13 Jan La Virgen de la Esperanza
There She was, always surrounded by flowers and burning candles. I was 10 years old and very happy to have been chosen as an altar boy in León’s Cathedral. I was struck in the midst of such beauty by that image of the Virgin Mary that attracted the devotion of so many people.
That 13th-century stone sculpture impressed me with its look, expressing amazement and serenity. Would not her eyes be fixed on the image of an Annunciation’s angel? That explained why so many women offered her flowers and candles.
During the reign of Recesvinto, the bishops gathered in the 10th Council of Toledo in December, 656, observed that the Lent prevented the proper celebration of the feast of the Annunciation to Mary and the Incarnation of the Son of God.
So, they decided that «the 8th day before the birth of the Lord should be solemnly consecrated to the honor of his Mother. In this way, just as the Nativity of the Son is celebrated for 8 days in a row, the sacred feast of Mary should also have an octave».
This is the «feast of Our Lady of the O». On the afternoon of December 17, the antiphon of vespers begins with a sonorous and admired «Oh»: «Oh, Wisdom, coming from the lips of the Most High, embracing from one to the other border and ordering everything with firmness and gentleness, come and show us the way of salvation”.
On December 18, the antiphon expresses the trembling of the chosen one who discovers God in a fire that was not going down: «Oh, Adonai, Shepherd of the house of Israel, who appeared before Moses in the burning bush giving him your law in Sinai, come and release us with the power of your arm. «On that day, we celebrate the feast of the Expectation of childbirth.
There is Mary with her belly slightly bulging, on which she gently supports her right hand. One day I was asked to accompany a group of Anglicans from Lincoln’s Cathedral to León’s Cathedral. One of the travelers was very surprised before the Virgen de la Esperanza for calling as “virgin” that woman waiting for the birth.
But the Virgin-Mother is the icon of hope. As Mary, Christians accept chastely salvation. As Mary, they know that salvation goes through the collaboration between their own forces. Everything is a gift and everything is a task. This is hope. So She teaches from her statue of stone, all sweetness and encouragement.
– José-Román Flecha Andrés –
Professor emeritus of the Pontifical University of Salamanca
Professor at the Center for Theological Studies (CSET) of León