On the 7th October 1967, the statue of Our Lady
of Europe was carried into the Shrine of our Lady
at Europa Point in Gibraltar, thereby completing
an eventful journey that began almost 600 years
In 711 AD the Moors invaded Iberia and rapidly
took over the greater part of the Peninsula. The
initial landing was in the vicinity of the hill then
known as Calpe, probably in what is now known
as the Bay of Gibraltar or Algeciras Bay
depending on which chart is examined. Calpe
was renamed Gibel Tarik, ‘the mountain of Tarik’,
to honour the Muslim commander of the invading
forces Tarik Ibn Zayid. Soon after the occupation,
a mosque was built at Europa Point.
In 1309 Gibraltar was taken from the Moors by
King Ferdinand IV of Castile. The mosque was
converted into a Christian shrine, then in 1333 the
Moors once again took possession of Gibel Tarik
and the shrine reverted to being a mosque. In
1462 Juan Alonso de Guzmán, 1st Duke of Medina
Sidonia finally restored Gibraltar to the Spanish
Crown and the mosque once again became a
In 1415, the Portuguese King John I captured
Ceuta, just 20 kilometres south, across the Strait
from Gibraltar. In 1421, his son, Henry the
Navigator, sent a Holy Virgin statue to a shrine
there that was consecrated to Our Lady of Africa.
Soon after 1462, a chapel was built over the
remains of the mosque and a statue of the Virgin
and Child was installed. The statue was 61
centimetres tall and depicted a seated Virgin with
the child Jesus on her lap. Both were crowned
and the Virgin held a sceptre. The whole area of
the shrine became known as The Shrine of Our
Lady of Europe.
The shrine was revered by mariners who came ashore
and left votive offerings for a safe voyage; a practice
started at Gibraltar by the Phoenicians over two
thousand years earlier who used Gorham’s Cave for a
similar purpose. The Middle Age mariners also left a
supply of oil for the lamp in front of the statue and for
the lamp that shone through a window in the tower
above the chapel. The light from the tower was visible
from the sea and acted as Europa Point’s first
Following the reconquest, completed in 1492, many
Muslims were ejected from Spain and joined the
Barbary pirates that operated from the shores of North
Africa from Morocco to Tunisia. Raids on the Spanish
coast became frequent and in 1540 Gibraltar was
attacked and sacked on one such foray. Hundreds of
Gibraltarians were taken as slaves and hostages, and
the shrine itself was looted. Although damaged, the
statue was left behind. It was later repaired in Seville
and brought back to Gibraltar.
On the 3rd August 1704, a combined Anglo-Dutch fleet
commenced firing on the town and the fortifications of
Gibraltar in preparation for a landing. Many of the
townspeople took refuge in the Shrine of Our Lady of
Europe. A British contingent landed at Rosia Bay and
headed to the shrine. There they captured the civilians
and, according to Juan Romero de Figueroa, the priest
of the parish of St. Mary the Crowned who noted in the
Baptismal Register, looted,
‘…twelve silver lamps, candlesticks, lecterns, crowns,
gems and consecrated vessels, the clothes of many
families, who had withdrawn there, and when there
was nothing else to rob, they broke off the head of the
statue which is so venerated in Spain and the child
Jesus and threw it among the stones’.
The head and the remaining parts of the statue floated into
the Bay of Gibraltar where they were found by a fisherman.
He recovered them from the water and took them to Juan
Romero de Figueroa who, in turn, smuggled the parts out
of Gibraltar when he and most of the other inhabitants
chose to live in Spain under Spanish rule. The remains of
the statue were placed in the Chapel of St. Bernard in
Algeciras and that chapel was dedicated to Our Lady of
Europe. The original shrine, at Europa Point, passed into
military hands. It was severely damaged during the Great
Siege (1779-1783) and subsequently demolished.
Meanwhile, a replica of the statue had been made and
installed in the Cathedral Of St. Mary the Crowned and St.
Bernard on Main Street, Gibraltar. Sometime after 1927
Bishop of the Diocese of Gibraltar, Richard Joseph
Fitzgerald put the replica into storage, where it was
forgotten for almost 40 years. He replaced it, on the
left-hand side altar with a different statue. The
reproduction was rediscovered in 1965 by Charles
Caruana, later Bishop of Gibraltar, who was then
responsible for the sacristy. In 1986, after restoration, it was
put back into the left-hand altar space, where it remains.
Returning to the original statue, still in the Chapel of St.
Bernard in Algeciras.
In the early 1860s, John Baptist Scandella, the Vicar
Apostolic of Gibraltar, petitioned for the return of the
original statue from Algeciras. An agreement was reached
by Scandella, the Bishop of Cádiz and the Primate of Spain
by which the original would be returned to Gibraltar if a
copy were made to replace it in Algeciras. The replica was
carved in Seville, and at the same time, the original was
repaired. The original statue arrived back in Gibraltar in
The site of the original shrine, in 1864, was held by the
military, so the statue was housed in the Loreto Convent
on Main Street whilst a fundraising campaign was initiated
to purchase a site on Engineer Road. The new chapel
included an altar donated by Pope Pius IX (1846 – 1878),
who, incidentally, was the longest reigning, elected pope in
the history of the Catholic Church. The statue sat on Pope
Pius’s altar until World War II when it was returned to the
Cathedral for safekeeping. For the duration of the war, the
Cathedral unknowingly housed two statues of Our Lady of
Europe. After the war, the statue was placed in the church
closest to Europa Point, St. Joseph Parish Church. The
building erected on the site of the shrine became a military
storage facility until 1959 when, no longer required, the
military decided to demolish it.
Bishop John Healy intervened, and in 1961 the building
was ceded to the Catholic diocese. Following restoration,
the first mass in 258 years was held at the shrine on the
28th September 1962. On the 7th October 1967, the statue
of Our Lady of Europe finally returned home to the Shrine.
That could have been her last journey but, in 2002, Bishop
Caruana took the statue of Our Lady of Europe to Rome
where Pope John Paul II blessed and crowned her. Yet
another replica was given to the Pope as a gift.
Nick has lived and worked in Andalucia for over 20 years. He and his partner, Julie Evans, have travelled extensively and dug deep into the history and culture, producing authoritative articles on all aspects of the region. Nick has written four books about Andalucia and writes articles for other websites and blogs.
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