During his time of exile in Saragossa, Spain Blessed Chaminade spent a great deal of time praying and meditating before the statue of Our Lady of the Pillar. It is believed that it was in one of these times of prayer that Chaminade received the inspiration to found the Society of Mary.
The story of the origins of this shrine is fascinating. Jesus told his disciples to "go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations. Baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Teach them to carry out everything I have commanded you." (Matthew 28: 19-20) After Jesus’ Ascension, the disciples set out as missionaries. St. James, the son of Zebedee, set out for Spain.
As he traveled throughout the country with little success, he became discouraged. He was in Saragossa with eight men whom he had converted to the faith. He had preached with little response, and at the end of the day gathered with the eight converts in an isolated area for prayer. As they slept James was awakened by the sound of angels singing. He knelt in awe and saw Mary, Jesus' mother, surrounded by angels sitting on a marble pillar descending from the clouds. At this time Mary was living with John the Apostle in Jerusalem. She spoke to him saying, "Behold here, James my son, the spot assigned and dedicated to my honor, upon which is to be constructed by your industry a church in my memory. Note well this pillar on which I am seated, which my Son and your Master sent down to me from on high by the hands of angels and around which you shall set up the altar of my chapel. On this spot the Most High will work miracles through my intercession, for those who in their need will implore my protection; and this pillar will remain in this place until the end of the world, and true Christians will never be lacking in this city." Mary told James that he was to be a pillar of strength. After Mary was taken back to Jerusalem by the angels, the pillar remained. James and the converts with him constructed a chapel with the pillar and the altar at one end. Centuries later a much larger church was built on that site. The Church of Our Lady of the Pillar has withstood pagan uprisings, wars, and revolutions, periods of persecutions, Muslim invasions, and occupation. It is a site where many pilgrims come to pray, and it was a place where Fr. Chaminade frequently came to pray during his period of exile.