26th January : Our Lady Of Long Fields

Our Lady Of Long Fields

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For a long time part of Madrid was nothing but a field of matreeds (tules) particularly in the district of Atocha.  Here is a shrine to Our Lady of Atocha, a Spanish contraction for “Theotokos”, meaning “Mother of God” or a simplification of “Antiocha” which in the 12th Century under this title was already ancient and beloved.  Today the statue stands in the center of the 20th century noise and business, a little dark Madonna with an enigmatic smile on her face, and nobody knows where she came from but everybody from gold-braided officer to the ragged street urchins pay her most polite respect and give her most unqualified love.

She was in Madrid when there was only a field of reeds and a hermitage.  The Moor and the Moslem came – they respected her and left her alone.  When Toledo was sacked in 1170, she remained there calm and accessible, watching over her children.  In 1525 Charles V brought her his bride and asked her blessing upon their marriage; Don Juan of Austria, departing for the last crusade at the Battle of Lepanto, knelt at her feet and pledged his sword to her; after his death, they sent in thanksgiving his sword to her along with the captured Moorish banners.  Despite all these trappings of the high and wealthy, she still remains Our Lady of the People, beloved of farmers, of St. Isadore.

What connection has she with us, this Spanish Madonna of the long and curious history?  From her we can learn that she is ALL in ALL to ALL of us.  Atocha is Madrid’s royal shrine:  kings kneel there, generals, churchmen of high rank; there is not a Spaniard of public importance for a thousand years who would not be proud to kneel and ask her help.  Her gowns are made from the bridal gowns of queens; yet no shrine better demonstrates how little it matters where we rank in the world or what we do for a living.  The Queen of Heaven, who married a carpenter is God’s answer to the problem of social position which troubles so many of this world.

One asks her for victory for his armies, one for rain for his thirsty fields; she answers all, impartially and lovingly, paying no more attention to one than to the other.  MARY is the meeting place of all peoples, the Mother of ALL.  In a class-conscious world one needs to be reminded that the only dignity is that of the soul, not the accidental and perishable dignity of the body.

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