Usus Antiquior Returns to Gibraltar Cathedral at Our Lady of Europe Altar

Photos by OC-Travel
There is a story told of Belloc's cousin visiting England and asking to view the Roman ruins of Britain.  Belloc, a historian, replied: "Madame, Britain is a Roman ruin."  Indeed, the same can be said of Gibraltar, a British oversees territory located on the southern tip of Europe and the British Empire on the European mainland since the Hapsburg conquest in 1704.  The Romans called Gibraltar a holy place, the Mons Calpe, the limits of the ancient world, the gates of Hades, the edge of the earth.

Exterior and interior images of Gibraltar Cathedral, both renovated in the 1930s
I must say it was a tremendous privilege for me to assist at the first EF Mass celebrated in Gibraltar Cathedral in nearly 50 years.  The Mass was celebrated by Rev. William Barker, F.S.S.P. at the lady altar of St. Mary the Crowned Roman Catholic Cathedral in the heart of downtown Gibraltar.  A small group of Gibraltarians attended, including members of Una Voce Gibraltar (UVG) and the Equestrian Order of the Most Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem (EOHSJ).  The very kind local bishop, Most Rev. Carmelo Zammit, greeted participants in the church before Mass and came out afterwards for a cup of coffee.

Detail of recently restored ceiling, showcasing fascinating Gothic pattern
Gibraltar Cathedral is stunning, with a perfect location on main street amid the hustle and bustle of activity.  As a special bonus the cathedral includes a very small and cozy adoration chapel accessible from the main street that offers public exposition of the Blessed Sacrament on weekdays until midnight.  The chapel where the Mass was celebrated was renovated in 1932 by Bishop Richard John Fitzgerald of Gibraltar, who updated the cathedral, substituting the baroque altars with newer, simple ones fashioned of Carrara marble. 

Holy Mass atop the tom of a deceased bishop of venerable memory
Gibraltar is one of the most interesting places in the world with the most stunning vistas imaginable.  It covers about 2.6 square miles and has a population of about 30,000 people, crowded with tourists and seaborne traffic.  The rock of Gibraltar is one of the most fascinating geological formations known to man, seen from land, air and sea.  Inside "the Rock" is a massive cave known as St. Michael's cave, covered on the outside with wild, crawling apes.  Gibraltar is the bridge between Africa and Spain, separated at the closest point by only 8.9 miles of sea. 

Our Lady of Europe statue from 1462
The heart of downtown Gibraltar is the Cathedral of St. Mary the Crowned, the territory's oldest Catholic church.  The location had once been occupied by a mosque during the Islamist occupation.  In 1462 the site was dedicated as a church and consecrated after the Christian Reconquista.  Catholic worship has taken place uninterruptedly in this church since that time. The church received its name from the famous devotion of Our Lady of Europe, a devotion that began in Gibraltar in 1309 under Spanish King Ferdinand IV of Castille who first liberated Gibraltar from the sword of Islam.  At that time he is said to have instituted this new devotion following the hard-fought victory over the Islamist occupation, giving thanks to Almighty God while dedicating the entire continent of Europe to the Mother of God, giving her forever the noble title of Our Lady of Europe. Around that time a copy of the statue was crowned in the cathedral leading the church to be renamed with its unique tilte, "St. Mary the Crowned."  In 1979 Our Lady of Europe was also officially declared the principal "Patroness of Gibraltar."  While the older statue from 1462 is today kept at the Shrine of Our Lady of Europe in Gibraltar, the copy that was crowned is kept in the lady chapel of the cathedral where the Mass was celebrated.

The excellent Foundations curriculum from the Saxum Institute
Gibraltar's Catholics are few in number, fierce in devotion and eager in their fidelity.  They are also some of the nicest people you will ever meet.  One of their most impressive lay leaders is Jeremy Duo, a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville and a member of Una Voce Gibraltar.  He is also one of the founders of a truly insightful grassroots movement and catechetical initiative known as The Saxum Institute.  How fortunate Gibraltar is to have such an incredible young leader and flourishing organization dedicated to authentic catechesis, located at the historic Shrine of Our Lady of Europe at the southernmost tip of Europe.  Let us hope the organization will continue strong with the support and help it deserves from the local bishop and presbyterate.  As St. Newman said: the aim of education is knowledge.  God bless this new initiative! 

The Saxum Institute is at the forefront of re-evangelizing Gibraltar
The Diocese of Gibraltar comprises about twenty thousand Catholics, five parishes and some dozen priests.  In some ways it has the feel of one big parish with different Mass locations.  Gibraltar is unique and beautiful in so many ways.  It is both a spiritual center and a strategic bulwark that plays a crucial spiritual role in the life of the continent.  Let us pray in thanksgiving for Una Voce Gibraltar and The Saxum Institute, imploring heaven for a continued outpouring of grace, that their labors will be blessed with success and the choicest blessings from heaven above.  Our Lady of Europe, pray for Gibraltar! 

Stunning view of Africa from Gibraltar, where two continents meet
How fitting to have Holy Mass celebrated in Gibraltar, described by the ancient Romans as Non Plus Ultra, "no more beyond," words famously said to have been inscribed on the Pillars of Hercules on either side of the Strait of Gibraltar, warning sailors not to venture beyond the edge of the known world.  Meanwhile, defying this sanction, the Gospel is continually and victoriously preached and spread Plus Ultra, "further beyond" (the motto of Spain, actually).  May God be praised. 

The words of Lord Nelson echo in our hearts from the Battle of Trafalgar just off the waters of Gibraltar, when he said to his soldiers just before battle: "England expects that every man will do his duty."  Mortally wounded in the battle, Nelson's last words after being informed that victory was imminent, were: "Now I am satisfied.  Thank God I have done my duty."  The battle was fought, a decisive victory was won.  

Join in the conversation on our Facebook page.