El Rocío - A Brief History
Introduction To The Legend of Our Lady of Rocio -
"El Rocío" as the devotion to Our Lady of Rocío is commonly referred to in Spanish, has reached an important moment in its history. The Main Brotherhood "The Brotherhood of Our Lady of Rocio of Almonte", with its associate brotherhoods throughout Spain has spread the devotion to Our Lady of Rocío even outside the borders of the Spanish Kingdom.
Perhaps one of the most important events in the History of El Rocío was the visit by His Holiness Pope John Paul II to the Sanctuary of Rocío on the 14th of June of 1993. The visit of His Holiness The Pope served to solidify and recognized the importance the devotion to Our Lady of Rocío plays in the Catholic World and in the humble lives of so many people who have kept such tradition alive throughout the seven centuries.
Such a glorious event should serve as a commitment for all "Rocieros" (devouts of Our Lady of Rocío), not only in our spiritual life, but also in learning the history of said traditions, and in making the words of our Holy Father become a reality: "Make of this place of Rocío a true school of Christian Life...May the whole world be "Rocieros!"
The Traditions of "El Rocío", which have been crossed reference to historical documents, are surrounded by a legend, as is the case of the many popular Marian Advocations, such as Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of Pilar, and Our Lady of Lourdes to name a few. All the major events in the history of "El Rocío" are collected in the Rules of the Main Brotherhood dated to 1758 and start with the following statement: "At the start of the XV Century of Our Lord, a man who reared cattle or was out hunting, finding himself in the limits of the village of Almonte..." Today the history of "El Rocío" can be traced further back to the XIII Century. It is believed that it was the Marian Monarch Alfonso X, The Wise (1252-1284), who built the first church of Our Lady of Rocio, after the conquest of Niebla in 1262, and had the beautiful statue of Our Lady of Rocío placed in said church.
An old representation of Our Lady of Rocio/Antigua Pintura de Nstra. Sra. del Rocío
El Rocio is one of the most important centers of popular religious expression, and Marian Devotion today, whose apex is Our Lady of Rocío, Our Lady of Pentecost, whose roots can be traced to the XIII Century of Our Lord, coinciding with the Reconquest from the Moors of Andalusia and the re-establishment of Catholicism in the area.
The place we know today as "El Rocío", gives it's name not only to Our Lady, but also to the small village and it's territory. This area was previously known as Las Rocinas, and once belonged to the Spanish Royal Crown. It was King Alfonso X, "The Wise", who after conquering the land from the Moors, is believed to have built a small church and placed the image of Our Lady of The Rocinas in said church.
Historical Notes of El Rocío
The Devotion of Our Lady of Rocío dates back about eight centuries. Because of the age of such devotion, it is difficult to pin point the exact date and events that led to such a beautiful expression of faith. There are documents that reference the area now called El Rocío dating back to the 9th Century AD written by many important people of ancient times, such as the Latin Poet Festo Avein, the Arab historian Isidri, and in particular in the "Libro de la Monteria" by King Alfonso XI of Castile. In all these documents, the references to El Rocío focus primarily in the description of Wetlands known as "Las Marismas" and their ideal conditions for cattle farming and horse breeding, which continues to play a vital role in the areas economy.
Perhaps our historical starting point should be the Christian Conquest of Seville from the Moors in 1248 by King Ferdinand III, The Saint, and the conquest of the area of Niebla in 1262 by King Alfonso X ,The Wise; under whose protection the town of Almonte came to rest. Ever since then, the area was designated as a Royal hunting ground.
It was the intention of the King to repopulate the area, and promote commerce and economic activities based in agricuture and the exploitation of natural resources. The area of Niebla became part of the Archdoicese of Seville, and Almonte became an administrative area of Niebla.
The area today known as El Rocío was known by the name of The Village of Las Rocinas in those days. It was a beautiful area, of impressive demensions, from which the spring with the same name flowed. A parcel of the area was given by the Catholic Kings to their Royal Secretary Estaban Perez, and was later adquired by Council of the Village of Almonte from his son in the year 1582, and since then has formed part of of Almonte.
Aside from these historical geographical facts, when does the first reference to a church appear? It is in the year 1335, in the records of a meeting between the authorities of Niebla and Seville held to set border disputes. As a place of meeting, the act mentions a Priest House adjacent to the church of Our Lady of The Rocinas. A few years later, Alfonso XI makes a reference to the same church in his book "Libro de La Monteria". In it, The King boasts about the quality of the zone as a hunting ground "...the best hunting grounds the area between the Church of Saint Mary of The Rocinas and The Church that is called Santolalla."
The church of Santolalla has since disappeared, but references to the church of Saint Mary of The Rocinas continue to appear, for example in the Last Will and Testament of a lady from the city of Niebla, who left her belongings for the benefit of the church of Saint Mary of The Rocinas in 1349. In 1400 the authorities of Niebla and Seville once again meet to discuss regional borders and this time they meet in the Church of Saint Mary of The Rocinas.
Therefore, we can say with cerntainty that the church existed all throughout the 14th Century with references that also afirm it's existance in a remote past. Based on these reference we can estimate that the original church of Our Lady of Rocío was built aroun 1280 by King Alfonso X, The Wise, for the reverence of the image of The Virgin Mary, which probably dates to the same period.
In 1582, the Council of the Village of Almonte acquired the area known, as The Mother of The Wetlands, adjacent to the small church, with what today comprises the area of the village of El Rocío. The area was bordered by lands belonging to the House of The Duke of Medina Sidonia, and Count of Niebla. All these territories were frequented by merchants and travelers going in and out region, since it border many of the important principalities of the Spanish Kingdom, and the ports that served the American Colonies.
As travelers came in and out of the region, they spoke of the beautiful little church dedicated to Our Lady of The Rocío, and propagated the advocation of Our Lady of Rocío. Therefore, it is not surprising the first brotherhoods dedicated to Our Lady of Rocío were started in the villages and cities bordering the area of Almonte/El Rocío. Today there are more than 50 Brotherhoods and recognized associations throughout the Spanish Territory, Europe, The Americas, and Asia.
In 1587, Mr. Baltasar Tercero, native of Seville, and resident of Lima Peru leaves upon his death on February 11th, Two Thousand Silver Pesos for the restoration of the Church of Our Lady of Rocío and for the salaries of a permanent priest. This was huge donation for it's time, an endowment of sorts, and it made it possible for the small church to continue to serve the needs of all travelers and residents of the area.
In the year 1653, the village of Almonte proclaims Our Lady of Rocío as it’s Patron Saint for having save the town from the plague. All this time the popularity and devotion to Our Lady of Rocío continues to grow, and is no longer limited to the Southern part of Spain, but reaches all corners of the kingdom.
In 1755 the Lisbon earthquake was felt quite strong in the area, and the small ancient church suffered much damage. The image of Our Lady was transferred from El Rocío to The Village of Almonte while repairs were made on the church, and was returned to the village of El Rocío in 1760 . The Church was once again restored in 1915, but was later replaced with the present sanctuary of Our Lady of Rocío which was completed in 1969. It has become a tradition that when the Image of Our Lady travels from El Rocío to Almonte, she is normally dressed as a shepherdess instead of her traditional Royal robes. The image travels to Almonte every 7 years since the early 1600's as an act of Thanksgiving.
The name of the town of Las Rocinas was changed to “El Rocío” in 1758. Inspired by the liturgy of Pentecost and The Holy Spirit, Our Lady of the Rocinas has since being known as Our Lady of Rocío – Virgin of The Holy Spirit, and is commonly referred to by her devotees as “La Blanca Paloma”, The White Dove.
The image of Our Lady of Rocío was Canonically crowned in accordance to The Papal Bull of September 8th, 1918. The Ceremony took place in El Rocío, on June 8th, 1919 and was presided by H.E. Cardenal Almaraz y Santos with a gold crown inspired by the crown worn by The Immaculate Conception of Seville. As a tradition the image of Our Lady of Rocio is adorned according to the passage in The Apocalypse Of Saint John -
"great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and on her head a crown of twelve stars..." Revelation 12, 1.
On June 14th, 1993 His Holiness Pope John Paul II visited and prayed in the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Rocío along with Twenty-Five Thousand people present for the occasion. His Holiness implored Christians to stay true to their faith, to live by the example set by the Mother of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and hoped that one day the entire world become “Rocieros”…
H.H. Pope John Paul II Blessing the crowd outside the Church of Our Lady of Rocio
“…I have asked of Mary to continue to grant you the happiness of your way of being, the strength of the foundation of faith, and that she instills in you the christian hope, that it may manifest in the joy of life, the acceptance of your suffrage, and the solidarity against all forms of selfishness.”
– H.H. Pope John Paul II
Map of The European Road to El Rocio - "Camino Europeo del Rocío"
In the year 2000, the European Road of El Rocío is established, thanks in part to the foundation of the Brotherhood of Our Lady of Rocío in Brussels, Belgium. This road it the official road to be taken by those going on pilgrimage to The Sanctuary of Ourl Lady of Rocío, and is to serve a spiritual journey for travelers, just as the Road to Santiago de Compostela serves it's travelers.