OUR LADY OF THE PILLAR, La Ensenanza Church, Mexico City
Step into the church of La Ensenanza in the historical district of Mexico City and you will be entering what many writers refer to as one of the most beautiful churches in the country. Its façade is outstanding as well.
The architecture of La Ensenanza is known as Churrigueresque, a type of ultra-Baroque construction that is named after the Spanish architect, Jose Churriguera, who dominated Spanish architecture for the first half of the 18th century. As is evident by the photos on this website, this style of architecture is characterized by an extravagance of sculptural details, or, to quote one author, “a plethora of elaborate decoration.” Gilded carvings, rosettes, sculpted clouds and angels, paintings and statues, adorn all surfaces in splendid array. All with one mystical purpose: to give glory and praise to God with all one’s heart and soul. It is a style of architecture unique to Spain and Latin America, particularly Mexico. The church is quite small (I doubt if it could hold even 100 people) and is a five-minute walk to the zocalo (central square of the city).
The church of La Ensenanza was named for the convent of the same name which was founded by one of the most distinguished women in 18th century Mexico: Mother Maria Ignacia de Azlor y Echevers. Her primary goal was to provide quality education for the girls and women of the city, a project to which she dedicated her life. She died in 1767 and the construction of the church was begun a few years later. By 1778 the church was completed and was consecrated by Archbishop don Alonso Nunez de Haro y Peralta. The expulsion of the religious in 1861 by the edicts of the revolutionary government resulted in the abandonment of the convent. The church, however, was conserved.
The Virgin of the Pillar is the central figure above the main altar. She is holding the Child Jesus and is standing on a column which is typically obscured by a mantle (in this case a brightly coloured green fabric). Can you see the column below the mantle in the photograph?
But what was the origin of the name, “The Lady of the Pillar?” Tradition relates that Our Lady appeared to the apostle St. James in 40 AD in Zaragoza, Spain. Apparently he was having many trials in his preaching and was getting discouraged with his lack of progress. She came to encourage him and offer him strength! She was accompanied by a myriad of angels who carried a column of marble and a small statue of Our Lady on top of the column.
She asked that St. James have a temple built in the area of the apparition. It is considered the first apparition of Our Lady in history. In 1730 Pope Innocent XIII authorized veneration of Our Lady of the Pillar throughout the Spanish Empire (including Mexico and Latin America). The Spanish mystic, Venerable Mary of Agreda, described the happenings in her book, THE MYSTICAL CITY OF GOD. The feast day of Our Lady of the Pillar is October 12.