In the province of Salamanca, next to the beautiful La Alberca and Mogarraz, is yet another place that cannot be missed: the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Peña de Francia. It is the world’s highest Marian sanctuary -over 1.700 m height!- and though it is located in a lost corner of deep Spain, it is known worldwide. This Lady has a very strong cult, from Brazil and Mexico to India and the Philippines, to name just a few places! The legend of its discovery, along with her many miracles and the beauty of this spot have had a lot to do about it. Let me fill you in with the details!
In the XVth century, a girl woke up in the middle of her funeral (!) and announced that a statue of Our Lady would be discovered within the next few years. And of course, only ten years later, a French guy, Simon Roland, started to have dreams about discovering it. First, he looked all over France, then north of Spain… until he heard about Peña de Francia -literally, the Rock of France. In this place, French knights had battled the Muslims some years ago, so maybe they were the ones who had hidden the statue, and Roland had got wind of the story. Anyway, he arrived there, did some digging... and found it! This story spread quickly, and in no time, it was very known. It is, for example, mentioned in the Cervantes’ Dom Quixote. Also, it became a very popular place for pilgrimage. It was no doubt an act of contrition, having to climb all the way up there! To this day, it is impossible to get there in winter -the snow makes it impossible.
In plural. Apparently, this Lady saves people from lightning bolts. There is a whole town that, according to tradition has never been struck by one. More recently, as the locals tell you with great passion, a child fell from a rock on the top... and survived!
As for the sanctuary per se, rapidly, it was built at the sacred place in the XIVth century. The original spot of the Lady was respected. Inside, you can visit -and touch- the statue of this black Lady, which is actually not the original one. At the end of the XIXth century, it was stolen and then returned under the secret of confession. But it had been already heavily damaged, so they ordered the sculptor to stuff the original one inside the new one. Poor statue, what a history it carries, right?
The views when you climb up there are dazzling. You can either walk all the way up there -good luck with that, it is pretty steep!- or go by car. In any case, as you go up, you get the feeling of being alone on the top of the world. Once on the top, to help you orientate, they have settled some signals telling you what you are looking at. If you have binoculars at home, I highly recommend you to bring them! Apart from the villages, reservoirs, and amazing landscapes in general, you can spot the local wild goats. In fact, if you look attentively, you will probably catch sight of a group of them or two, they are not at all shy and may cross the road in front of you!
After all, we are at the heart of the Natural Park of Las Batuecas-Sierra de Francia, which has also been declared Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. In this area, you can find rare birds like black storks or royal eagles, to name just a few.
Last but not least, if you want to pay a visit to this superb spot, come in autumn or spring. It will neither be so crowded nor so hot. And of course, do not forget to drop by the nearby Mogarraz or La Alberca. All together, they make a great day trip from Salamanca. Come and see it for yourself!
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