Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception in the Diocesan Sanctuary of Saliente

By Francisco Castillo

For just a couple of hours, and only on the eighth of December, pilgrims were able to contemplate the sacred image of Our Lady of the Forsaken of the Good Retreat of the Crowned Saliente from close quarters. Before, in the spectacular library of the Sanctuary, they could enjoy the concert of “Almería Secreta”.

For some years now, the eighth of December has been one of the most eagerly awaited dates for pilgrims. On the occasion of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, the sacred image of the Pequeñica – almost always touched by the ancient “Crown of Pearls” – leaves its shrine for a few hours and can be venerated without any kind of glass. One pilgrim, arriving from the city of Granada, confessed: “I have come expressly to see her face to face and, in addition, I have brought my friends because there is nothing like experiencing a day of the Purísima in the Saliente”. Other pilgrims, from their hospital beds, sent their messages to participate spiritually in this immaculist day.
After a sober procession, always under the protection of the galleries of the Cloister, the sacred image was installed in the room that replaces the temple of the Sanctuary, as this is still in the process of being refurbished. There, on a simple white tablecloth and adorned with wild flowers, the prayers of the pilgrims and the solemn recitation of the Holy Rosary and the Angelus took place.

Meanwhile, in the foyer which is being dedicated to the memory of the canon and rector Don Bartolomé Marín Fernández, the participants of “Almería Secreta” gathered. This initiative of the Delegation of Tourism, Culture and Sport of the Junta de Andalucía, aims to highlight the most unique enclaves of our province with the organisation of carefully selected concerts. The Delegate who organised the event, José Ángel Vélez González, was accompanied by the Mayoress of Alboja, María del Mar Alfonso Pérez and Antonio Bartolomé Mena Rubio, Delegate for Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development. Also in attendance were Andrés García Ibáñez, artist and academic who is currently working on the ornamentation of the temple, and Joaquín Gilabert López, who restored the sacred image in 2014 and is in charge of its conservation.
The Rector, Don Antonio Jesús María Saldaña Martínez, welcomed them all and gave a brief summary of the history of the Sanctuary, inviting them that “as happens with any good secret, by telling you about it, you will be in charge of spreading it and making it known to the thousand wonders”. He led the audience into the library, which was more appropriately set up for the concert and had a very special lighting.
The next forty minutes, almost experimentally, were dominated by the sound of a single violin that resorted to the great masters to offer unique versions of their best compositions. The sincere applause, which erupted after each performance by Jorge Jiménez, accompanied his baroque pieces and his sympathetic explanations. In a special way, those compositions with which the listeners were most familiar due to their use in the seventh art.
At the end, the Town Hall of the town offered the famous Albojenses Christmas sweets and the Sanctuary offered the warmth of aniseed, as the day, although with some hours of sunshine, presented a freezing temperature.

Classical music gave way to sacred music to begin the mass, so special for being celebrated at the very side of the sacred image of the Pequeñica. In his homily, the Rector could not avoid saying to the pilgrims: “it is impossible, when celebrating Holy Mass in this simple and modest place, not to evoke what must have been the first celebrations in the primitive hermitage of this Shrine. And in doing so, with such fervour and familiarity with this much venerated image, not to experience the living presence of Our Lady. She, perhaps more “petite” than ever, inundates us with beauty and invites us to contemplate the beauty of God’s grace”.
At the end of the Holy Mass, with the melodious chants sung by the organist Rosabel Oller Sevilla, the cloistered procession began to return the sacred image to its shrine. Preceded by candles and flower petals, the procession went through the galleries and the Litanies of Lauretana were sung. Pedro Gómez Carrillo, from Alboja, a parachutist legionary knight who has just arrived from his mission in Lebanon, watched over the safety of the sacred image. Finally, to great cheers and applause, the sacred image was returned to the chapel.


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