La Peña de Alájar, History
It is a beautiful location in the province of Huelva, to the north, in the middle of the mountains, among rural aromas and eternal memories. Alájar is a town that has an impressive place: the Peña de Arias Montano. There is the sanctuary to the Virgin, the Queen of the Angels and also a site where the hermits looked for retreat, peace and find their perpetual wonderings. There, in the 5th century, St. Victor was praying, meditating, looking for the peace that among the rest of the mortals he did not find; or the most emblematic in the area -that even gives a nickname to the Rock- as it was Benito Arias Montano, the enigmatic librarian of the king.
The town of Alájar arises as a religious restlessness, normally the towns and villages grew because of a military or defensive motivation, but religious were the less and stranger ones. Thus in the Brotherhood Queen of the Angels of Allah we can read: “From the beginning, Man wanted to dedicate to God, through the devotion to Our Lady of the Angels, impressed by so much beauty and so wide horizons.
In a writing of 1844, by J.M.Pablos Moreno, we are told that the said place was called Desierto de la Peña and that at all times the image of the Virgin has been the refuge of this town and of all the bordering towns in their tribulations and needs. People have come from far away to this holy place to pray for the remedy in which the piety of the faithful has manifested the wonders which the Lady has worked with them.
In 1528 in the “book of Stories and Institutions of the Confraternity of Our Lady of the Angels” we read of a curious intercession in the face of epidemics and droughts, as told by Friar Antonio de Lorca: “The image of the Virgin is frequently visited with particular joy by the people of these vicinity and even far away who come on pilgrimage to fulfill their vows and to gain other favors…”. There, in the hermitage, we are overwhelmed by the ex-votos of so many faithful who have seen their request granted, sometimes miraculously.
The peña is also known as “Peña de Benito Arias Montano”, it was not just any character, it was the librarian of Felipe II, alchemist and hermit who asked for permission to return to Allah, although the king refused, perhaps because of the royal fear (in the monarchical sense and of truthfulness) that he might perfect his already advanced esoteric practices.
Arias Montano had a small room next to the hermitage where it was said that he kept important esoteric documents as well as other more personal ones.
The legend of the image of the Virgin also weighs on the fact that it was not a French image from the 12th or 13th century but the work of the same angels who gave it to a little shepherd boy.
It is believed, mistakenly or not, that when Arias Montano retired to the Peña the king himself came to visit him and that the librarian left a message hidden among the backs of the books in the library of El Escorial with an important esoteric discovery, reality or fiction?
Under Alájar there is also a group of caves among which the so-called Dark Palace stands out, which is closed to the curious and has the particularity that if we go into it with a compass we will be disoriented since it will not find the north… more info in www.discoveringandalucia.com