The miracle of the Host occurred just as Conchita said it would but not when she said it would -- and not before a certain amount of commotion.
This brief notation by Luis Navas Carrillo gives us an idea of the atmosphere in Garabandal on the evening of July 17,1962:
All day long countless cars were arriving. The houses were full, making it very difficult to find a bed in which to sleep. Once again many people slept in the stables.
But many gave up their sleep in order not to miss vigils and ecstasies which almost completely occupied that night. Jacinta's vision came first; later, at 5:15 A.M.. with the first rays of dawn, came Man Loli's ecstasy. She was initially at the cuadro and later made her way toward the church, accompanied by a group of people including Luis Navas:
I went ahead to enter the church and I saw a visiting priest, already dressed in the sacred vestments, who was getting the altar ready for Mass. He couldn't hide the surprise that the unexpected coming of that parade caused him and said, "Don't enter! Don't enter!" as if the girl's entrance would bring upon him some grave responsibility!
His fears ended immediately since the visionary, despite the door being open, stopped at the entrance, and falling on her knees there, came out of the trance. I remember at that time, as on other occasions after the time when the ecclesiastical authorities ordered the church doors closed during the girls' ecstasies, that they stopped at the entrance of the church, and at times were heard to whisper, "Oh, what doesn't the bishop want?" They always adopted an attitude of complete obedience and submission.
July 18, which began in such an unusual manner, continued in a manner much different from other days. For the visitors, there was, above all, the expectation of the miracle foretold by Conchita; for the villagers, there was the special fiesta, the principal day of the year on which they met again with their distant relatives and friends, the day on which all the houses were full of happy people, new dresses, and tables of food. Officially the feast day was to honor St. Sebastian, martyred by being pierced with arrows, the patron saint of the village. For some time, the feast day had been moved from January 20, the actual feast day of the saint, to this date in July (a holiday in Spain) in order to allow better weather and opportunity for the arrival of relatives and guests. Luis Navas continues his account:
Well into the morning, we assisted at a chanted high Mass, in which three priests officiated [the priest-celebrant, deacon and sub-deacon in the Traditional rite]; the sermon was preached by a friend of mine from Burgos, who was stationed in San Vicente de la Barquera. It was beautiful to see so many receive Communion especially those who had come for the miracle; the Hosts had to be broken into pieces to accommodate everyone. [Note: Was Conchita among those who received Communion? Whether at this Mass or another one celebrated that morning she did receive, and therefore according to Church law at the time, she could not receive again the same day. That explains why the Angel waited until after midnight to give her the Host that became visible.]
PHOTO: A recent celebration of the feast of Saint Sebastian in Garabandal. The traditional folk dance called "Los Picyos" seen here has always been followed by a secular dance that extends into the night. It was this secular dance on July 18,1962, that was opposed by some of those waiting for the miracle to happen.
At noon the festive atmosphere reached its peak. But as the afternoon hours passed, impatience and unrest began to increase among those waiting. Nothing was happening, nor were there any signs that something was going to happen! Luis Navas wrote:
As time passed, our restlessness grew, until it came to reach a level of actual anguish as the afternoon wore on. We blamed the dance as the cause of the delay, and perhaps the failure of the prodigy to take place; and full of confusion, we made a multitude of conjectures. I personally didn't ask for anything for myself since I had no need of a miracle to believe in the apparitions. However it deeply grieved me that, since what had been predicted was not happening, the good intentions of countless people, principally those who had come for the first time to Garabandal, were being dashed together with their faith. I couldn't forget the episode of October 18, and at that time the girls hadn't predicted any prodigy!
Mr. Navas tells us how he better supported his hopes during the anguished wait:
I kept in my mind that days previously the visionary had addressed a letter to a priest in Santander, Father Odriozola, inviting him to be present when the Angel gave her Communion. She had foretold this fact in unmistakable terms, with firmness and absolute sureness. She didn't mention the hour, and the solar day wouldn't end until 1:20 on our watches, but each minute that went by increased my anxiety and made me think of what would happen with that priest whom the girl had so insistently requested to be there. Later, they told me that he had sent a representative in his place.
According to reports, the one sent by Father Odriozola was an attorney from Santander, Mr. R. M., who comported himself in Garabandal according to the most orthodox line of the Commission:
Toward five in the afternoon, he proposed to Conchita that she stop all this. That he would give her the broadest pardon on behalf of the bishop. That if she wanted to leave for Santander, he himself would take her with great pleasure. The Marquis of Santa Maria, who was present there in the girl's home, couldn't contain himself and engaged in a heated argument with the lawyer, who ended up going away in bad humor.
- Report from another witness
Conchita's house naturally had to be, on that evening of July 18, the center of maximum anticipation. Whoever at the time could get in and stay in the house had to be considered as really privileged; the priests easily obtained such privileges as would be expected. Paquina de la Roza Velarde, the wife of Dr. Ortiz, remembers that there were present there, besides close relatives of the visionary, a young girl from Aguilar (the daughter of Rafael Fontaneda); a priest from Madrid, Father Justo; a Franciscan, Father Bravo; a Jesuit from Comillas; and a Dominican priest from Asturias. This Dominican priest, Etelvino Gonzalez, furnishes us information to help us relive those tense hours of July 18. Weeks later, on August 10, the new Bishop of Santander, Eugenio Beitia Aldazabal, wrote to Father Etelvino requesting him to answer a questionnaire that he was sending him: a long questionnaire that had been composed by the secretary of the Commission. He charged Father Etelvino to proceed with "the strictest secrecy," and at the same time consider "the exceptional importance of his describing the facts objectively, with simplicity and briefness." The letter was answered by Father Etelvino after a month delay, for which he asked pardon. Of the 41 questions on the questionnaire, he answered only 23, since he did not have direct knowledge on the content of the others.
In order to be as exact and objective as possible, I have tried, in describing this, to limit myself to those details and facts of which I was personally a witness. I have avoided not only reporting what I merely heard, but also, as much as possible, mixing my own personal opinion in this.
Before beginning his answers, he confided to the bishop something that had to be his own personal opinion. He mentions...
...the unhappy impression that it made on me in seeing Conchita surrounded in her home by gifts, and circled by wealthy people who apparently came there frequently and gave the impression of having made Garabandal their domain. I wasn't the only one to lament this; among the priests and faithful this was mentioned negatively, leading at times to conclusions that were definitely not favorable. Without going to this extreme, I think that the circumstances to which I am referring prevent a clear visualization of what could be happening at the bottom of these events, which seem more and more confusing.
What this eyewitness then says— which is not exactly in its favor—illustrates what was happening around Conchita on the night of July 18,1962.
First question: Were you in the kitchen of Conchita's home before she went into rapture?
Answer: I passed the evening in Conchita's house, in the kitchen for awhile and principally on the second floor with several secular priests, a Franciscan priest, a Jesuit priest and a seminarian. During the time immediately prior to the rapture, I was practically absent, except for intervals.
Second question: What was the mental attitude of the young girl?
Answer: The general tone, during the time that I saw her, was of sure-ness concerning the accomplishment of the prediction and care in preparing spiritually for it, praying and making us pray; we prayed a Station to the Blessed Sacrament and two rosaries. At the same time, the girl showed herself uncertain over what should be done about a dance that had been organized in front of her home; she wanted the music to continue, but indicated weakly that they should stop dancing.
The dancing had a bad effect on many of those who had gone up to the village. Conchita herself reports this:
Near my house, there was a dance. Two things were going on together. Some people were saying the rosary and others were dancing. [The dance was an indispensable part of the village feast for the young men. The people at Garabandal did not know how to stop it, in spite of Conchita's announcement, and it was held, according to custom, rather near her house.] A certain number of people wanted to stop the dance because they were afraid if it continued the miracle would not take place. So one of the men, Ignacio Rubio, asked me if I wanted him to suppress the dancing. I told him whether the people danced or not, the miracle would still take place. From then on, there was no further discussion about the dance.
Perhaps the man Conchita mentions is the same one about whom we have another report:
A spectator, a professor from Granada, asked assistance from someone influential in the village to convince the young boys that the dancing should stop. With this assistance he went up to the boys and offered to pay the musicians to play on the next three Sundays.
"Who told you [to say] this?" someone retorted, "Conchita?"
"Yes." (Actually Conchita hadn't said anything.)
"Let's go see her," said the young man, and taking the arm of his questioner, he went in search of the girl.
"Listen, Conchita, did the Virgin tell you that we shouldn't dance?"
"No. Not exactly that. You can dance, but you shouldn't offend God, Our Lord."
The young man left satisfied, and naturally the dance continued on for some time.
PHOTO: Conchita's house. It quickly became the focal point for all those who had gone up to the village to witness the miracle.
If the few people huddled in Conchita's house were perturbed by this, and were upset because they were waiting in vain during the final hours of July 18, we can imagine what it must have been like for those not actually there in the house who could only learn about what was happening through vague rumors. We have Luis Navas's testimony:
I was in the house of Maria Dolores, together with her father, the Marquis of Santa Maria, a friend of his, and some other persons whom I don't remember. Someone came to tell us that one of the priests who was in Conchita's house had already gone and was leaving the village, and also that they had even locked the house. I could imagine the anxiety of Conchita's mother after her daughter had not had either the customary apparition on Saturday, or one on Sunday, or Communion from the Angel on Monday, July 16, the feast day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
Among ourselves, one person thought that if the Communion didn't take place, it was probably to test our faith. Others were of the opinion, on the contrary, that it would have been due to some fault of pride in the girl. And there was not lacking someone to say that he had found this whole business of the miracle of the Host very strange from the beginning. But in general we resisted thinking that the visionary had made all this up to try to force the events.
Conchita perfectly sensed the atmosphere that surrounded her:
When darkness settled in and the time passed, the people became restless. However, as the Angel and the Blessed Virgin had told me that the miracle would occur, I was not worried, for neither one had ever told me a thing would happen without it actually happening.
The tension of waiting in the circles closest to Conchita is well reflected in this detail that Doctor Ortiz's wife gives us:
Everyone kept silent. Her brother, seated on the kitchen range, had been dozing. Suddenly, he awoke with a start and said to Conchita, "I can't take this any longer. I'm going to bed. You have terribly deceived all of us!" No one answered. Then the lad said the same thing again and got up to leave.
"No! Don't go." Conchita called to him, "Wait just a little longer."
The girl had to feel that the moment was coming:
By ten o'clock, I had already received one call. At twelve, I received another. Then later...
It is beyond all doubt that on the night between July 18 and 19, 1962, in the village of San Sebastian de Garaban-dal, "something" happened that was going to matter very much in the history of the events taking place there. We have a brief report that gives this "something" from the inside, as further reports will describe it as seen from the outside.
...at two AM., the Angel appeared to me in a room in my house. My mother, Aniceta, my brother Aniceto, my uncle Elias, my cousin Luciuca, and a friend from Aguilar, Maria del Carmen Fontaneda, were present. The Angel stayed with me a little while and then said, as on other days: "Say the 'I Confess' and think about Whom you are to receive." This I did, and then he gave me Communion. After that, he told me to recite the "Soul of Christ," to make my thanksgiving, and to leave my tongue out with the Sacred Host until he departed and the Blessed Virgin arrived. And I did this.
We cannot pinpoint the exact time that Conchita's ecstasy started. We have just seen that she said, "at two in the morning," but her cnronometrical accuracy cannot be guaranteed. All the witnesses agree that the affair happened some time after July 18 ended, after one o'clock at night. The concordance of information from several witnesses makes it certain that the disputed trance began between 1:30 and 1:40 a.m.
A little before it started, Conchita, who had gone down for awhile to the kitchen, went up again to the upper floor. One of the persons there, Dr. Ortiz's wife, says this expressly:
After awhile, Conchita went upstairs again, and a little while later, I saw her come down with her hands joined.
In her room upstairs for almost an hour was a man not easily disposed to religious fervor: Elias Gonzalez Cuenca. Although he was Conchita's uncle, he did not have much faith in his niece, nor did he maintain cordial relations with her family. Let us hear his testimony:
It was after 12:30. I was having a beer with someone at Elena's house when we heard a commotion in the crowd. Full of malice, I went over and entered [Conchita's] house to see if there was something there that I didn't like. She is my niece by blood, but even so, I think there have been three times that I have gone in there. I was with her in her house about an hour. She, her mother, her brother Cetuco, a girl and I were praying. And later her mother went down to the kitchen, leaving the four of us alone.
After awhile, her brother said, "Do you see what time it is? It's already the next day and nothing!" And Conchita answered, "The time has not yet passed."
A few minutes later she fell into ecstasy. We were seated on her bed, and she was speaking with us when suddenly she fell [into ecstasy] there to the side of me, against the door.
Soon the girl got up, left her room and began to descend majestically down the stairway. Dr. Ortiz's wife stated:
I saw her go down with her hands joined in front of her chest, her head thrown back, her mouth slightly open, and with an expression of marvelous happiness!
Father Bravo, a professor from the University of Comillas and a specialist in spirituality, looking at the young girl transfigured like this could only repeat, "How marvelous! How marvelous!"
Those who were in the house intended to closely follow Conchita as she went outside. However they found themselves prevented by the masses of people who were waiting impatiently and who literally threw themselves on top of her, seeking to get the best place for observation. Dr. Ortiz's wife stated: "I went out into the street but I couldn't follow her." Uncle Elias said, "I went out after her into the crowd, but they knocked me down." And they pushed Father Bravo so much that he was almost bowled over; he had to forget being in the first ranks. Conchita's brother Miguel and some other husky young men attempted to protect the girl as she walked. Luis Navas wrote:
It was 1:40 or 1:45 A.M., when just after going out into the street, and no farther than turning a corner to the left—in the place least expected—in front of the house of her friend Olguita, the visionary fell on her knees, and the Communion took place. It was a wet place, hardly agreeable, since at times dirty water from the homes was dumped there.
The visionary was removed from all this, being unaware of her own movements and positions; the only thing that she knew was that:
...the Angel appeared to me in a room in my house...
PHOTO: The X marks the spot where Conchita fell to her knees and received the Host that became visible.
It is indisputable that in the girl's open mouth and upon her gracefully extended tongue there was seen for some time the white Host of Communion, since testimony of this has been signed and sworn to by many witnesses. Although it was in the middle of the night, the scene and the protagonist were suitably illuminated. Concerning this, there is a testimony that has special value because of the situation of the one who gave it and because of its "official" nature, namely that of the previously mentioned Dominican, Father Etelvino Gonzalez:
Q What time was it? Had July eighteenth passed?
A It was exactly a quarter to two in the early morning of July 19.
Q Was there sufficient light?
A Yes. There was a full moon. Furthermore, many around the girl held flashlights even before the predicted object appeared on her tongue. I myself, with my back to her (from a distance of about a meter), on hearing the shout, "the Host!" turned around in front of her, focusing my flashlight on her open mouth.
Q Did you see something in her mouth like a Communion Host?
A Yes. With complete certainty.
Q Before entering the girl's mouth, did you see the Host outside of it, for example, in the hands of the supposed angel, while she was making the sign of the cross, or in the path from the hands of the angel to the girl's mouth?
A As I had my back turned, trying to hold back the crowd, I didn't see it appear.
Q What was it like?
A The object was the same size and shape as the hosts used for Communion, perhaps somewhat thicker. It gave the impression of being somewhat spongy and it adhered perfectly to her tongue.
Q How long did the phenomenon last?
A I estimate about 45 seconds, perhaps 60.
Q Did you hear the girl speak with the alleged angel? What did she say?
A I didn't see or hear her speak.
Q What effects did this cause in you?
A I distinguished three periods: A) With my back to the girl, on hearing the shout: "The Host! Miracle!" I turned around, not believing it was true. B) On seeing it with my own eyes, I was impressed and completely absorbed in the examination of the "Host." C) Finally, I attempted to impose silence and some reverence (because that white object at least had characteristics similar to a Communion Host).
Reprinted with kind permission from Garabandal Journal, July-August 2005.
Excerpted from SHE WENT IN HASTE to the Mountain by UEusebio Garcia de Pesquera, O.F. M., Cap.