The day has arrived when the city of Jerez dresses up in celebration of its patroness, so I have set out to dedicate a post to share with you her history, origins, and interesting facts about this widely revered Marian statue.
Where does the Marian devotion of Our Lady of Mercy come from?
In the 13th century, the Moors, taking advantage of coastal raids, captured many Christians to be enslaved in Africa, living in deplorable conditions.
It was then that the merchant Pedro Nolasco decided to use his wealth to embark on the mission of liberating them, with the help of others who shared the same vision and values.
These men managed to free many captives, but as resources dwindled for their mission, they decided to form fraternities to raise funds.
Although this worked for a while, eventually, the funds ran out, and Pedro Nolasco had no choice but to seek the favor of God. Legend has it that it was the Virgin Mary who appeared to him and inspired him to establish a congregation dedicated to the redemption of captives. And thus, the order of the Mercedarians was born, knights in the service of Mary’s redemptive work.
Devotion and Attributes.
The Mercedarian devotion provides relief to faithful Christians in their most severe tribulations.
The grace of the Virgin is a reflection of the great devotion she is revered with in different places around the world:
- Europe: Spain and Italy.
- America: Peru, Chile, Argentina, Ecuador, Mexico, and Brazil.
- Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Central America, and the United States.
The name itself, Merced, means mercy, and its day is marked on the calendar on September 24th.
The Virgin and the city of Jerez.
The legend goes that the Most Holy Mary of La Merced was acclaimed as the Patroness in 1272, and the city swore allegiance to her in 1300.
According to the chronicles, the wooden statue was found unharmed and uncorrupted during the excavation of the foundations of the Merced convent, inside a brick and tile oven.
Analysis of the image.
The Virgin is crafted from dark wood.
The raised carving depicts the Virgin holding the Child Jesus, also with a dark complexion, portrayed standing at her side. Her right hand blesses the people, and her left hand holds a globe.
The original Child Jesus is not part of this image; it is housed in the sacristy of the Basilica.
From the original Virgin, only the head remains, displaying a frontal rigidity, a sharp profile, and an archaic smile, all characteristic elements of Gothic sculptures. The rest of the carving was later covered with silver for its preservation.
The Miraculous Virgin
The devotion to La Merced became deeply rooted in the 16th century when the city entrusted itself to her divine intercession to end the drought that was plaguing the city in the late 16th century. The Virgin answered their pleas with abundant rains for the dry fields.
The efforts of the Mercedarian order helped strengthen the devotion to the patroness. So much so that in 1410, the municipal council began making donations to support the order in its work, a campaign supported by the city’s knights who joined in the effort.
The devotion endured, as evidenced by the occasions when the image was paraded in procession to seek her help during droughts, famines, or epidemics, despite the prohibition against taking her out of the temple. Furthermore, she was also carried in processions for other reasons, such as during the illness and death of Queen Isabella the Catholic.
Throughout the 16th century, various miracles were recorded during these processions, including the healing of a plague epidemic in 1569, the recovery of the infirm, and in 1589, when the image remained in the Jerez Cathedral for 9 days to pray for rain. Interestingly, on the third day of her stay, it rained in the city.
The celebration and the temples.
Initially, her feast was celebrated on April 30th. Later on August 15th, a day of the Virgin par excellence. Finally, it was moved to the current date, September 24th.
As for the temples, she was venerated for a time in the church of Santiago on two occasions, due to the French invasion and the expulsion of the friars of the order resulting from the Mendizábal confiscations.
The Virgin returned to her Basilica after three years. However, the friars did not return until 1940.
The beloved Patroness receives the veneration of numerous devotees year after year, first during her novena, then in the preceding solemn mass to renew the 1300 vow, and finally in the procession that fills the streets and squares of Jerez with the scent of tuberoses.
A beautiful procession in which traditionally, the flamenco singers from the San Miguel and Santiago neighborhoods sang “bulerías”: «¿A dónde va usté? / ¿A dónde va usté? / ¡A vé a la Virgen de la Mercé!» (‘Where are you going? / Where are you going? / To see the Virgin of Mercy!’)
Our crowned Lady of Mercy.
On May 28, 1961, the long-awaited Canonical Coronation of the Patroness took place in the city.
Years earlier, triduums were celebrated in different temples throughout the city in preparation for the grand solemnity held at the Minor Basilica of the Virgin of Mercy.
Our Lady arrived at Alameda Vieja to be welcomed by the youngest Jerezanos, and then she was transported to the Cathedral, which was still a Collegiate Church at the time. On May 28, following the Pontifical Mass officiated by Cardinal José María Bueno Monreal of Seville, as evening fell, the Canonical Coronation took place in the same Alameda, in the presence of moved citizens.
A Coronation that gave rise to a Jerez neighborhood…
As per the Mercedarian fathers’ wishes, all secular events related to the grand occasion were canceled.
The funds initially allocated for these events were instead used to provide housing for those in need.
Cardinal Bueno Monreal laid the foundation stone for the new neighborhood, which was named ‘La Coronación.'”
Patroness of Jerez de la Frontera...
It is generally assumed that the Virgin of La Merced has been the Patroness of the city since the 13th century, sworn in by a vow of the City Council.
Furthermore, there are official records in the Cabildo minutes indicating that the City Council already attended her festivities and procession in 1410.
However, the patronage did not become official until it was declared by Pope Pius XII on June 27, 1949.
The other theory regarding the arrival of the sculpture…
In 1369, during the conquest of the Benimerines of Algeciras, a Christian soldier managed to escape from the city with the sculpture of the Virgin to keep it safe.
The man eventually left it in a monastery in Jerez, that of La Merced, promising to return for it.
The monks in the monastery would talk among themselves, asserting that the image emitted flashes of light at night, leading them to believe that, thanks to divine providence, the image had appeared in their monastery.
However, the soldier never returned, and the image, considered as the Virgin of La Merced, led to the construction of the current temple.
And this tribute to the Patroness of my city comes to an end. As always, if you liked it, please comment and share. If you want to attend the beautiful procession and get to know the city a bit more, I’ll be happy to guide you. Don’t hesitate to reach out!