PICK OF THE WEEK: Andorra (Pyrenees)

Main places:

Andorra la VellaEscaldes-EngordanySan Julia de LoriaLa MassanaOrdinoEncampCanilloPas de la Casa

PICK OF THE WEEK: Monday, 27th August – Sunday, 2nd September, 2018



Patroness of Andorra.
Friday 7th – Saturday, 8th September
All at the Sanctuary Basilica of Meritxell, Canillo
(For more information on the history of this most important of Andorra’s festivals see below)
FRIDAY: Vigil of Santa Maria. 21h: Torch light procession. 21.30h: Celebration of the Eucharist. 22.15h Fraternal snacks.

SATURDAY 8TH: Day of Solemnity. 7h Opening of the doors of the Sanctuary. 7:30h Dawn Mass. 9h Youth Mass, animated by the children and young people of the colonies and campuses of AINA. 11h: Solemn office in honour of the Patron Saint of the Principality of Andorra. The Eucharist presided over by the Archbishop of Urgell and Copríncep of Andorra, Monsignor Joan Enric Vives, and concelebrated by the priests of the Valls of Andorra and sung by the Petits Cantors del Principat d’Andorra. 19h: Afternoon Mass at the church of the sanctuary. 24 h Closing the doors of the sanctuary. “May the Blessed Virgin of Meritxell bless our Principality.”


Friday, 7th and Saturday, 8th September at 18h at the Restaurant Mama Maria, Ave de Meritxell, Andorra la Vella. Vibrand in Clau de Soul in concert. Do not miss the opportunity to enjoy summer evenings with live music on the Mama Maria terrace, while having a drink or enjoying the cuisine of the country. You will hear cover versions in English of the best songs of yesteryear by artists such as Amy Winehouse, Jamiroquai, Adele, Sting, Bruno Mars, Nina Simone, the Beatles, Joss Stone, James Brown, Ray Charles, Tom Jobim etc. Musicians: Virginia Yañez (keyboards and vocals); Marc Milian (double bass and sound); Dante Falotic (drums).

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 snow-covered 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.

Culturally yours,



Look for about the author of the blog Clare Allcard

See also Andorra travel guide

See also Pyrenees travel guide

See also France travel guide

See also Spain travel guide

Read more: What to do today? Cultural events in Andorra with Clare Allcard ...