Santuario Virgen de la Esperanza


Useful Information

Location: Calasparra, north of town.
RM-714 towards Caravaca, first exit to Socovos RM-510, follow RM-510 for 3 km. Huge parking lot. Signposted.
(38.260627527496034, -1.7095555422439423)
Open: Winter daily 8:30-18.
Summer daily 9-19:30.
[2021]
Fee: free, donations welcome.
[2021]
Classification: SubterraneaCave Church
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Dimension:  
Guided tours: self guided
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: yes
Bibliography:  
Address: Santuario Virgen de la Esperanza, 30420 Calasparra, Murcia, Tel: +34-968-720-054, Tel: +34-968-745-462, Fax: +34-968-720-054. E-mail:
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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History

1602 to 1607 hermitage founded.
19-JUL-1617 Virgen Grande donated by the widow of the administrator of the salt cellar from Mula named Juana Sánchez.
21-JAN-1681 new cloak for the Virgin in the will of Isabel Pérez.
12-DEC-1688 new gown for the Virgin in the will of Ana López.
1840 Virgin named the patron of Calaspara.
1888-1892 renovation of the site.

Description

The Santuario Virgen de la Esperanza (Sanctuary of Hope) is a cave church built into the river cave on the outside of a meander of the Segura River. The cave church was created by closing the cave portal with a wall. It was erected using local natural stones, mostly rather small pebbles in a sort of concrete mass and is a result of the massive renovation between 1888 and 1892. To enlarge the church the cave was artificially enlarged creating a flat rear wall and a flat ceiling, so the current cave is actually an artificial cave. The original cave is not visible anymore. The dripping water from the ceiling is called a spring and thought to be holy.

A shepherd who kept his cattle in these caves, dug by the waters of the river and found the image "La Pequeñica". It was probably forgotten by a Christian knight who sought shelter in the cave. The pastor communicated his valuable find to the ecclesiastical and civil authorities of Calasparra. The inhabitants of the town came overjoyed and wanted to take the image to be venerated in the town. But the Virgin became so heavy for her size that everyone understood that it was here, in the cave, where she wanted to be venerated. So they decided, to build a church into the cave for the Virgin.

There are two images of Virgin Mary in the cave church known as La Pequeñica (The Small) and La Grande (The Big). The first, the little one, was discovered by a shepherd, according to legend, and was the reason why the sanctuary was built. Because of this legend it is also called La Aparecida (The Apparition). The sculptor and the origin was never determined, not even its age could be determined, but it is thought to be created between 1609 and 1614. At this time the image was quite expensive and must have been the property of someone wealthy, and would have been revered and cared for. It was probably an early donation to the sanctuary. In 1617 a widow from Mula named Juana Sánchez donated a larger image of the Virgin, which became known as Virgen Grande. Since then the two have been revered together. This second image has only a modeled face and hands, the rest is a fabric gown and cloak. The head is original, the hands are younger, and the clothes have also been replaced. The crown was made by the jeweller Fernando Marmolejo from Sevilla. Made of gold with semi-precious stones it weighs 1.5 kg.

The small cave along the river was most likely inhabited since prehistoric times. Unfortunately all archaeological evidence is gone. In front of the sanctuary, on a flat hill on the left bank of the river, there is an important Spanish-Roman settlement. It was built on older foundations. And it is rather obvious that the cave on the other side of the river was used as temple, associated with some water nymph. Again, all remains are gone. In the Middle Ages the place was called La Fuensanta (Holy Spring), as the dripping water in the cave was venerated for its healing properties. For this reason, the San Juan authorities forbade the shepherds at the end of the 16th century to stay in the cave of La Fuensanta.# It was now and then used by hermits, some of them went to Calasparra to beg for food. There is also a rather strange story about a donkey and a hermit.

The Virgin appeared to a penitent who was living as a hermit in the cave. She asked him to build a hermitage with the invocation of Hope.

The hermitage was founded in the name of the San Juan authorities, the lords of the land at that time. This was done by Commander Frey Juan Jufre de Loaysa who arrived here as prior and vicar in JUN-1602. And we know that Elvira Pérez died on 25-JUL-1608 left a real of alms to the hermitage with the name of Esperanza. So we do not kow the exact date when the sanctuary was founded, but it was by him and so it must have been in those years. The first document in which the existence of the hermitage is mentioned is the official visit notebook to the commandery, carried out by the visitors of the Order. On 21-APR-1609 it reads: "On the said day they visited the Hermitage of Our Lady of Fuensanta, which was founded by Benites de Munera, Prior and Vicar of this town, with great respect and devotion. And it is well repaired." So we know the sanctuary was founded between 1602 and 1608, and it was named with different names, Fuensanta (after the fountain), de la O, de la Expectación, and Buena Esperanza.

The donation of the second Virgin by the widow of the administrator of the salt cellar from Mula named Juana Sánchez was actually less specific as one would think. She entered the Venerable Third Order of the Franciscans and thus she distributed her enormous trousseau of religious objects between the parish, hermitages and brotherhoods. She actually thought it was a good idea to send a second image of the Virgin to a place where another image of the Virgin was revered. We guess the vicar was overwhelmed.