Our Lady of Europe

A short History of the Shrine

These pictures show the state of the Shrine in 1961. Fr Louis Orfila (who was to become the Shrine’s first Rector for over 40 years) wrote: ‘The place was empty, drab, very damp and full of cobwebs, quite uncongenial to religious fervour. But in its own humble way, it was an impressive and historic beginning.’

It was with a view to turning this historic prayer house into a peaceful house of prayer that Fr Orfila, together with his team of volunteers, set out to restore the small, dilapidated but significant temple.

Six years had to pass before, on 7th October 1967, the ancient statue of Our Lady of Europe was returned to its Shrine after two hundred and sixty three years!

Moslem troops, led by Tarik Ibn Zayid successfully captured this peninsular (known at the time as Calpe) in AD 710. In honour of his achievement, Calpe was renamed ‘Gibel Tarik’, from where we get the name ‘Gibraltar’: the Mountain of Tarik. In keeping with their practices, and in thanksgiving to Allah, the Moslem troops built a fortress and constructed a mosque with a minaret at the southernmost part of Gibraltar, located just across from the North African coast. Once consolidated here, they marched into mainland Europe, conquering most of the Iberian Peninsular.

Six hundred years later, in 1309, Spanish King Ferdinand IV captured Gibraltar and expelled the Moslem troops back to Africa. The King converted the ancient mosque into a Christian Shrine where the first statue of Our Lady of Europe was venerated.  Conscious of its importance, the Moslems recaptured Gibraltar 24 years later in 1333 until Spanish King Henry IV, grandson of Ferdinand IV, recaptured Gibraltar in 1462 and restored the devotion to Our Lady of Europe initiated by Ferdinand, and once again transformed the ancient mosque into a Christian Shrine. There followed a period during which devotion to Our Lady of Europe spread throughout the Mediterranean.

Gibraltar was captured by Anglo-Dutch forces in 1704, during the War of Spanish Succession. The Shrine was again plundered by the invading troops who stole all the valuables, mutilated the statue of Our Lady, severing her head and throwing the pieces over the cliff. These were later found and salvaged and taken to Algeciras.

The Shrine remained in military hands until it was returned to the Church on 17th October 1961. The building was in a desperate state of disrepair, having been used as a store room, guard room and prison. A long process of restoration was ahead, before the statue of Our Lady of Europe and her Shrine were to meet.