The People of Gibraltar
1309 - La Virgen de Europa - The Hermitage

Pérez Barrantes Maldonado and Cristóbal de Rojas
Prince Andrea Doria  and the Conde de Santa Gadea
Pedro de Toledo and Francisco de Molina
Fernando de Biedma and Baltasar Benítez Rendon
Miguel Bravo, Pedro Machado and Fabricio Colona

Whenever it was that the original mosque was built at Europa Point – or whatever its original purpose - there is plenty of evidence that the site had been converted into a Catholic Chapel by Gibraltar’s new landlords after 1462 although the earliest records I have been able to find date from nearly 100 years further on: 

In 1540 Gibraltar suffered the indignity of being overrun by a marauding band of Turkish Corsairs who opted to land in the south somewhere near la Caleta del Laudero  - or Calita de Lauderas - now Little Bay. 


Map showing the proximity of the Calita de Landeras to the Shrine of the Virgin of Europe (31)  
( 1733 Homannishen Erben – detail )

According to Pérez Barrantes Maldonado, a 16th century soldier and historian who visited Gibraltar a few days after the locals had managed to repulse the Turks, one of the first places they pillaged was the Chapel of the Virgin of Europa which at the time seems to have been unguarded and looked after by a solitary hermit – el hermitaño de la Virgen de Europa.
 De allí  pasan  los adarves  (Parapets) cercando  la  isla,  e  las viñas  que  están  en  ella,  hasta  la caleta del Laudero,  donde está  el corral de Fez, y aquí  llaman  los  Tarfes  bajos,  y  aquí  está  la  ermita  de Nuestra  Señora  de  Europa;  y llámase  ansí  porque  dicen  ser  aquí  el  principio  desta  tercera  parte  del  mundo  que  nosotros  habitamos,  ansí  como  en  Ceupta,  ciudad  en  África  en  contra  de Gibraltar,  tienen  otra  ermita  que  se  llama  Nuestra  Señora  de  África,  porque  allí se comienza  África  según  los geógrafos  nos  dan  á  entender. . . .
 . . . Todavía tengo por mejor callarlo que contarlo, pero daros he un hilo por do saquéis lo que callare. Entraron en aquella iglesia que os dije de Nuestra Señora de Europa, y hicieron en las cosas della lo que se espera que moros y turcos hagan en iglesia de cristianos. 

Coat of Arms of the house Pérez Barrantes Maldonado

Portillo was no less critical:
 . . . vinieron los Turcos ya cerca de las casas por el camino de Nuestra Señora de Europa. Habían estos Turcos, así como desembarcaron, profanado esta Santa casa y hecho algunos atrevimientos a la imagen de Nuestra Señora . . . . .
All of which lends a certain irony to the answer made to a challenge by the guards at Europa Point when they noticed the arrival of the Turkish ships:
 . . . dando la voz de alerta, contestáronles los otros que eran gente de las galeras de Don Bernardino de Mendoza. Siendo asi, replicaron los centinelas,
 “Como no habéis hecho la salva de costumbre á la Virgen de Europa?”
“La hemos omitido”, volvieron á replicar los piratas, “por ser tarde y no alborotar la ciudad; pero se hará  mañana durante la fiesta que piensa celebrar el Señor Almirante en la hermita de la Virgen.”
Details of what actually happened to the statue after the Turks had left are supposed to have been recorded by a certain Juan Ledesma - the 16th secretary - to the secretary - of Philip II of Spain Juan. 

The Virgin had apparently had her head cut off as well as one of her arms. The child Jesus was also seriously damaged. The authorities tried to ship the statue to Seville for repairs but were foiled by bad weather. This was inevitably interpreted as a sign from God. He simply didn’t want the effigy of Our Lady of Europa to leave the Rock. The problem was eventually solved by commissioning a local sculptor, Pedro de Rueda to carry out the repairs in Gibraltar.

Although the above sounds vaguely apocryphal to me, there was one important consequence of the Turkish raid that impinged if not on the statue at least on the Chapel itself. The raid had led to the realization that the fortification of Gibraltar required seeing to – hence the eventual building of Charles V Wall and other defensive improvements. But it is a specific mention of the Chapel in 1598 by Philip II of Spain to his engineer, Captain Cristóbal de Rojas that indicates the importance that was attached to the site at the time both in Gibraltar and in Spain at large.
El Rey aprobó lo propuesto por Rojas, en carta fechada en Madrid á 18 de Diciembre, y dirigida á su persona, ordenándole que en la fortificación de Gibraltar atendiese por entonces á que se acabara lo que toca á la frente de Nuestra Señora de Europa, que después se ordenaría en lo demás lo que conviniere. 

Captain Cristóbal de Rojas

The end result was that the Chapel was made much bigger. That the original building had been rather small is borne out by the fact that most 16th century references to it suggest that it was looked after by a single hermit.  

It is probably around this time that the Confradía de Nuestra Señora de Europa was set up. These confraternities or groups of suitably motivated individuals seem to have taken it upon themselves to look after individual religious sites, churches or statues – or indeed a particular Virgin. Indeed, some of the larger churches had more than one. Confradías were apparently quite common in Gibraltar during the 16th and 17th century.  Portillo for example mentions the existence of quite a few that were going strong during his lifetime.
La Cofradía de la Santa Vera Cruz tiene una buena y alegre Iglesia en la Calle Real. . . . Algunos de estas ermitas o las mas tienen Cofradías, sin otras tres cofradías con sus capillas que están en la Iglesia Mayor, Santísimo Sacramento, Nombre de Jesús, y de las Animas del Purgatorio. En San Francisco hay otras tres Cofradías una de la Limpia Concepción de Nuestra Señora y otra de su Soledad y entierro y Sepulcro de Christo con Disciplina; y otra de los Nazarenos.  
No mention of any cofradía for our Lady of Europa but according to Bishop Charles Caruana there definitely was one although it seems that they were keener on their devotion to the a similar statue of the Virgin of Europa which was kept in the principal church – today the Cathedral of St Mary the Crowned – rather than the one in the south. 


Bishop Charles Caruana

I have not been able to discover the origins of this particular statue but Caruana – who must have had access to whatever ecclesiastical resources were available - seems to have been quite sure as to when it came into existence:
Devotion developed also around the larger statue of Our Lady of Europe - kept to this day at the Principal Church of St. Mary the Crowned . . . . All canonical privileges, jubilees and benefices were granted to Her. This statue was specifically carved for this Church and enthroned when the Church was transformed from a Mosque to a Christian Temple.
Although he gives no date the inference is that this somewhat larger statue was constructed around the middle of the 15th century – which would make it older than the one in the Chapel in the south. Also – somewhat ironically given later reservations concerning the baby Jesus held by the statue in the Chapel in the south - the fact that the Virgin held – and presumably still holds - a naked Jesus does not seem to have worried the confraternity - or anybody else for that matter. 


The statue of Our Lady of Europe in Gibraltar’s principal church – today the Cathedral of St Mary the Crowned

The history of this particular statue – and not just the date of its construction – is confusing, to say the least. Apparently there was considerable devotion towards the Virgin of Europa during the period that followed the Turkish raid of the mid 16th century. Not entirely surprising but what is less understandable is that this devotion seems to have been directed at the statue in the principal church rather than the one in the Chapel.  

In fact devotion to this particular statue seems to have been approved of by the church authorities who promptly attributed to her all sorts of canonical privileges such as jubilees and other benefits. It was probably around this period that one of the Cofradías decided that the church needed an up-lift. Among other less controversial improvements they somewhat rashly removed the statue of Our Lady of Europa from its prime position in the front and relegated it to the back of the church replacing it with a newly carved statue of Our Lady of the Angels 

This move was thoroughly at odds with the feelings of the many devotees of the Virgin of Europa. The Bishop was urged to overturn the decision and miracles involving the statue suddenly increased overnight.  Whether both these strategies had any effect I have no idea but as far as I can tell from my research the importance of this second statue eventually seems to have taken very much a back seat in comparison to the one in the south.

Portillo, for example,  mentions the generosity in 1567 of Prince John Andrea Doria – the man in charge of Charles V’s navy. In celebration of a particularly important victory over the Turks he donated a large silver lamp to the Chapel. The idea was that it would burn perpetually before the image of the Virgin of Europa.  To make sure the lamp would never go out through lack of fuel, The prince also endowed enough cash to buy the necessary oil. 


Prince Andrea Doria   ( 1560 )

Andrea Doria’s generosity seems to have set off a spree of lamp giving that lasted right through to the early 17th century. Don Martin de la Padilla, Conde de Santa Gadea, General of the Galleys of Spain, another worthy who took part in the Battle of Lepanto donated another as did, Don Pedro de Toledo, Duque de Fernandina y Márquez de Villafranca. Several almost certainly more than well-off locals also got into the act including Francisco de Molina, Fernando de Biedma and Baltasar Benítez Rendon – not to mention another donated by the aunt of Fabricio Colona – a General of the Sicilian Galleys. A certain Miguel Bravo was odd man out. He opted for a rich mantel rather than a lamp.

Don Pedro de Toledo, Duque de Fernandina y Márquez de Villafranca – but not entirely sure
Biedma, Machado and Bravo had all made their fortunes in the Americas. When they returned to their homes in Gibraltar - presumably to enjoy their retirement and their hard-earned wealth - they must have decided that it would be a good idea to get themselves a visa to heaven by donating another three lamps. To finish on a high note, Don Juan of Austria, the man in charge at Lepanto donated two massive silver lamps after his famous victory. All of which makes one wonder where they managed to put them all. 


Don John of Austria as a young man

According to local historian George Palao three or four of these lamps, including the one given by Doria were “discovered” in the Cathedral of St Mary the Crowned in 1961. Palao published his essay on the Chapel in 1981 and I am not at all sure whether these lamps – apparently all of them made of beautifully wrought solid Spanish silver – are nowadays on display anywhere. The really worrying note is Palao’s use of the imprecise “three or four”. He was obviously not all that sure himself.

In 1567, the oldest known sketch of the Chapel appears in a drawing of the Europa flats area by Anton Van den Wyngaerde. It confirms that it had once possessed a tower as had been mentioned in various other descriptions – Including Portillo who developed the theme by suggesting that the one that had been created during his lifetime had replaced the original Moorish minaret.
Tiene dentro de la iglesia una buena torre que si fue morisca donde los Alfaquíes se subían a hacer las ceremonias Mahometanas, ahora no lo parece; antes esta renovada a lo moderno.

The Chapel identified as the "Sra de europa el fin de la cristianidad"   ( 1567 - Anton Van den Wyngaerde - detail )


Other sketches of the Chapel – from the left: 1607 - Capital Cristóbal Rojas, 1627 - Luis Bravo de Acuña and 1981 Gorge Palao based on the one by Bravo

By the 17th century the Chapel must have been absolutely chock-a-block full not just with lamps but of other religious paraphernalia, perhaps as befits a place that had gradually acquired an importance out of all proportion to its size. 

During 1649 about a quarter of the population of the Rock died of an epidemic which was at the time thought of as the plague but has since been attributed to typhoid. It was then that the people of Gibraltar began their pilgrimages to the hermitage of San Roque where according to Ayala:
. . . Se notó que no murió ninguna de las personas que hicieron esta corta peregrinación, aunque ya estuviese contagiada. Con esto creció la devoción i concurso de aquella hermita; y todos los años después que acababan los vecinos la fiesta de nuestra señora do Europa pasaban a la hermita de San Roque donde con gran solemnidad celebraban su fiesta.
As time passed, the “gran solemnidad” of such occasions gradually became somewhat less solemn as memories of the epidemic faded.
El tiempo, el sitio, i la abundancia de frutas que ofrecía el paraje facilitaba agradables diversiones. El día de san Roque, luego que celebraban los oficios divinos en la hermita , ataban dos toros a  un árbol con una larga soga , para que sin tanto riesgo como en las plazas so divirtiesen los vecinos. En la misma tarde que acababan do celebrar la solemnidad de nuestra señora de Europa so venían a las inmediaciones de la hermita de san Roque, i pasaban la noche, como era costumbre en muchas partes, en diversiones propias para explayar los ánimos; i así continuaron todos los años en esta romería i fiesta hasta quo las interrumpió la pérdida do la plaza.
On one important point Ayala - who wrote the above - was mistaken. The traditional pilgrimage may have been postponed for a while after the Anglo-Dutch capture of the Rock in 1704 but not for long. Gibraltarians were back on track and continued to make the annual trip right up to the middle of the 20th century - and for all I know into the 21st – by which time the starting point at the Chapel of Our Lady of Europa was given a miss. Both the religious and health-healing connotations had also disappeared and the “pilgrimage” became an annual and very enjoyable trip and picnic to la Almoraima – the name of the cork woods close to the hermitage in San Roque.


“Pilgrims at the Almoraima”  ( 1906 - Spanish postcard)

Closing in on the 18th century, in a 1690 list of more than a dozen Gibraltar churches complied by Gerónimo de la Concepción in his Emporio de el Orbe Cádiz Ilustrada, the only one he bothered to classify as “muy milagrosa” was the “Hermita” of  Nuestra Señora de Europa. It was still going strong and by now the Virgin had become the object of devotion not just by the mariners passing through the straits but by the ordinary man in the street or field in the local Campo area.
La Virgen de Europa contaba también con gran predicamento, tanto por parte de los hombres de la mar como por los ligados a las labores del campo, quienes la sacaban en procesión a lo largo del calendario "en las ocasiones y necesidades que se ofrecieran entre año de salud o de agua"
The capture of Gibraltar in 1704 by Anglo-Dutch forces in the name of the Archduke Charles II pretender to the throne of Spain interrupted not just the pilgrimages to San Roque – it also very nearly destroyed the Chapel itself.   

During the decades that had preceded the change of ownership of the Rock, its stature and fame had grown to such an extent that it now celebrated more ”Jubileos” – or Jubilees - and issued a greater number of “Indulcencias” - or indulgences -  than any other church on the Rock.

For the uninitiated – such as I was before I looked it up - a “Jubileo” was simply an authorised religious celebration of a particular event in the Catholic calendar. An “Indulgencia” was in effect a remission of any punishment due in purgatory for one’s sins – a sort of wiping the slate clean so to speak. There were several ways of getting one of these much sought after indulgences one of which was simply to visit the Chapel.

Also worthwhile pointing out is that ever since the Turkish raid it was considered by the locals not just as a Chapel but as a sanctuary. According to Kenyon – who got this from Ayala - it was used as such in 1693:
During the War of the League of Augsburg, Admiral George Rooke was defeated off Laos by Admiral Tourville and took refuge in Gibraltar. He was pursued by the French who bombarded the Rock for nine days driving the inhabitants on to higher ground and compelling the nuns of Santa Clara to seek shelter in the hermitage of our Lady of Europa. 
Surrounded by vineyards which produced some of the best wine in Spain the Chapel overlooked the southern cliffs of the Rock with pleasant views toward Mons Abyla on the other side of the Straits. Its sister Chapel of Africa in Ceuta was far too small to be seen - hidden by its distance – but the recognisable outline of the town itself and its Monte Hacho was not. The Shrine of the Virgin of Europa was no doubt a pleasant place to visit in its own right.


The Europa Point lighthouse – the ruins of the chapel are well to the right and out of the picture – On the Barbary coast Ceuta lies to the left of the lighthouse and Mount Abyla to its right  ( 1844 – George Lothian Hall )

Its famous lamps were perpetually lit and the building and its relatively new tower acted as an important beacon over the years with perhaps hardly a mariner passing by without acknowledgement.  Facing south the Chapel sported two brass canons which were used mainly to answer the salutes of passing ships. Their salvoes would be answered by the hermit who looked after the Chapel who replied with a similar number of shots. It was a tradition that would be continued by the Royal Navy with answering salvoes from the Garrison’s guns. 


1309 – La Virgen de Europa – The Mosque   (See LINK
1309 – La Virgen de Europa – The Guardhouse (See LINK
1309 – La Virgen de Europa – The Anniversary (See LINK