Rev Thomas Pocock and Father Romero de Fiqueroa
Bishop Diego de Astorga y Céspedes and George Augustus Eliott
Father Francisco Messa
Even before the attack on the Rock by Anglo-Dutch forces in 1704 had started, the Reverend Thomas Pocock - a naval chaplain and the brother-in-law of Admiral Byng who was one of Rooke’s principle commanders – makes a first mention of the Shrine.
. . . (the) two small brass cannon planted to answer the salutes . . . made bold to treat us a little more freely with shot at our coming into the Bay; but they did not kiss our ships.
Bad news for the Spaniards but there was much worse to come. The Shrine’s reputation as a sanctuary persuaded a large number of Gibraltarian women to flee to the Chapel for safety. It proved to be a big mistake. When British marines attempted to land in the South close to the New Mole – and not all that far from the Chapel - the mole’s defensive tower – known as La Torre del Tuerto - blew up with considerable loss of life. By all accounts the explosion must have been a frightening experience for the women who understandably decided it was time to make a break for it and return to town.
Anglo-Dutch forces attempting to land on the south side of the Rock in 1704 while the Torre del Tuerto blows up – the shrine is out of the picture and well to the right.
. . . our men were between them and their Husbands, which was a very great inducement to the Citizens to oblige the Governor to capitulate . . .
Burchett of course fails to comment on the number of women who were either killed or raped or both or that the reason why the number of casualties was so low was because the soldiers were too busy pillaging the Chapel’s silver. Not that they ever managed to keep any of it as the booty was subsequently taken away from them by their officers who shared it among themselves.
Among the many vandalised objects was the image of the Virgin. There are several alternative histories as regards what exactly the sailors did to it and its eventual recovery. Here is one of the oldest as told by Ayala:
Donde ejecutaron mas desordenes fue en la virgen de Europa - maltrataron la imagen con irrisión, i cortaron la cabeza al niño que tenía en sus brazos. Pudose no obstante recobrar, i se colocó en el altar del sagrario de la iglesia mayor sin que faltase nada A la imagen, pues una mujer piadosa logró recoger la cabeza que habían separado los irreligiosos vencedores.And here is a lengthy and more modern version by the British Historian Allen Andrews
A tiny velvet gown flung into the air from the shallow cliff at the Point, side-slipped in a gust and flopped into the sea, which carried it quickly away. It came from a group of men . . . who stood on the edge of the land. Two of them bore on their shoulders, as if they were carrying a pigmy Pope, an ornate, half-sized chair on which lolled a seated statue with carved draperies. The form of a naked baby, from which the small gown had been torn, lay propped across the lap.
One of the groups on the cliff snatched a sceptre from the hand of the figure in the chair and wrenched a crown from its head. Then the two bearers, sweating with their burden, with the drink they had taken and with an inner emotional fire, raised their arms and hurled the chair outwards. Throne and Virgin and Child crashed separately on the rocks below.
The round head of the baby snapped from the carved body and tumbled like a boulder to the very brink of the sea. The men swung round, their checked scarlet breeches flaring out like skirts to show drawers tied at the knee. They walked back a few paces, carrying the crown and sceptre towards a large building shaped like a mosque but with a cross surmounting its central tower. Some of their pig-tailed companions were already leaving this Chapel along the path that led north from Europa Point back to the town.
A later version by George Palao includes several other colourful details.They were singing and swearing in the English language. They carried altar ornaments, candlesticks and rich burgesses’ clothing, besides church vestments. Some of them swung massive silver lamps.
When the Shrine was stripped of its treasures . . . they removed the crowns and jewels from the venerated statue of the Virgin and Child and dragged it out and pored 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 among the rocks. . .
Later Don Juan Romero de Fiqueroa . . . made his way south and found parts of the broken statue, recovered it and wrapped it up in sacking and buried it in a gully. . . The Parish priest with the assistance of others . . . gradually smuggled out of the fortress . . . sacred images including the mutilated figure from the Shrine at Europa which he conveyed to . .Even more recently the British historian William Jackson added the following extras.
The statue. . was slashed with a cutlass . . . recovered and smuggled out to Cadiz for restoration.And finally a quote from the previously mentioned Gibraltar Heritage Paper.
The statue of the Virgin and Child was vandalised and flung down onto the rocks. As it was made of wood it floated out to sea and was found by a fisherman who took it to Father Juan Romero de Figueroa . . . . He took the statue to Algeciras, across the Bay of Gibraltar, for safe keeping.I am not at all sure where all these historians got these colourful details from but there seems to be an awful lot of guesswork going on. What is almost certain is that the statue was indeed damaged by the sailors and whether from the sea or elsewhere all the bits and pieces were recovered.
A sketch of the damaged statue as visualised by George Palao in 1981
Somebody who was certainly not there to witness all this – despite being a Gibraltarian - was Diego de Astorga y Céspedes. He was born in 1663, got his degree in Canon Law from the University of Granada and by 1716 had managed to rise through the ecclesiastical ranks to become the Bishop of Barcelona.
The story goes that on one of his pastoral visits to the nearby town of Manresa he noticed a statue of a virgin and child in an archway that reminded him of the well known Virgin of his home town. Apparently it had been found buried in mud and had been placed there by the locals. As nobody knew what the statue was called Don Diego decided to name it Nuestra Señora de Europa. The archway – which became known as el Portal de Europa – no longer exists. As regards the statue it was eventually removed from Manresa to the Parish Church of Salt and renamed “Our Virgin of the Snow”. So far I have been unable to trace either the church or the statue.
La Virgen de Manresa now known as La Virgen de la Nieve
A few years later Diego de Astorga y Céspedes was transferred to Madrid where he eventually became Primate of Spain. When he heard about the desecration of the Chapel during the capture of Gibraltar he ordered the construction of yet another statue of the Virgen de Europa which he installed in Real Convento de las Carmelitas Descalzas.
La Virgen de Europa in Madrid. The old convent no longer exists but the statue can now be seen in the Real Monasterio de Santa Teresa – the baby Jesus is a modern addition as the original was destroyed in the 1930s during the Spanish Civil War
For the record, Don Diego was also appointed the thirty-fourth Inquisitor General. He is recorded as having ordered 68 people to be burnt at the stake. Also for the record he was by no means the worst of the lot – some of his predecessors and successors could count their victims in the thousands.
Diego de Astorga y Céspedes looking as if butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth ( Unknown )
Meanwhile the Gibraltar statue was smuggled across the frontier to Algeciras. It was taken for safe-keeping to what must have been a rather modest Chapel inside a farm owned by the Gálvez family who were said to have been one of the richest in Gibraltar – although in those days Gibraltar was not just the town within the Rock as we know it today but also included the area beyond it known as the Campo de Gibraltar.
The Chapel was relatively new at the time as it had been built in 1690 and was dedicated to St Bernard, patron saint of the entire area. With the statue in place the name of the Chapel was changed to the Capilla de Nuestra Señora de Europa – often also referred as the Capillita de Nuestra Señora de Europa.
Curiously the arrival of the statue had important repercussions for Algeciras itself. The town had been completely destroyed by Muhammed V of Granada in 1379 and had never really recovered. So much so that the farm owned by the Gálvez family was situated within the old walls that had surrounded the original town.
Plano de los vestigios de la ciudad principal de las Algeciras . . . en que se demuestra el estado de la nueva Población, como se hallava en Henero de 1724 – “O” in the bottom middle of the plan is identified as the Hermita de Ntra Sa de Europa
The forced exodus from the Rock in 1704, however, had led to a steady influx of families into the derelict town, many of them setting up temporary homes close to the Chapel. These quickly became more permanent affairs once it became apparent that a return to Gibraltar was not going to happen any time soon. In other words, the very presence of the statue may have been indirectly responsible for kick-starting the development of the modern town of Algeciras.
The 1755 Lisbon earthquake severely damaged the Algeciras Chapel and it was replaced by a small Baroque style building in 1769. It was designed by the architect Torquato Cayón who gave us the building we see today.
Capilla de Nuestra Señora de Europa - Algeciras
From then on the history of both statues of the Virgin of Europa remained more or less at a standstill for about three quarters of a century at the end of which the Great Siege of Gibraltar took place.
The relationship between the non-British locals and the military, which even at the best of times could never be classified as good, deteriorated even further during the Siege. On one occasion a group of drunken soldiers took refuge in St Mary the Crowned. Feeling relatively safe from yet another heavy bombardment they continued to ‘carouse and be merry’.
Staggering about the ruined interior of the church they found a statue of the Virgin Mary and proposed that ‘as a piece of fun’ they should place the virgin in a whirligig. Nevertheless as ‘military men and particularly Englishmen’ they thought it would be wrong to punish the Virgin without a trial.
A mock court-martial found ‘her Ladyship’ guilty of drunkenness, debauchery and other high crimes and the statue of the Virgin - inside the whirligig - was paraded through the streets. When the Governor George Augustus Eliott heard about this he ordered the statue to be moved immediately to the Convent where according to John Drinkwater ‘she was by no means exempt from further insult and disgrace’.
The “Spanish Church” – St Mary the Crowned” as it was a couple of decades after the end of the Siege ( 1800 – Rev Cooper Willyams )
Whether or not the statue that suffered these indignities was the larger version of the Virgen de Europa is difficult to tell but it would not surprise me to learn that it was. Drinkwater incidentally considered all of this quite amusing and something of a prank. Apparently so did everybody else in the Garrison. None of the soldiers were ever punished.
It was not, however, the only time that the statues of the Cathedral were put at risk during the Siege. On one memorable Maundy Thursday Mass the barrage from the Spanish guns became so intense that the entire congregation fled the church and the vicar, Father Francisco Messa, was left more or less on his own. On Good Friday the bombardment intensified and the priest decided that discretion might after all be the better part of valour. He left the church for a safer place taking with him as many valuable items as he could.
By Easter Sunday the Church was ablaze. Messa changed his mind about the value of discretion and returned to his church. He arrived just in time to salvage the statue of our Lady of Europa. Surrounded by flames it had just about been ready to catch fire. When he returned to safety carrying his trophy aloft he was met by hundreds of grateful parishioners, singing his praises to high heaven. The Siege was also responsible for the removal of the Chapel’s tower. At the start of the Siege the Governor Eliott, ordered that the tops of all the taller buildings on the Rock should be taken down so that enemy gunners would not be able to use them as prominent bearing points. It can't have done much for the structure of the building.
1309 – La Virgen de Europa – The Mosque (See LINK)
1309 – La Virgen de Europa – The Hermitage (See LINK)
1309 – La Virgen de Europa – The Anniversary (See LINK)