Bishop John Baptist Scandella and Father Louis Orfila
Louis Diaz and Bishop Healy - Monsignor Grech and Father John Aher
Bishop Caruana and Bishop Devlin
The Great Siege of Gibraltar ended in 1783 and the history of the both the Chapel and statue of Our Lady of Europe once again remained more or less at a standstill until 1864 when:
. . . a most beautiful statue carved in wood and polychromed in royal red, blue and gold and nearly two feet high was brought to Gibraltar from Algeciras through the unceasing efforts of the Gibraltarian Bishop on Antinoe and Vicar Apostolic of Gibraltar.
John Baptist Scandella - Gibraltarian Bishop on Antinoe and Vicar Apostolic of Gibraltar.
According to local historian Dorothy Prior, Scandella was only able to get the Spanish authorities to agree to the return of the statue if he could arrange for an exact copy to be made in order to replace the original one. Scandella obliged. A replica was duly made and was promptly sent to Algeciras to replace the original one housed in the Capilla de Nuestra Señora de Europa.
La Virgen de Nuestra Señora de Europa in Algeciras
La Virgen de Nuestra Señora de Europa in Algeciras
However, the return of the statue to Gibraltar immediately confronted the authorities with two serious problems. The first was that although everybody acknowledged that the representation of the Virgin was wonderful that of the Child on her lap was not – it was naked. To quote George Palao:
The original child was naked and was replaced at Gibraltar by a clothed replica. This original child was fortunately kept by the church authorities at Gibraltar and the rest of the statue was entrusted to the care of the Loreto sisters, at the time residing behind the Governor’s Palace Guardhouse . . .
This dates the construction of the clothed replica as having been carried out at sometime during the mid 19th century which unfortunately clashes badly with a far more recent date for its construction as given Caruana. During the 1950s when the Virgin was housed in St Mary the Crowned:
. . . the child would be dressed in brocade silk according to the liturgical season. It was later suggested that it would be simpler if a new clothed Bambino were to be carved. The Bishop agreed, so the Child today is the carved dressed Bambino sculptured by Francisco Moreira.
Our Lady of Europa with naked Jesus dressed up in silk and on the left and the same statue with the newly carved Jesus on the right.
The second problem was where to put the thing as by then the Chapel of our Lady of Europa no longer really existed – at least not as Chapel. Shortly after Gibraltar became British it was used as a guardhouse and later as a store for oil and for empty packing cases. According to Kenyon in 1908:
. . . . it was cleared of its contents, and a partition wall of comparatively modern construction was removed, so that it now (consisted) of only one room instead of two as when described by Colonel Dewing, R.E. It (remained) simply as an interesting structure, no longer desecrated as a guardroom or oil store, although not restored to any sacred use.Although not mentioned in the literature the presence of a whipping pole just outside the building also strongly suggests that it was also used as a prison:
The Shrine with a large black painted whipping post on the left ( Early 1960s - Father Louis Orfila )
A view of the Shrine from the side ( Early 1960s - Father Louis Orfila )
In 1928 it became a British Army library and during WWII it was once again used as a store. The end result was that most maps of Gibraltar during the early centuries of British rule were ambiguous in their identification of the original building.
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 Señora de Europa
1758 – John Putland
The passage of time and the indifference of the British authorities meant that by the 20th century very few people really knew all that much about the actual building – or what remained of it. An “Old Inhabitant” writing in 1844 told his readers that:
. . .on Europa Point, appears prominently in view, the Light-House, recently erected near the spot where once stood the Chapel and hermitage of the Virgen de Europa
It is a comment that slightly misplaces the Chapel – a mistake made worse in the 1913 edition of Karl Baedeker’s famous handbook:
A large lighthouse was erected here in 1841 on the site of the once much frequented sanctuary of the Virgen de Europa.
Europa Point lighthouse ( 1879 )
Although both buildings were both constructed on Gibraltar’s Europa flats, the lighthouse was placed on its extreme south eastern corner whereas the ruins of the Chapel lay well to the north west of it. Kenyon writing in 1911 was one of the few who did know where the Chapel had once stood:
Opposite the guardhouse on Europa Flats there stands a strange-looking little building which is one of the oldest on the Rock . . . it is a fragment of an old Moorish building.
The Chapel was there but it was in no condition to be used as one. In any case as with so much else on the Rock the entire area in which the Chapel found itself was military property. The Shrine of la Virgen de Europa no longer belonged to the church.
A year later in 1865 the recently built St Bernard’s College for Youth’s was transferred from New Mole Parade to a newly built convent that had been built between Engineer Road and the Main Europa Main Road. But it didn’t last too long as a boys’ school. Instead, the Loreto Nuns took it over and converted it into a school for “young Ladies”. According to the 1937 Gibraltar Directory “a portion of the building was allotted to the recently arrived Little Sisters of the Poor”.
In 1866 the statue which now boasted a decently clad Jesus, was transferred from St Aloysius to the Loreto Convent in Europa Main Road with considerable pomp and ceremony.
The Loreto Convent in Europa Main Road
The streets were lined with British soldiers of the 86th Regiment and their band did the honours at the head of the procession. The statue was then ceremonially installed:
. . . above a marble altar and copula donated by Pope Pius IX which carried inscribed at the center of the alter face a florid M for Maria, superimposed by a cross. . . . to the left of the altar front was also carved the armorial arms of His Holiness the Pope and to the right that of Bishop Scandella
The Shrine of the Virgin at St Bernards – aka the Loreto convent – in Engineer Lane
Unfortunately there is still a small fly in the ointment which I have so far been unable to remove – according to a general history of the “Little Sisters of the Poor” published in 1906:
The house in Gibraltar was opened in December 1 1883, with a group of Sisters, whom the Superiors had appointed without troubling much about their nationality. They were Little Sisters of the Poor.
It is a statement that contradicts the 1937 Directory and makes it hard to pinpoint which of the two orders looked after the statue from 1866 to 1883. Nevertheless, and again according to Dorothy Prior, when the Little Sisters of the Poor finally arrived in 1883 they took over the responsibility of looking after the statue from the Loreto Sisters. The school itself was renamed “The Convent of Our Lady of Europa Boarding School”
Then came another lengthy hiatus the statue being more or less out of the news until the outbreak of WW II when for safety reasons it was transferred from the convent to the Cathedral of St Mary the Crowned where it remained until 1954 when it was moved to St Joseph’s Church presumably on the grounds that it was not only a more suitable place for it but also that it was much closer to its proper home – the as yet still unavailable old dilapidated Chapel in Europa Flats. As far as I can tell The WWII years was the only time that both statues were kept together in one place.
In the 1950’s the Virgin rather indirectly came back into the general public’s consciousness – as against that of the religious community. The reason was a popular tune which had the following lyrics:
Virgen de Guadalupe
Como en Méjico te suelen Llamar
Y en la tierra Aragonesa
Eres Virgen del Pilar.
Pero aquí en nuestro pueblo
Donde siempre te hemos amado,
Como la Virgen de Europa,
Siempre te hemos implorado.
Virgencita de Europa,
Patroncita de Gibraltar,
A tus pies arrodillado,
Te venimos a rogar,
Por la Paz de este mundo,
Dedicado a la maldad,
Y que en nuestros corazones,
Haya buena voluntad.
Aunque nuestros paisanos
Vayan muy lejos de aquí a vivir,
Cuando mencionan tu nombre
Sienten un fuerte latir,
Porque eres la patrona de los que van por el mar, y de los qque hayan nacido, Aquí en nuestro Gibraltar.
Virgencita de Europa . . .
The tune was played as a “plegaria” by a local group called Los Trovadores. It was led by Louis Diaz who composed the music. The lyrics were by Elio Cruz.
Los Trovadores in their heyday - Louis Diaz on the right (1950s )
In 1958 and with that singular lack of tack – or should I use the word “respect” - that the military authorities in Gibraltar so often exhibited towards the local population, it was decided that the Chapel – or what remained of it – no longer served any purpose and should be demolished.
I am not sure what happened next but I would imagine that all hell broke loose with all sorts of letters of complaint issuing forth from the hierarchy of the church. Whether this was the case or not I don’t know but the end result was that not only was the Chapel not demolished but it was declared a site of historical interest. An amazing development for Gibraltar at a time when most matters concerning the protection of heritage sites dating prior to 1704 – other than huge unavoidables such as the Castle – converted into a prison – or Charles V and Phillip II Walls were either ignored or treated with compete indifference.
In 1961 what remained of the Chapel were finally transferred in a private ceremony to Bishop John Healy - Roman Catholic Bishop of Gibraltar. The keys to the place changed hands and a year later Healy was able both to bless the Shrine and to celebrate its first Mass since 1704.
Bishop John Farmer Healy
Meanwhile somewhere in the background Father Louis Orfila – Chaplain to St Bernard’s Hospital – made himself responsible for the restoration of the building. This is his description of it when he first saw what the interior looked like:
The place was empty, drab, very damp and full of cobwebs, quite uncongenial to religious fervor. But in its own humble way, it was an impressive and historical beginning.
Together with a bunch of helpers – all showing the kind of enthusiasm one associates with volunteers, Father Orfila set about restoring the place. Bishop Carunna tells us that the work to beautify the Shrine began “with a prayer, a few hymns and two cheap candles”. But there was no stopping him despite the fact that it took him six years to finish what he had set out to do.
Inside the Chapel – “empty, drab, very damp and full of cobwebs”
( 1960s – Rev Father Louis Orfila )
During the refurbishment, Monsignor Carmel Grech – parish priest at St Joseph - was made responsible for looking after the statue. It was his enormous zeal for the Lady of Europe that led him to install a stained glass window depicting the Virgin at the entrance of St Joseph’s Church.
In 1966 relations with neighbouring Spain took a nose-dive – they were making threatening noises in the United Nations about decolonization in general and their right to a return of Gibraltar in particular. With impeccable timing the Church and organized a well attended procession carrying the Virgin of Europa to a beautifully set up altar at Europa Point near the old Shrine. They were halfway there when they heard the news that Great Britain had supported Gibraltarian claims at the UN.
Another miracle? Not quite as Britain had always supported the local arguments for self- determination – but it was a nice coincidence. Prayers, blessings and thanks offered by Bishop Healy and back went the statue to St Joseph’s Church.
In 1967 Msg Grech died. He would miss what he would surely have considered one of the most important religious events in the history of the Rock – the return of the statue to its original old home. Father John Aher replaced Grech at St Joseph’s but it was Bishop Healy that made the final decision – one that was apparently not universally welcomed. The event itself was later described rather diplomatically by Bishop Caruana:
Bishop Charles Caruana
For reasons unknown, Bishop Healy decided to transfer the ancient statue of Our Lady of Europe from St. Joseph’s to the Shrine at Europa Point. The Shrine was adequately maintained and prayerful, yet there were those who believed that this transfer should have been postponed until such a time that the Shrine became a worthier home for the statue.
On 7th October 1967, Fr. Aher organised the transfer to the Shrine escorted by a detachment of soldiers and officers from the Gibraltar Regiment. This was kept at a very low profile. Whatever opinions there may have existed at the time as regards the transfer or its method, the truth of the matter remains that after a period of 263 years, the statue of Our Lady of Europe had, at last, returned to her original home.
In 1973 and 1974 a vestry and a sacristy were constructed on the southeast side. The old pebble decorative pavement was also cleaned up although the north east corner is still missing. According to Palao it was either destroyed or covered over when the nearby road was developed before WWII.
( Adapted from 1971 - George Palao –Tales of our Past - Adapted )
Decorative pavement outside the Shrine
Also in 1974, a new altar was installed using the marble that had originally been donated by Pope Pius IX . As described by Palao:
This new alter consisted of four pillars, which were the only remaining ones of the seven that supported the original cupola and a round mesa which was the base of the throne where the holy image was placed in the original marble altar.
While all these constructions and developments were taking place the statue was temporarily returned to the Chapel in the Loreto Convent rather than to the more obvious St Joseph’s - which makes one wonder why.
Then finally - either in 1974 or perhaps 1976 I am not entirely sure when – the Shrine as well as its nearby decorative pavement were released by the Ministry defence to the local authorities. The dates clash with the previously suggested “official” transfer of the Chapel to the Roman Catholic Bishop John Farmer Healy in 1961 – but then just like the Wheels of Justice, those of the bureaucracy of the British Army also grind exceedingly slow.
Once the statue had returned to its rightful place the modern history of the Chapel reads like a list of firsts – and where better to start that with a letter from Pope John Paul II which included the following all important paragraph:
I therefore approve what the Sacred Congregation for the Evangelisation of People had decided in this connection, and I declare that the Blessed Virgin, the Mother of Christ, be held to be the Principal Patroness of the Diocese of Gibraltar and be invoked with the title ‘Our Lady of Europe’, towards whom the faithful are drawn with very special devotion.In 1976 the first wedding, in 1980 Bishop Rapallo consecrated the church. Then in 1994 mostly financed by European funding the Shrine was expanded and refurbished.
The new Shrine
When the work was finished in 1997 Bishop Bernard Devlin – who had succeeded Healy - organised the enthronement of the statue in her shiny new Chapel. In 2006 the Shrine was included in European Marian network.
In 2009 – the anniversary. Bishop Caruana requested the Holy See to authorise a Jubilee Year to coincide with what he considered to be the 7th centenary of the foundation of devotion to Our Lady of Europe. The sure-footed Catholic authorities in the Vatican who perhaps decided not to look too closely at look too closely at a gift horse in the mouth agreed with Caruana. Authorisation was granted by the Pope Benedict XVI and the appropriate celebrations took place.
Its dubious history swept aside, the famous Shrine officially regained its fame as an important Catholic Shrine. It was a fame that it had never really lost despite its many years of obscurity just after the British capture of Gibraltar in 1704.
1309 – La Virgen de Europa – The Mosque (See LINK)
1309 – La Virgen de Europa – The Guardhouse (See LINK)