In the usually mild winter that characterizes parts of northern Spain, I took a trip to Cantabria last January, along with two of my closest Basque friends, avant garde poet
and celebrated sculptor
. Near the end of a long day spent exploring various medieval towns and hamlets, we drove to Escalante, site of the Capuchin- run
Monastery of Sebastian de Hano
, where we prayed in its chapel.
There, we met Fr. Valentín Martín, the prior of the monastery. When he learned that Vicente is a sculptor, he wanted to ask him to sculpt for him the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Divine Shepherdess, holding the Child Jesus with a lamb on one side and a pair on the other. For twenty years, Fr. Valentín had worked as a missionary in Venezuela, and is partial to artists because he himself is a writer.
Several months later and after a string of email exchanges between Vicente, Antonio and the Capuchin prior, the sculpture of the Divine Shepherdess (Divina Pastora) is set to be installed at the chapel of the
Monastery of Sebastian de Hano
in less than two weeks. Fray Valentin has invited me to help him preside over the installation. I readily accepted the invitation, along with Antonio and Vicente who both collaborated to produce the sculpture in time for the August 2 deadline. Antonio helped Vicente look for the appropriate materials at the best prices for the latter's latest masterpiece, including picking the crown that adorns its head.
Fray Valentin has lined up a number of religious and fundraising activities over several days culminating August 2, when the sculpture of the Divine Shepherdess will be installed. Vicente's Divina Pastora will be at the head of a procession which will precede its installation. A street market, where people are encouraged to donate furniture, books and other items, will raise funds to help the poor people of Venezuela.
The formal installation coincides with the feast of Our Lady of Porciuncula because this particular cult was started by St. Francis himself near Assisi in Umbria in the 13th century. The Capuchins of Montehano, present-day caratekers of the medieval monastery and Spanish cultural treasure, owe their presence there to the Franciscans.
Founded in 1441 by Beltrán Ladrón de Guevara, the chapel was originally under the advocation of Our Lady of the Mountain and the monastery was inhabited by the Franciscan friars. In 1808, the invading soldiers of Napoleon got their provisions from the friars and in 1835 the liberal Spanish minister Juan de Dios Álvarez Mendizabal, during his rule which opposed clericalism, confiscated the property. In 1879, Countess de la Puente, whose daughter Joquina de la Pezuela is interred in the chapel, donated the property, then under her possession, to the Bishop of Santander who in turn turned it over to the Capuchins in 1909.
The devotion to Divina Pastora, according to Wikipedia, was started in Seville, Spain by a "Capuchin friar, Isidore of Seville," who "had a dream in which he saw an image of the Divina Pastora. Days later, he gave to the artist Alonso Miguel de Tovar, a detailed description of his vision, so that he could paint it. The painting of the virgin with pastoral hat, covered by a blue mantle, holding a boy in her left hand and a lamb in her right one, was called "Divina Pastora de Almas". Later, the sculptor Francisco Antonio Ruiz Gijón, made a life-sized sculpture of the Divina Pastora, which was carried in its first procession in 1705."