Thursday, March 25, 2010

La Virgen de la Cabeza

Last Sunday’s hike was a little dull; normal Andalucían landscape, gray skies and a bit of drizzle. Dull, that is, until we had put about 20km (13 miles) behind us. At that point, it turned from a natural outing to a cultural outing, enjoying the church and the war monument at La Virgen de la Cabeza. That made the day worthwhile, in my opinion. At Spanish historical sites, it’s interesting to see the layers of history. For instance, the site was a center of Republican resistance during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). Before that, it was a pilgrimage site, where a church had been built in the early 1200’s. Before that….who knows? Andalucía has been continuously inhabited since Stone Age times. See the photos at
Here is my translation of the inscription on the war monument: “When all of the province of Jaen had succumbed to the enemy, the shout of rebellion was heard in these crags. The heroic Captain Cortes, leading 200 civil guards in the sanctuary and 60 in Lugar Nuevo, were responsible for 1,200 women, children, and seniors in the first and 300 in the second. Some fellow countrymen, able to bear arms, had joined with the defenders. The siege began on August 17, 1936, and in the first days of October, the National Air Force began to supply the defenders. From December 31, Captain Haya is another hero, daily defying death as he carries his precious cargo by air again and again to the sanctuary. The days pass. Hunger, sickness, and enemy attacks continue to thin the ranks of the defenders, but their confidence in the protection of the Holy Virgin is not extinguished, and again and again the offers of surrender are rejected. On April 12, 1937, the heroic Lieutenant Ruano happily leads the evacuation of Lugar Nuevo, reduced by enemy artillery to a mountain of rubble. On the 25th, a touching message is released from the sanctuary: ‘Goodbye. Hail Spain.’ On May 1st, Cortes falls wounded for the second time, this time mortally. The munitions run out, the resistance is extinguished, and at 5:00 in the afternoon when the horde erupted into the sanctuary, there were less than 30 men still bearing a weapon. The rest had died or were out of commission, gravely wounded. Walker or pilgrim that visits these places, stop and raise to the Highest an emotional prayer for the soul of those who in these crags honored their homeland making the generous offering of their lives…” This affects me all the more when you realize that “the enemy” they’re talking about were other Spaniards!

Here is my translation of the inscription on the statue of Juan de Rivas, the shepherd whose vision of the Virgin on this hill inspired the construction of the first church: “To Juan de Rivas, shepherd of Colomera, to whom the Virgin showed herself on the 12th of August, 1227, to be the consolation, the glory, the joy, and the honor of our people, this was erected in 1974.”

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