One of the most beautiful sanctuaries in the Region of Murcia is that of the Virgen de la Esperanza in Calasparra.
This little sanctuary is cut into the rock face of a sheer cliff, overlooking the River Segura, set in tranquil gardens, a place of reflection and peace, which is justifiably one of the most visited centres of pilgrimage in the region, and the perfect partner to tie in with a visit to nearby Caravaca de la Cruz, one of only 5 Holy Cities in the world.
Calasparra is the perfect base from which to explore this part of the North-west for those partaking in religious tourism visits, or is an interesting and enjoyable trip out for those who just want to walk in tranquil gardens in a spiritual place.
There is also a 5km senderismo walking route connecting the sanctuary to Calasparra on foot for the more energetic.
The sanctuary is built inside a natural cave, carved out by the waters of the River Segura when the levels of water were considerably higher. Natural caves of this nature have always attracted settlement and those seeking shelter, and the story of this cave goes back to the 16th century, when a shepherd discovered the image of the Virgen de la Esperanza "La Pequeñica" or little one inside this natural shelter.
The explanation offered for this find, is that it was probably left behind by a Christian Knight, or horseman, who had sought shelter in the cave, although in this era items such as La Pequeñica were the property of only the very rich and as such would have been revered and cared for, so how this statue ended up in the cave is a mystery.
The shepherd went straight to the authorities in Calasparra and reported his discovery, so the people of the town came en-masse to see this image and transfer it down into the religious centre of the town.
However, when they tried to lift the image, they were unable to do so, such was the weight of the little statue, and the townspeople decided that the Virgen wished to remain in this place, so undertook to build a sanctuary for her in the place where she was discovered.
There is no indication of the date on which this happened, and it has been impossible to identify the sculptor or origen of La Pequeñita, although it was probably late in the 16th century, the dates generally given being between 1609 and 1614.
In 1617, Doña Juana Sánchez, a widow from Mula, donated the larger image of the Virgen de la Esperanza to the sanctuary, the two revered together since this date. This larger Virgen, known as the "Virgen Grande" is a "dressed "sculpture, so only the head and hands are modelled, the remainder being a fabric gown and cloak. The head is original, although the hands date from a later period and the robe has been replaced since it's original presentation.
The crown of the Virgen was made by the Sevillan jeweller, Fernando Marmolejo, and weighs 1.5 kilos, solid gold, set with semiprecious stones.
The Virgen was named as the Patrona of Calasparra in 1840.
Structure of the hermitage.
The hermitage is cut out into the rock, amplifying the original natural cave, which contains a spring of natural water.
The roof is formed by the natural rock, blackened by the smoke of centuries of candles, the internal walls reinforced, and the external walls constructed on the front with doors and windows to allow in the light
Natural stone has been used in the construction, fusing the sanctuary into the rock like a living extension of it's natural surroundings, creating a naive, eclectic combination of mediaeval, baroque and classical architectural features, united by the simplicity of the design and sympathetic use of stone in the construction.
This simple fusion of stone and design extends to the external gardens, terraced levels extending down to the walkways along the riverbank, dappled shade provided by clipped walkways of trees, leading to picnic areas used by participants in the annual Romería of the Virgen de la Esperanza which is celebrated on the 7th September each year.
Inside the sanctuary candles burn constantly, and the structure has been altered several times throughout the years, the most major changes having taken place between 1888 and 1892.
Much of the structure we see today dates from that period.
The main alterpiece and Camarín which contains the Virgen are dated 1892, and the Camarín can be visited from inside the residential quarters alongside the chapel.
The sanctuary is 6km from the town of Calasparra and is clearly signposted.
There is ample parking for both coaches and cars, and those with limited mobility can be dropped off by the main entrance, with flat access through to the chapel. There is a help-point near to the entrance for those requiring assistance.
There is a substantial restaurant and cafeteria on site and picnic areas available in the nearby picnic zone.Restaurant contact number 968 72 04 12
Access to the gardens is via steps, so it is difficult for those with mobility issues to enter the gardens near the sanctuary, although it is easier by the picnic areas.
7 days a week from 9am until dusk.
Mass is celebrated during the winter at 12 Midday on Sundays at 1pm.
Mass is celebrated during the summer at 1pm on Sundays and festival days.
There is no entry fee, although donations towards the upkeep are welcomed.
Please double check hours of mass if making a special journey to attend as it can vary from the times advertised on the sanctuary website!
Telephone contact number of the sanctuary: 968 72 01 26
Where is the Santuario de la Esperanza, Calasparra?
Click for map, La Esperanza, Calasparra.
Calasparra is accessed from the main C415 which runs out from Murcia, linking to the North-west.
Simply follow the signs for Calasparra, along the C3314, turning off for La Esperanza before reaching Calasparra.
Nearest Tourist office : Calasparra
Telephone: 968 745 325
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