St. Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei, was born on January 9, 1902, in the Spanish town of Barbastro. He was baptized four days later on January 13 at the ancient stone baptismal font of Barbastro Cathedral. He received four names at baptism: Jose (Joseph) after his father and grandfather; Maria in honor of Our Lady; Julian, whose saint’s day it was on January 13, and Mariano after his godfather. Early in life, he joined the first two names together to make “Josemaria” to show his great devotion to Our Lady and St. Joseph. Three months after his baptism, Josemaria received the Sacrament of Confirmation.
Josemaria became seriously sick when he was about eighteen months old. The family doctor told the parents that Josemaria was going to die soon. The parents prayed fervently for a cure and promised Our Lady that if he recovered, they would take him to her at the nearby shrine of Torreciudad. Little Josemaria made a remarkable recovery. The next day, the doctor came to get the body of Josemaria and asked the parents what time the child had died during the night. He was amazed when the parents told him, not only did he not die, but was completely well and playing in his crib. The parents kept their promise and brought Josemaria to the shrine of Our Lady of Torreciudad. Years later Josemaria said, “My mother carried me in her arms to Our Lady. She was on horseback…. and she got quite frightened because the road was very bad.”
Torreciudad is a shrine dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, in Aragon in the north of Spain. Devotion to Our Lady of Torreciudad dates back to the eleventh century. A statue of the Virgin of Torreciudad was honored there, but after the Arab conquest it was hidden until the re-conquest by Christians. A small chapel was built to house the statue.
As a mature priest, Josemaria set in motion what he called “one of his last great follies”—– the building of a new shrine on the mountain peak in honor of Our Lady of Torreciudad in thanksgiving for all of her help in his healing and his work. He asked members of Opus Dei to take on additional work and give the extra money they earned as contribution. In a short time, people and donations started pouring in.
In a letter, Josemaria wrote, “I am hoping for an outpouring of spiritual graces, which Our Lord will want to give to those who visit his Blessed Mother portrayed in this little image which has been so greatly venerated for centuries. For this reason I would like there to be lots of confessionals, so that people can purify themselves in the holy sacrament of penance and, with their souls renewed, can confirm or renew their Christian lives, learning to sanctify and love their work, and bring to their homes the peace and joy of Jesus Christ.”
In 1970, the statue of Our Lady of Torreciudad was temporarily placed at Madrid after being repaired in a workshop. Josemaria had not seen the statue since 1904 when his parents offered him to Our Lady in thanksgiving for his cure. Josemaria prayed: “Forgive me, my Mother! From two to sixty-eight. What a sorry thing I am! But I love you very much—with all my heart. It gives me great joy to think of the thousands of souls who have venerated you and have come to tell you they love you, and of the thousands of souls who will come.”
The breathtaking new shrine of Torreciudad was inaugurated on July 7, 1975 with a Requiem Mass for the soul of Josemaria, who died on June 26, 1975.