltar and expelled the Moslem troops back to Africa. The King converted the ancient edifice into a Christian Shrine. It was here that he dedicated the whole of the continent of Europe to the Mother of God, bestowing on her the title of Our Lady of Europe. It is thought that the veneration of Our Lady of Europe began with the limestone statue that was placed inside.2 The Moslems, however, recaptured Gibraltar 24 years later in 1333 and this statue was, according to tradition, removed to the Church of Los Angeles in Jimena de la Frontera.3 In 1462 King Henry IV recaptured Gibraltar for the second time and restored the devotion to Our Lady of Europe initiated by his grandfather, Ferdinand, once again transforming the ancient mosque into a Christian Shrine. However, these is no evidence that the original statue taken to Jimena was returned to the Shrine. Nevertheless, there followed a period during which devotion to Our Lady of Europe spread throughout the Mediterranean.4
Limestone statute of Our Lady now held at Jimena de la Frontera which according to legend was taken there following the recapture of Gibraltar by the Moors in 1333 AD.
A large chapel was built at right angles to the mosque's east wall and the whole area became the Shrine of Our Lady of Europa. The shrine was built around a hollow square, with inlaid pavement and surrounded by a tower on which a beacon could be lit. The shrine is clearly illustrated in the 1627 Luis Bravo map.
George Palao wrote that “in the days of the Genoese sailors it received many costly gifts, since the light of the Shrine was a great help to these navigators, long before any lighthouse was built, for not only was it saluted by passing vessels but the commander of the galley rowed across to make provisions for a regular supply of oil so that the light might be kept constantly burning by day and by night before the Holy image there.”5 It is also said that warships entering the Bay of Gibraltar would fire salvoes in honour of Our Lady of Europa, a tradition that according to Bishop Caruana British Naval vessels continued to exercise whenever they entered the bay for the first time even as late as the 1960’s. The garrison guns would respond with the same number of salvoes continuing this respectful Christian tradition perhaps not being conscious that they were in fact firing a salute to the Mother of God.6
The Chapel was described by Montero as “the most ancient and venerated of all the sanctuaries. Its Chapel was adorned with sumptuous and rich gifts given by the admirals of the squadrons and enjoyed great privileges…”7 He stated that “the building was Moorish and had a good tower which doubtless served the Moors as a fort.”8 Ayala claims that the tower may in fact have been a minaret.
Artistic impression of the Shrine drawn by George Palao.
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.”
Comparison of Guardhouses at the Shrine. Clockwise from top left ;1733 - Homann - Unser Frau von Europa; 1743 - John Hadesty - Europa Guard; 1760 - Claude Dubosc - Nostra Senhora de Europa; 1831 - W.H. Smyth – Guard; 1781 - Fausto Caballero - Capilla que fue de la Señorade Europa; 1758 – John Putland. (Neville Chipulina)
During the 19th Century the Shrine was used as a store-room for oil and packing cases until in 1908 the room was cleared of its contents, and a partition wall was removed so the two rooms became one instead. In 1928 it was used as a library for the garrison, but with the outbreak of World War II, it was returned to a storage facility. By 1959, the military authorities, which had begun to withdraw many military installations in Gibraltar, noted that it was no longer required and decided to demolish it. to However, thanks to the efforts of Bishop John Healy the demolition never materialized and instead the site was declared a national monument. This intervention eventually made the return of the statue of Our Lady of Europe possible.
In 1864 the beautifully restored statue, carved in wood and poly-chromed in royal red, blue and gold and standing at nearly two feet tall had been returned to Gibraltar from Algeciras thanks to the unceasing efforts of John Baptist Scandella the Vicar Apostolic of Gibraltar. The statue initially resided at the Loreto Sisters Quarters behind the Convent Guard House (now 6 Convent Place). On the 17th May 1866 it was conveyed in solemn procession to the new Chapel at St. Bernard’s Convent at the Little Sisters of the Poor (now Mount Alvernia). It was installed above a marble altar and cupola donated by Pius IX himself and carried inscribed at the centre of the altar face a florid M, for Maria, superimposed by a cross. This symbol was later to be used on flag days in aid of the Shrine Restoration Fund.18 To the left of the altar were inscribed the armorial arms of His Holiness the Pope and to the right, that of Bishop Scandella.
During World War II the statue was again removed to the Cathedral for safe keeping until on the 15th August 1954 (the Marian Year proclaimed by Pope Pius XII) the statue was paraded in a torchlight procession to St. Joseph’s Church, at the time the southernmost place of worship. The building erected at the place of the old Shrine of Our Lady of Europe remained the property of the Ministry of Defence until the 17th October 1961 when it was finally restored to the Church authorities. Fr Louis Orfila (who was to become the Shrine’s first Rector for over 40 years) wrote: ‘The place was empty, drab, very damp and full of cobwebs, quite uncongenial to religious fervour. But in its own humble way, it was an impressive and historic beginning.’19
Whipping post to the left of the building denoting the time the sanctuary served as a guardhouse.
Exterior of the Shrine in 1961
The following year, after some restoration works were carried out, the Shrine was blessed by John Farmer Healy, Bishop of Gibraltar and on the 28th September 1962 the first Holy Mass was celebrated there for the first time in 258 years. However, it was not until the 7th October 1968 before the statue of Our Lady of Europe, Patroness of Gibraltar, was finally returned to the Shrine at Europa.20 On instructions of Bishop Healy, Father John Aher who had succeeded Father Carmelo Grech as chaplain of St. Joseph’s Church and was also the army Chaplain for the Gibraltar Regiment organised the lightning transfer of the statue of Our Lady of Europe from St. Joseph’s Church to the Shrine, escorted and carried in procession by a number of Officers and men of the Gibraltar Regiment commanded by Colonel A. M. Rugeroni.21 Father Orfila who had been patiently preparing the sanctuary for the eventual return of the statue was taken completely by surprise by the Bishop’s decision. Nevertheless, after two hundred and sixty three years in exile the statue of Our Lady of Europe had finally returned home. 22
Statue of Our Lady of Europe being escorted by members of the Gibraltar Regiment from St. Joseph’s Church to the Shrine at Europa.
Escort pauses briefly near to the old Military Hospital on its way to the Shrine at Europa.
In 1974 a new sacristy in the form of an extension was erected on the south east side and also a new altar was installed by Mr Charles Anes, using the original marble donated by Pope Pius IX. The new altar consisted of four pillars, which were the only remaining ones of the seven that supported the original cupula, and a round messa which was the base of the throne where the Holy image was placed in the original marble altar. 23
In April 1976, the Shrine and adjacent decorative pavement was officially transferred by the MOD to the Government, with effect from the 1st July 1974. It is believed that part of the pebble decorative payment adjacent to the Shrine which according to Palao the north-east corner was either destroyed or covered over when the nearby road was developed before WWII.
Pebbled pavement adjacent to the Shrine. The north-east corner is missing.
Mosaic pavement at the shrine
Bishop Rapallo, who succeeded Bishop Healy, consecrated the Shrine on the 5th October 1980. He successfully petitioned Rome to establish Our Lady of Europe as Principal Patroness of Gibraltar, and later to have the feast day of Our Lady of Europe on the 5th May, the same day as the annual Europe Day.
In 1994, the Government of Gibraltar obtained European funding and partly financed the expansion and refurbishment of the Shrine. The Shrine's simple architecture, though refurbished, maintains some Arabic "mosque" features. Once works were completed, Bishop Bernard Devlin organised the Enthronement of Our Lady of Europe in her newly embellished Shrine. The Papal Envoy Cardinal Josef Tomko, presided over the outdoor concelebrated Mass and Enthronement ceremony, held on May 10, 1997.24 During the refurbishments, a new tower was incorporated.
In 2002 during the visit Ad Lima, Bishop Charles Caruana accompanied by Monsignor Orfilla and Monsignior Grima and a host of Gibraltarian pilgrims took the statue of Our Lady of Europe to Rome where Pope John Paul II crowned and blessed the Lady and Child placing a white rosary to Our Lady a few days after having declared the start of the Marian Year. A copy of the statute was presented to the Pope by the pilgrims and housed at the Casa del Clero in the Via della Scrofa.25
A number of dignitaries have come to Gibraltar specifically to visit and pray the Shrine of Our Lady of Europe amongst them the Apostolic Deleate to Great Britain and Gibraltar, Archbishop Domenico Enrici (1972); His Royal Highness the Archduke Otto of Hapsburg (2002); First Cardinal of Spain and President of the Spanish Episcopal Conference, Rouco Varela celebrated the Eucharist there (2006); as did Faustino Sainz Muñoz, Nuncio to Great Britain (2007); Friar Aidan Bellenger Abbot of Downside also visited (2009); as did a party of Franciscans of the Third Order headed by His Eminence the Cardinal Carlos Amigo, Archbishop of Seville (2009).26
In May 2009 during the 700th Anniversary Jubilee celebrations, Pope Benedict XVI presented the Shrine with the Golden Rose award.27
Statue of Our Lady of Europe at the Shrine in Europa
The Shrine of Our Lady of Europe contains a number of rare and priceless artefacts currently housed in the Shrine’s own museum including a number of silver lamps, one of which is believed to be the Juan Andrea Doria lamp.
A more modern, but nonetheless important artefact is a Golden Rose blessed by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009 to mark the 700th Anniversary of the Shrine.
Another item is a reliquary or container for relics although it is not known for which Saint such a container was built for. According to George Palau the relics of St. Darmian and Sta. Dorothea were once venerated at the Franciscan Convent, now the King’s Chapel28 so the reliquary could well belong to one of these Saints.
Another antiquity of interest is a 16th Century Spanish Monstrance believed to be similar to that used during the ‘Exodus’ of Gibraltar in 1704.
Several of the pieces of the marble baldachin donated by Pope Pius IX are also on display. This baldachin was originally erected above the main altar at the Little Sisters of the Poor Chapel in Engineer Road (Mount Alvernia) when Bishop Rapallo decided to transfer the statue from the Loreto Convent in Main Street (now No. 6 Convent Place) to a location as far South as possible. The marble on display are the some of the pieces left over when the original baldachin was removed from Engineer Road and adapted to fit in the round marble altar and four columns at the Shrine.
The vault of Rt. Rev. Monsignor Luis Orfila, Rector of the Shrine for 40 years, can be found in the Shrine’s interior patio.
1392 Doria Lamp on display at the Shrine
2 CARUANA, Charles: Historia de Nuestra Señora de Europa. Librería Editrice Vaticana (2009)., p. 9
5 PALAO George: Tales of Our Past. Ferma, Gibraltar Chronicle Printing Works (1981)., p. 14
7 MONTERO Don Francisco Maria: Historia de Gibraltar y su Campo. Cádiz (1860)., p. 278
9 AYALA, Ignacio Lopez de: Historia de Gibraltar. Madrid (1782)., p. 32
10 PORTILLO, Alonso Fernández del: Historia de la muy noble y más leal ciudad de Gibraltar. Gibraltar (1610-1622)., p. 32
16 BELL, James: The History of Gibraltar from the earliest period of its Occupation by the Saracens. Translated from The supish of Don Ignacio Lopez de Ayala with a Continuation to Modern Times. London (1845)., p. 163
17 JAMES, Thomas: The History of the Herculean Straits: Now Called the Straits of Gibraltar: Including those Ports of Spain and Barbary that Lie Contiguous Thereto. (1771) Volume II., p. 310
19 Diocese of Gibraltar: A short history of the Shrine. http://ourladyofeurope.net
24 Diocese of Gibraltar: A short history of the Shrine. http://ourladyofeurope.net
27 Diocese of Gibraltar: A short history of the Shrine. http://ourladyofeurope.net
28 PALAO, George: Our Forgotten Past, (Gibraltar) 1977., p. 8