The Principality of Andorra, located between Spain and France, is one of the smallest countries in the world. Its origins date back to the reign of Charlemagne and it is governed by a feudal law contract that grants the Andorran throne to two co-princes, the Catalan bishop of Urgell and the head of the French state.
Our Lady of Meritxell is the Patroness and protectress of Andorra
The shrine of Meritxell (1) stands on the left bank of the Valira River, between Canillo and Encamp. Every year, the feast of Our Lady of Meritxell is celebrated on September 8th, which is also the National Holiday of Andorra. On that day, a Mass is held in which VIPs and the faithful of Andorra participate. Many make the pilgrimage on foot from one of the seven parishes.
Years ago, on January 6th (feast of the Epiphany that commemorates the visit of the Magi from the East and their worship of the Baby Jesus on the lap of his mother, see Mt 2), the inhabitants from the village of Meritxell went to Canillo to celebrate this important day with a Mass.
Passing by where the shrine is today, they saw a blooming rose with green leaves, as in the summer, amid the snow. They approached and to their surprise discovered at the foot of the rosebush a beautiful image of Our Lady.
When Mass was finished, the priest and the whole village went to Meritxell to pick up the image and bring it back to Canillo. They placed it on the altar and promised to build a suitable altarpiece.
The next day, although the doors of the church were closed, they discovered that the image was no longer there. While the locals were talking about what had happened, a traveler who had gone through Meritxell to come to Andorra and who did not know the facts, told the locals that he had seen a beautiful image of the Virgin of Meritxell at the foot of a rosebush.
Then all realized that the Virgin preferred to be where they found her, and built a chapel for her at that location.
After Mass, tradition dictates that each assistant embrace the medal worn by the statue (1).
"Indeed, the more frequently these images are contemplated, the more those who contemplate them are brought to the memory and the desire of the original models and to give them, by embracing them, respect and veneration." (2)
"True devotion proceeds from the true faith, which leads us to recognize the eminent dignity of the Mother of God, and impels us to love this Mother with filial love, and to pursue the imitation of her virtues." (3)
(1) See: fêtes
(2) See: photos
(3) Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 67