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Miracles in Spain - 9

The Shipwrecked Pilgrim Saved by the Virgin

Gonzalo de Berceo
The 12th century Spanish priest recounts how the Virgin causes a cloth to hold and protect a drowning pilgrim. At the end of his story he takes advantage to remind his readers of the doctrine of the universal mediation of Our Lady.

Gentlefolk, if you wish, while daylight lasts, I will tell you even more of these miracles. If you do not complain, I will not complain, because Holy Mary is like a mighty river that everyone drinks from, beasts and people, and yet remains as great tomorrow as it was yesterday. It is never empty, it runs in all seasons, in hot and in cold. She always helps those who know how to pray to her in all places, in valleys and mountains, on lands and seas.


Medieval depiction of the Holy City, a site of frequent pilgrimage

Here is a miracle of Her Holiness that happened to a Bishop, a man of charity and great authority. He saw it with his own eyes and cannot be doubted. Just as he saw it, so he wrote it; he omitted nothing, nor did he add to it.

Some pilgrims went on a crusade to the Holy Land to salute the Holy Sepulchre and pray before the True Cross. They embarked on ships to go to Acre, if the Heavenly Father wished to guide them.

They had favorable winds immediately at the beginning, a very delightful breeze. The whole sea was tranquil, and all were joyful. They had passed over a great part of the sea and would have passed the other part quickly, but their destiny held for them a bad trap. Great joy was turned into sadness.

A storm with a fierce wind moved in. The pilot who guided the ship lost his wits and gave no command, neither to himself nor to others, all of his skill was not worth one bean. Then another grievous harm befell them. The ship broke apart down in its depths and water gushed in, breaking into every corner, everything going to ruin.

Now, near the big ship they had a smaller one, a galley or a pinnace, placed there so that in case of such calamity they might escape the danger. The captain, as would a loyal Catholic, took the Lord Bishop by the hand and put him, with other good men of important status, into the boat.

One of the pilgrims, however, thinking he was wiser, jumped from the ship with the intent to enter the galley as a shipmate. But he drowned in the water.

But he did not die alone. A half hour could barely have passed when, God wished it to happen, the ship was sunk. Of the persons who had remained aboard it, none escaped alive.

The Bishop and the others who got out with him went to the closest land they could. They began to bewail those who had perished; it grieved them because they had not died with them. In great affliction and grief for the dead, they looked out afar at the sea in case they might see some of the dead reach shore, since the sea never wants to hide dead things.

shipwreck medieval

A few exit the sinking vessel onto a galley

Looking out, they saw little doves come out from under the waves of the sea, in number as many as the dead, flying whiter than snow against the sky. They believed they were the souls God wanted to carry to holy Paradise, a glorious place.

With righteous envy, they were beside themselves; they were sorely grieved that they were alive since they believed very firmly that the doves were the souls of those the sea had swallowed. They said: "Alas, pilgrims! You were the lucky ones. You are now passed through fire and water, while we remain in the wilderness as helpless ones. Thanks to the Holy Father and to Holy Mary, you now wear the palm of your pilgrimage. We are in sadness and you in joy. We intended to do a good thing and we committed folly."

In this great grief they prepared to continue their journey when they saw a traveler come out of the sea. It seemed that he was the wretched pilgrim.

When he reached shore, all recognized him as the one who had jumped the ship to join them. They all crossed themselves, wondering how he remained alive in the sea one whole hour. The pilgrim said:

"Hear me and live! I will make you believe what you doubt. I want you to know how I escaped alive. And you will say 'Thanks be to God' as soon as you hear it.

"When I tried to jump out of the big ship that was sinking, I saw I could not save myself from death. I began to say, 'Help me, Holy Mary!'

"I repeated those words, as I could say no more for there was no time. She was instantly ready, since it pleased her. If it were not for her, I would be drowned.

"She was swift. She brought a good cloth of value, never did I see its equal. She threw it over me and said: 'No harm will come to you. Believe that you fell asleep or lay in a bath.'

"And so I lay as comfortable as if under a tent or as someone who falls asleep in a green meadow. Happy the soul that under such an exquisite cover is solaced, where neither cold nor heat nor wind nor ice will vex it. The shade of that cloth of the Holy Mother is so soothing that one who is hot finds coolness beneath it and one who is cold finds tempered warmth. What magnificent help in times of anguish!"

our ladys mantle

Our Lady protects all who fall under her mantle

The grief that the small company was forgotten with the pleasure of the miracle. They rendered thanks to God, and chanted the Te Deum, finishing sweetly with Salve Regina.

The pilgrims then completed their pilgrimage, arriving at the Sepulchre with great joy. They adored the Cross of the Son of Mary and they told of the miracle of the Glorious Mother, how she freed the man from the perilous sea, and so the story was written down.

The many who heard this holy miracle prayed all the stronger to the Glorious One. They had better devotion in serving her with renewed hope in her mercy and reward.

The fame of this deed flew over the seas. The wind did not stop it. It dwelt in many homes. They put it in books in many places where it is praised by many mouths today.

As many as bless the Glorious Mother, by the King of Glory, do the right thing! Since through her we come out of the harsh prison, the dangerous abyss in which we all lie.

We, who because of Eve, have fallen into damnation, through Holy Mary we recover our lost paradise. Were it not for her we would lie dead, but her Holy Fruit has redeemed us. Through her Holy Fruit that she conceived, He who suffered passion and death for the world's salvation, we come out of the pit that Adam opened for us when, against the proscribed evil, he took a bite.

Since she always strives to help the afflicted, to guide the wretched, to call back the sinner, on land and sea, she does great miracles, such and even greater ones than those that are told. May she, who is abundant and full of grace, guide our actions, our sad lives. May she in this world guard us from treacherous attack and, in the other, win for us a dwelling with the Saints.

The pilgrim exits the water and praises Our Lady


Blason de Charlemagne
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Adapted from Gonzalo de Berceo, Miracles of Our Lady,
trans. by T. Mount and A. Cash, Un of Lexington Press, 1997, pp. 109-113

Posted January 11, 2020

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