In the far east of Asturias, at the edge of the territory of Santander in which San Sebastián de Garabandal lies, the high mountain of Penamellera looks down upon gorgeous countryside. The land here is divided into two sections, or concejos as they are called locally: Lower Penamellera at the junction of the Deva and Cares Rivers, and Upper Penamellera, upstream from the Cares River, where the main city is Alles.
Near Alles can be found Ruenes, with its terrain of prairies and woods covering the mountainsides. On this September of 1961, several travelers were spending a pleasant vacation there with their relatives from the city. The local people were talking often about the things that were said to be occurring in the little mountain village of San Sebastián de Garabandal . . . Who could resist the temptation to go up to the site of the frequently discussed events? Certainly not these travelers who took advantage of their return trip to Madrid; the detour of a few kilometers was no inconvenience.
Although they were not aware of it, the situation at the time indicated something would happen on their visit. It was the period of the year during which occurred the greatest concentration of Marian feastdays: September 8th, Our Lady of Covadonga, a holy day of obligation in Asturias; September 9th, a local feastday of the Virgin del Monte in her sanctuary in the district of Santa Maria; September 10th, a Sunday celebrating the octave or remembrance of the feast days in the previous week; September 12th, the Holy Name of Mary; September 15th, the day dedicated to her Seven Sorrows . . . Truly a good time to come to the town that could be called the Virgin's village!
So then in those days under a bright sun, there came to Garabandal Adriano Peon, a Cuban originally from Asturias, Carmen Pilart, a seaman from Roncal, and Elena Cossío Nevares, whose family lived in Ruenes; the latter informed me:
«Nine years have passed; but everything from that day has remained in my memory as if it had been yesterday.»
A little while after they had stopped in front of Ceferino's home, at 1 o'clock in the afternoon, they saw his daughter Loli come out of the house «marvelously transfigured.» Conchita and Jacinta came from their own homes, transfigured in the same way. They joined together at the beginning of the street leading toward the church, and they began the march . . .
«As they were going, we were able to hear one of them very clearly, No! No! How terrible! How terrible! This struck us very much, and the look of fear on the girl's face was such that it couldn't be forgotten; but none of us could understand what it meant.
A priest opened a way by pushing through those who followed the girls and stood in front of them with his arms extended . . . I don't know why he did this; perhaps he was seeking a sign. The girls, who couldn't see him — they held their heads tilted upwards so much and so fixed on the vision in the sky — went around him without pushing him, and continued onwards, leaving him in the middle.
Then we were in the church a long time, with a series of details that were really exciting . . . On going out, the girls began an ecstatic march. Ceferino then kept behind them to protect them.
On one street we were able to see them almost lying down on the ground, in an unusual position; their backs and feet were raised up from the ground which was only slightly touching the end of their vertebral columns. Their arms were extended in a gesture of prayer, and their eyes were looking upwards without blinking.(1) I don't know what the others felt; I was overwhelmed, trembling before this mystery that seemed to be touching me.»
Later came one of those superfast marches to the Pines . . . The spectators followed them as well as they could.
«You should have seen them underneath the trees! Standing with their faces completely turned upwards, their arms extended in a cross, and with their hands turned up . . . It was the most beautiful picture that I have seen of a soul in a complete attitude of prayer.
After a while, in the same position, they began — but backwards — the most difficult descent from the Pines . . . They launched themselves backwards, like backing down the stairs of a choir loft, or stepping back from a communion rail. The people slipped, stumbled, fell down; the girls were as if someone were holding them in his hands.(2)
In the village square they separated, and without going out of ecstasy, each one headed for her home. In front of her house, we saw Loli come out of the trance with the most charming smile.»
There were about 50 spectators on that day, among whom were the parents of the girl born without eyes previously mentioned in this book. We can imagine the comments . . . Some were thrilled, and everyone was stunned. The Cuban, a believer but not a practicer, who had come with skepticism, kept repeating over and over, «This is amazing. Only God could do this.»
«I remember that among those in Garabandal on that day was a Spaniard living in Mexico, who was said to be very rich, a millionaire. He did not believe in anything, but in the face of what he had just seen, he couldn't get over his amazement:
— This is truly astounding. I will give part of my fortune, or all of it, to whoever is able to do in front of me what I have seen in the girls . . . That way I would be able to remain at peace with the certainty I had before that there is nothing up above us.»
This statement furnishes material for reflection and comment . . .
Why do not those who say so certainly, even officially, that these affairs have a natural explanation, take advantage of the Mexican's offer?
1. Elena Cossío adds a detail, perhaps a little realistic, but which serves nonetheless to demonstrate to what point the visionaries were outside themselves, completely absorbed in what they were seeing:
«Some flies, so annoying in the month of September, flew about their faces, and sometimes rested right in their eyes, without the slightest reflex of contraction or blinking that could be noticed in the girls.»
2. Father de la Riva says in his Memorias, speaking of the visionaries’ descent from the Pines:
«Who can argue about this abnormal and perfectly real fact which is able to be tested and should be tested? If an opponent in good faith exists, I would propose for him to attempt ‘the exercise’ on the location, in the same way, under the same conditions, and especially in the dark night, in the snow, on the ice. And not only one time, but almost every day as at the time of the apparitions.»