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Virgen de la Peña de Francia, El Cabaco, Salamanca, Castilla y Leon, Spain

Commemorated on May 19
Virgen de la Peña de Francia, El Cabaco, Salamanca, Castilla y Leon, Spain
The mile-high summit of Peña de Francia is not near the French border, as its name suggests, but deep in the highlands of central Spain. This had consequences for a young Franciscan tertiary named Simon Rolan, who in 1425 was studying in Paris when he saw a vision of the Virgin, who said, "Simon, keep watch and sleep not. Go to the Peña de Francia in the western lands, and seek there an image resembling me; you will find it in a grotto, and there I'll tell you what to do." For nine years Simon searched. When he finally found the mountain, he searched there three days before the Virgin reappeared, saying, "You'll dig here, and what you find you must take out and place on the highest point, where you'll build a church." On May 19, 1434, he uncovered a black Virgin statue buried under a rock. At once, four men helping him were healed of all their ailments, according to their affidavit in the nearby town of San Martín del Castañar. They began work on the mountaintop chapel that day. Now known as Simón Vela for the Virgin's words to him (keep watch, velar in Spanish), the seeker devoted himself to the building and care of the shrine. It became one of the great pilgrimage churches of Spain. Two years later, Dominican friars settled there to care for the sanctuary; after several political disruptions over the centuries, they are still there. Although popular tradition assigned the wooden statue to the period before the Islamic conquest in 711, art historians date it to the 1100s: a large-headed mother, standing, holding with both hands the child, his right hand raised in blessing. Thieves took the statue in 1872 and returned its remains in 1889 to the Dominicans of San Esteban Monastery in Salamanca. The Bishop of Salamanca commissioned José Alcoberro y Amorós of Madrid to create a new image of the Virgin and Child, with a place inside it for the old one. This reliquary statue of 1890 (right) is the one venerated on the Peña de Francia today.  
The province of Salamanca celebrates the fiesta of the Virgin of  Peña de Francia on September 8, Feast of the Nativity of Mary. Pilgrims congregate at the mountain shrine, many in traditional costumes, to honor the Virgin with song, dance, and prayer.
Spanish and Portuguese believers carried devotion to Our Lady of the Crag of France around the world. Some of her greatest shrines are Nossa Senhora da Penha de França, Braga and Lisbon, Portugal, São Paulo, Brasil, and Goa, India; and Our Lady of Peñafrancia, Naga City, Philippines.
"Santuario de la Peña de Francia," Orden de Predicadores,
Peña de Francia: historia, arte, entorno. Angel Pérez Casado, Alfredo Encinas. Editorial San Esteban, 2003.
"la Virgen de la Peña de Francia," Salamanca Salamanca,
Juan Antonio Diez Arnal, (picture)




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