National day of our lady of Meritxell, Patroness of Andorra, will be celebrated on Saturday 7th – Sunday, 8th September.
All at the Sanctuary Basilica of Meritxell, Canillo
SATURDAY: EVE OF MERITXELL DAY: 21h Torchlight procession.
21.30h Mass presided over by Mn. Ramon Sàrries, Archpriest of the Valleys.
22.15 Friendly snack and get together in the large cloister, offered by the consuls and communal authorities of Canillo.
22.30h Festa Major dance with Xavi’s Band in the Meritxell village square.
SUNDAY: 7h Opening of the church of the Sanctuary Basilica
7.30h Dawn Mass.
9h Youth Mass animated by children and young people from AINA’s colonies and summer camps with El Món Màgic 2019 (The Magic World) and celebrated by Mossén Antoni Elvira of Encamp.
10h Fraternity Breakfast for those from AINA at the Borda de Meritxell.
11h Solemn Sung Mass presided over by the Archbishop of Urgell and Co-Prince of Andorra, S.E. Joan-Enric Vives & Sicilia and celebrated by all the parish priests of the Valleys with choral accompaniment by the Petits Cantors d’Andorra with congregational singing of Andorra’s rousing National Anthem: Himne d’Andorra and also the special Goigs de Meritxell.
12h Sardana dancing accompanied by the Bellpuig Cobla with coca sweet cake and moscatel offered by the Government of Andorra to all attendees. 18h A Concert by the Cor dels Petits Cantors d’Andorra under the direction of Catherine Metayer. 19h Evening Mass.
On Sunday, 8th September from 7h – 21h the Government is laying on free transport from the Torrent Pregó (42°31’60” N, 1°34’60” E) to the Sanctuary and back.
The Legend of Our Lady of Meritxell
It was Three Kings, Epiphany, 6th of January, and very cold. Some people coming up from the direction of Encamp were taking the snowcovered path to Canillo to hear Mass when, to their astonishment, they saw a dog-rose, green-leafed and in full bloom. They went closer to see what sort of marvel this was and there, under the bush, they found a
brightly painted wooden statue of the Virgin and Child. They picked her up and carried her to the priest in Canillo.
He put her on the altar and, after Mass, locked the church and went home to bed. The following morning he unlocked the church. And lo! The statue had disappeared.
On taking the path home the pilgrims found to their astonishment that the statue had returned to the foot of the dog-rose.
Could it perhaps be that she would prefer to be in Encamp rather than Canillo? They picked her up and carried her carefully down the path to Encamp, handed her to the priest who put her on the altar, locked the door and went home to bed. The next day he unlocked the church and found the statue had disappeared. So the people returned to Meritxell and, lo and behold, they found her yet again under the bush. They then realised that that was where she wanted them to build a sanctuary.
After that, the tiny hamlet of Meritxell, first documented in 1176, became a centre of pilgrimage for the whole of the medieval Pyrenees just as modern day pilgrims converge on Lourdes. There is a fascinating ledger which was kept by the priests, noting down all the gifts given to the Sanctuary including such things as wax candles and a bell rope.
Over the centuries, thanks in part to the pilgrims, Canillo became the most prosperous parish in Andorra.
After a request from the Consell General (Andorra’s parliament) in 1913, Pope Pius X gave permission for Our Lady of Meritxell to be declared the Patroness of Andorra. The 8th September was declared a national holiday and the Sanctuary became a symbol of Andorran nationality. For some 50 years (before the Constitution of 1993 separated church and state), the Síndic, (chairman of the Consell General), gave the State of the Nation address outside the Sanctuary after Mass. He would record the events of the past year and tell of the Council’s plans for the next.
On 8th September, 1972, during the night following the Meritxell celebrations, the old sanctuary mysteriously burnt down. At first it was thought to be an accident and that the 12th century statue had been destroyed. But then it was realised that among the ashes there was no sign of the precious stones that studded her gold crown. It appeared
that the statue had been stolen, never to be found, and the fire was an act of arson.
Today the ancient chapel has been simply restored to serve as a museum to the new, imposing Sanctuary of Meritxell, a little forbidding from the outside but bathed in light and superb views from within.
Well worth a visit.