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Shrine of Virgin of Flowers whose name traveled to Mars with NASA desecrated

The sanctuary of the Virgin of Flowers Shrine in Álora, Málaga, Spain, was found desecrated Sept. 19, 2023. / Credit: Diocese of Malaga

ACI Prensa Staff, Sep 20, 2023 / 18:30 pm (CNA).

Our Lady of Flowers is one of the most noted Marian devotions in the Diocese of Malaga in Spain and her devotees were disheartened to learn Sept. 19 that her shrine, located in the town of Álora, of which she is the patroness, had been desecrated.

The incident took place Monday night but was not discovered until early Tuesday, when the person in charge of opening the church noticed the damage and the theft.

According to the Diocese of Malaga, the assailants entered by neatly forcing open the grating on the sacristy window. From there, they entered the church, where they desecrated the tabernacle and the image of the Virgin.

In addition to leaving the consecrated hosts that were reserved in the tabernacle scattered on the floor, the thieves took a ciborium and the mantle of the Virgin and Child Jesus that is part of the image, which is kept in an alcove with tempered glass.

Along with the mantle, the thieves took “small jewelry left by the faithful” during their recent Sept. 8 pilgrimage. Some collection boxes where the faithful deposit their alms were also broken into. The incident was reported to the Civil Guard.

In a joint statement posted on X Sept. 19, the pastor of the shrine, Father Felipe Manuel Gallego; the leader of the Brotherhood of Our Lady of Flores, Álvaro Fernández; and the mayor of Álora, Francisco Jesús Martínez, announced that the place “will remain closed” until the repairs are completed and that the image of the Virgin “will remain in a reserved place for protection,” which the Brotherhood of Our Lady of Flowers stated is “the high altar of the Church of the True Cross” in Álora.

The shrine of the Virgin of Flores was founded by Queen Isabella (1451–1504) and is located 1.25 miles from the town of Álora. A convent of Franciscan Recollects was built there and they remained there until 1835, when they were expelled by the so-called Confiscation of Mendizábal.

The Virgin of Flowers on Mars

The name of the Virgin of Flores has gone beyond diocesan devotion in Malaga in a particular way, as it was among the 150,000 references to life on Earth that were placed aboard NASA’s Perseverance space probe sent to Mars in 2020. 

On Feb. 18, 2021, the space mission robot landed on the surface of Mars after seven months of travel. On a hard disk in the robot was included a reference to the patroness of Álora thanks to Spanish Air Force Sgt. Francisco José Fernández.

Upon learning that NASA had opened the possibility of including terrestrial references in the robot, he registered the name of the Virgin of Flowers. 

In a report published in Diario Sur in 2020, Fernández explained the reasons for this action: “I have always been a [member] of the Brotherhood, although I can [get to the] town very little; that’s why I wanted to do something nice for them and this occurred to me. It is still exciting to know that for a few years her name will be there, in space, among the valleys and deserts of Mars.”

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

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