Tradition has it that the Blessed Virgin Mary, sometime before her bodily Assumption into heaven, appeared to the Apostle St. James the Elder while he was living and preaching in Spain.

After Pentecost, the 12 Apostles dispersed to preach the Gospel all over the world. St. James the Greater, on one of his apostolic journeys, preached in the Iberian Peninsula in modern-day Spain.

St. James was discouraged that the pagans of that land were not responding to the Gospel and converting to Christianity. He had only a handful of converts to show for his labors. In the face of what he thought was failure in his mission, he prayed with his disciples by the Ebro river in modern day Zaragoza.

The First Marian Apparition in Church History: Our Lady of the Pillar

ap·pa·ri·tion ˌapəˈriSH(ə)n/ noun noun: apparition; plural noun: apparitions

a ghost or ghostlike image of a person.

bi·lo·ca·tion ˌbīlōˈkāSHən/ noun noun: bilocation; noun: bi-location

the supposed phenomenon of being in two places simultaneously.

Understanding the meaning of an apparition, it implies that Mary appears like a"ghost or ghost like image of the person".

The year was 40 AD, how can Mary appear like a ghost if she still alive?

It would seem that a bilocation is the more acceptable word, like what happens to other well known saints like St.Padre Pio.

My question is according to Catholicism, how can Mary appears in a ghostform or like a spiritual being when She is actually still very much alive.

The story of the above article somehow implied Mary has a capability to travel in space not common to mortal bodies.

I'm looking for Catholic perspective and early Church Father explanation on Mary's apparition gifts while still alive.

  • I'm curious to know if the study of early Christianity suggests that Mary (who was likely alive at that time) was actually in two places at once? Acts 8:39-40 suggests Philip translocated to another location. Mary could have done this, thereby being neither apparition nor an act of bilocation. If the tradition is bilocation, what was the second simultaneous location?
    – JBH
    Jul 8, 2018 at 22:21
  • @JBH thanks for mentioning Philip biblical accounts. Yes,Mary not only done bilocation but it is a higher form its called "apparition".Lets reflect on the image of the Our Lady of the Pillar, the answer is written there. I will post my complete answer below. Mary was "glorified" above the pedestal while still living on earth has a profound mystery. Godbless Jul 9, 2018 at 23:48

2 Answers 2


This traditional event in the life of St. James the Apostle is called an apparition. It is most probable that the Virgin Mary was still alive at the time of this event, thus making it a bilocation.

Venerable Maria of Agreda who was shown the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary in detail, writes in her Mystical City of God that St. James, brother of St. John, whom Our Lord called “Sons of Thunder”, had a special devotion to the Blessed Mother.

Becoming the apostle of what today is Spain, Saint James was having a hard time evangelizing the northern region of Zaragoza. One night, as he prayed asking help for his plight, he suddenly beheld a great light in the midst of which he saw Our Lady surrounded by a multitude of angels.

The interesting thing is that Mary was still living in Jerusalem at the time. But as queen of the Church, she was given to see all that concerned her Son’s work, and being shown the prayer of her devotee, had obtained from Jesus to help him in a special way. - The Marvelous Story of Our Lady of the Pillar

Many stories abound about this particular tradition. No Church Father speaks of it. and it is likewise not mentioned in the Scriptures, thus making it part of private revelation. No Catholic is under obligation to believe this legend, but many do, including myself.

Several Christian saints, monks and Muslim sufis are said to have exhibited bilocation. Among the earliest is the apparition of Our Lady of the Pillar in the year 40. Other Christian figures said to have experienced bilocation include St. Alphonsus Marie De'Liguori (Founder of Redemptorist Congregation), St. Anthony of Padua, Ursula Micaela Morata, St. Gerard Majella, Charles of Mount Argus, Padre Pio,[13] St. Severus of Ravenna, St. Ambrose of Milan, María de Ágreda,[14] and St. Martin de Porres, María de León Bello y Delgado, as well as Pope Cyril VI of Alexandria. St Isidore the Laborer claimed to be praying or attending to Mass in Church while at the same time plowing in the fields. - Bilocation (Wikipedia)

  • Wikipedia seems to indicate the earliest anyone ever wrote anything about this apparation was in 1155, over 1100 years later. Are Catholics allowed to be sceptical about it?
    – curiousdannii
    Jul 8, 2018 at 14:00
  • @curiousdannii Yes, Catholics are allowed to be skeptical about it, but it allows filial devotion to the Mother of Jesus though pious traditions.
    – Ken Graham
    Jul 8, 2018 at 14:26
  • The beautiful Church of St. James was erected and name after the Apparition, I think the physical church built erases any skepticism.Godbless Jul 8, 2018 at 21:08
  • How is a human buiding a building and naming it after the apparition supposed to erase skepticism? A building does nothing to prove a supernatural phenomenon.
    – Herkfixer
    Sep 13, 2018 at 18:47
  • @jongricafort I believe the Church you are referring to is called Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar and is not named after St. James. You are thinking of the St. James of Compostela Cathedral which honours the finding of the Apostle’s body in Spain (Campus Stella).
    – Ken Graham
    Mar 4, 2020 at 2:56

Was Mary’s appearance to St. James the Greater in year 40 AD an apparition or bilocation?


There's a wisdom why the Church Historian used the word "apparition" instead of the word "bilocation". Like Ven. Mary of Agreda and St. Padre Pio had a gift of bilocation but to the Theotokos appearances the word "apparition" is always attributed.

Why? Let us not forget that Church Historian must relied on actual accounts and descriptions of the seer or the one who experienced the encounter.It would seems St.James the Greater narrated his encounter with Mary's appearance as apparition because Mary present herself in a "ghostlike" appearance. Remember St. James was an Apostle who saw personally the first appearance of Resurrected Jesus Body.

Thinking He Is a Ghost (24:37-39)

"They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, >'Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands >and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and >bones, as you see I have.' " (24:37-39)

The story of apparition happened in 40 AD the accounts seven(a number of perfection) years away from the Upper Room when the Holy Spirit pours out His gifts to empower the Apostles & Disciples to established Christ Church and spread the gospel of salvation.

And Mary was there as a Mother to all the Apostles and Disciples following the command of Jesus At the Foot of the Cross "Woman, behold your son".

The Catholic Church approved the authenticity of this private revelation and for the Church to believed the exact wording of Mary's appearance as "apparition", we all know that the Church guided by the Holy Spirit cannot err.

I believe Mary newly accepted role as Jesus entrusted Her to be the Mother of the Apostles and Disciples and all the future disciples being the Mystical Body of Christ had received the fullness of gifts of the Holy Spirit way above all Apostles and Disciples because Her Immaculate Heart was well-disposed to received the enormous gifts of the Holy Spirit to empower Her new role as the Mother of the Church.

In Book of Acts prior to the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Apostles and Disciples with Mary are all united and praying in one body. The Holy Eucharist is celebrated as Jesus commanded them to do it "in remembrance of Him"

"And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to >them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance >of me.” 20 And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is >poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood." (Luke 22:19-20)

The gifts of the Holy Eucharist is "transfiguration" and the gifts of the Holy Spirit is for Mary to be the Mother of all the Redeemed (Apostles,Disciples,believers).

Now let's look on what the resurrected body or transfigured body and relates it to the word apparition which means "a ghostlike appearance"

What We Learn about Jesus' Resurrected Body

Luke's account tells us several things about the nature of Jesus' resurrected body.

Jesus' resurrected body has definite physical aspects -- flesh, bones, the >ability to eat food, converse intelligently, and walk for miles on a road. Jesus' resurrected body has a continuity with the previous body before death. >Jesus' wounds in his hands, feet, and side are still clearly visible, and >probably still open rather than healed over, since Thomas suggests putting his >finger into the wounds (John 19:25). This may seem overly descriptive to the >point of being gross. But the Gospel writers are making utterly clear the >nature of a real body, not just the appearance or vision that is not physical >or corporeal. Jesus' resurrected body is not bound to the physical sphere -- it can appear >and disappear at will. While Jesus' body can relate to the physical world, it >is not bound by space and time.

We don't know a lot more about Jesus' resurrected body than this. But we have a >promise that when Christ returns our earthly remains will be resurrected in the >same way he was (1 Corinthians 15:51-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17). - Jesus Appears to His Disciples (Luke 24:36-46)

Mary's appearance to St. James the Greater in the year 40 AD, while She is very much alive means Mary's body was "transfigured or had received the gift of full transformation". Her transfigured body by the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the graces derived from the Sacraments of the Holy Mass enable Her to transcend physical limitations of time & space.

For the Saints, the Church rightly affirmed that appearances must be called "bilocation" because the physical qualities remains the same. While for Mary the Mother of the Saviour (Head of the Church) and now Mother of all the Apostles, Disciples and believers the Church (Mystical Body of Jesus) the Church is absolutely correct when it affirmed the accounts of Church Historian that it was an "apparition" meaning Mary appeared to St. James the Greater based on his narrated account is a "ghostlike".

This is the first authentic Marian Apparition and establishes the trademark that Mary is truly the Mother of Church as She help St. James the Greater build Her first Marian Church.

But what is the significant of the "apparition" and the image of the "Our Lady of the Pillar"?

Mary standing atop the pillar or column means the Holy Spirit fully dwells in Her by making a house (Wisdom 9:1). It is also a symbol of Mary elevated position and glorified status. The apparition happened before Mary's Assumption (body & soul).

So let's go back to the main question, is the encounter of St. James the Greater an apparition or bilocation?

My confident answer is, by virtue of the image and symbols of Our Lady standing atop of a six foot jasper Pillar carried by the angels means a "glorified status". Seven glorious years of receiving the Holy Eucharist and receiving the Fullness of the Sevenfold Gifts of the Holy Spirit. Mary standing above the heights of men and the angels now are Her servants. Glorified above men and angels while on earth. The Our Lady of the Pillar is called "Pre-Assumption Apparition". In Heaven a crown of twelve stars is waiting her glorification (Revelation 12:1) Mary the Mother of the Church appeared to St. James the Greater in a "glorified body" a "ghostlike" like the "resurrected body" of Jesus it transcends the space and time.

  • This first significant apparition supported my reflections and previous answer that Mary was given and merited the gifts of "glorified body" like the "resurrected body of Jesus" as according to Church teaching is not a return to earthly life but a new glorified form that transcends space & time. A glimpse of Mary atop a Pillar or Column is prefigured of Her Assumption that is about to happen after this Apparition.Mary had received a "glorified body" while on earth, in the essence of Blessed Duns Scotus philosophy on Immaculate Conception on advance gifts and graces to a singular soul. Jul 10, 2018 at 0:27
  • ”My confident answer is, by virtue of the image and symbols of Our Lady standing atop of a six foot jasper Pillar carried by the angels means a "glorified status....” What nonsense, where does dogma and Magisterium teaching fit in here? What about any archeology evidence? If Mary was alive it was a bilocation; if she was not, it was an apparition. It is one or the other? It is that simple. It would be better to have less personal reflections in your answer and more researched evidence if at all possible.
    – Ken Graham
    Mar 4, 2020 at 2:17

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