How does a woman from New Jersey (USA) with multiple sclerosis wind up living in Garabandal? Here is Valerie Cygon's own story.
Photo (Right): Valerie on the road leading into Garabandal. She has needed the wheelchair since 1992, but uses a cane or walker inside the house.
In 1993, I first learned about Garabandal from some women who belonged to the same prayer group I did in my parish church in Dover, New Jersey. One of the women gave me a book on the apparitions which I read with great interest. I was especially impressed with the Messages which seemed so real and so honest that I couldn't help believing Garabandal was true.
Some time later, a few friends asked me if I wanted to go to Garabandal and stay for a few months. After much thought and prayer, I decided to accept the invitation. The only problem was finding this little village, that wasn't even on any maps, once we arrived in Spain.
Then one day when I went to the YMCA for physical therapy, my therapist told me that she and her daughter had just returned from a trip to Spain and had visited a little village where the Blessed Virgin had appeared in the 1960s. I could hardly believe my ears so I asked her the name of the village. "Garabandal," came the reply. I asked her how she had found it, and she said she would give me a photocopy of a map she had taken off the Internet.
Now with a map, my friends and I began planning our journey to Spain. There would be six of us in all: four women and two children. Through a rental agency, we found an apartment in Santander which we rented for three months. We booked our departure for February 1, 1995.
After an eight hour flight we arrived in Madrid at nine in the morning only to learn that the next flight to Santander was not until 6:00 p.m.- what a long wait!
When we finally arrived at the Santander airport at 7:00 p.m., our landlady was there to pick us up, but on seeing all our luggage, she called two cabs and off we went. Suffering from fatigue and jetlag we went straight to bed as soon as we got to the apartment and slept soundly until noon the next day.
Feeling refreshed, we decided to go out and buy some food for our bare cupboard and empty refrigerator. Santander is a fairly large maritime city and popular summer resort because of its extensive beaches on the Cantabrian Sea, but we couldn't find any stores open at two in the afternoon. I thought it must be a holiday and asked a gentleman on the street. My education about the country began right there. This was Spain and everything closes down for siesta from one to four in the afternoon.
The next day we decided to go to Garabandal. To get there from Santander, the provincial capital, one has to travel in a southwesterly direction. The map we had was not like a U.S. road map with numbered highways, but only showed the names of the towns. So we started out in our rented car going from town to town: Torrelavega, Cabezon de la Sal and then on the road to Reinosa.
Once we passed through a place called Cabuerniga we began to make our ascent into the mountains on this road with no guard rails and just wide enough for one car in each direction. And you can forget about passing!
When we got to the top of one mountain, the view was so breathtaking that we had to pull over and take it all in. Way down below was Carmona, a typical northern Spanish village with its cluster of small, white houses with red tiled roofs. The fields surrounding the village were the most beautiful green I had ever seen with each owner's plot of land sectioned off by rough walls of rocks piled on top of one another. From our vantage point, it looked like an uneven checkerboard and with mountains rising up on all sides, all I could think of was the Credo since only God could create beauty such as this.
Five more kilometers and we were in Puentenansa, the principal town of the Rionansa area with stores, a few banks and a new gas station under construction. Three more kilometers and we came to Cosio the next closest village to Garabandal and from there we began the climb to the village.
Anyone who has ever been to Garabandal can probably remember that bend in the road where the Pines suddenly come into view off in the distance standing out majestically against their mountain backdrop. We stopped to take some pictures of this beautiful setting with its lush green fields; one of my friends said it looked like a golf course.
We arrived in the village about 2:00 p.m., and parked our car in the first place where there was any sign of life. Since this was siesta everyone was either at home or in the local restaurant. We noticed a little old lady coming out of the establishment wearing a kerchief and blue bathrobe, and carrying her lunch in a paper bag. I approached her and since I didn't speak Spanish, I used my calculator-like Spanish translator to try to communicate with her. After five minutes of getting nowhere this sweet lady said to me: "I speak English you know." I almost fell over. Margaret was British, from South Africa, and for the rest of the afternoon, she gave us a guided tour of the village.
Staying In The Village
For the next several weeks, we made day trips to Garabandal from our apartment in Santander, where we did some shopping for our newfound friend; but we wanted to be able to spend more time in the village than our day trips allowed. We asked Margaret if there were any houses for rent. At the time, there were only two posadas (boarding houses) and both were booked solid for April and May. As it turned out, Margaret owned a little, white house up the hill behind the restaurant where we could stay for free. It would require some cleaning since it had been vacant for four years with no running water or electricity for all that time.
When we learned that the electric bill had not been paid for the four years, we went to the mayor, paid what was due, and the electricity was turned back on.
For the rest, rustic living would be a new experience for us pampered Americans. We used rain water that collected in a tub on the roof for our cleaning and washing. We carried fresh water in buckets from a well on the other side of the village and stored it in the bathtub. Since we had no refrigerator, cold food was kept on the cold kitchen counter. One of the villagers connected the stove to a butane tank so we at least could do some cooking.
The house had four monastic cell-sized bedrooms, with mattresses made of animal hair on the beds, and no screens in the windows. We really were roughing it, but gradually the place became more livable. (Casa 57, Valerie's house in Garabandal)
We put curtains and screens on the windows, hung some holy pictures on the walls and even had running water! Margaret had called on us to see how we were doing. I told her everything was wonderful except for the lack of running water. She went over to the kitchen faucet and turned it on. I almost died; the water that came out was the water from the tub on the roof that we used for cleaning and washing. When she saw how upset I was, she went and got Pepe Diez, the town building contractor who said: "How much will you give me if I can turn the water on?" "Yeah, right," I thought to myself skeptically. What was he going to do, dig a hole in the ground and tap into the town water supply? Then he reached under the house, turned a valve and voila! we had running water! Everyone went back into the house to be the first to use the shower.
Photo (Left): Valerie with Father George Costigan and Mari Loli.
After a few trips to our apartment in Santander to collect necessary items for our new, temporary home, we were ready to receive visitors, and we expected some friends who were coming to the village for a month long retreat beginning with Holy Week.
(Editor's note: Rumors spread that the Miracle would happen on April 13, 1995, and consequently thousands of people went up to Garabandal. Even the government had to get involved to provide sanitation facilities.)
During Holy Week, the village was flooded with people, an estimated 10,000 of them and each group had their own priests. Many countries were represented: England, Ireland, France, Belgium, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, United States, Holland, Portugal, African countries and many more. We met so many nice people and it was beautiful to hear the rosary prayed in so many different languages.
Our house had a very large front yard and each morning when we got up, we saw more and more tents of people camping out.
After Holy Week and April 13 came and went, things returned to normal; the pilgrims, vendors, tents by the hundreds and portable sanitation facilities had all disappeared. Once again we heard the usual village sounds of cow bells, dogs barking and faint voices in the background.
I thought to myself: "What a beautiful place. How am I ever going to be able to leave this tranquil and prayerful village hidden in the mountains where Our Lady had visited every house, traversed all the streets with the visionaries and kissed countless religious objects?" But I had a home and a life back in America and had to say goodbye to Garabandal hoping not forever.
Buying A House
Several months later in November, I received a letter from Margaret. It was a distress call. Since flights to Spain were very reasonable at that time of year, I returned to Garabandal accompanied by my uncle and daughter. Arriving in the village we went straight to where Margaret lived only to find that all was well. She had been in the hospital but now was ok.
Photo (Right): With Mother Angelica who visited Garabandal in 1998.
She gave us the key to the little white house of such fond memories where we had stayed earlier in the year.
One of the disadvantages of this house for me was its inaccessibility. There was no walkway or driveway and the grass was quite high from the road to the house. My multiple sclerosis had worsened in six months and getting to this house had become difficult. I inquired about others for rent but there were none. Someone suggested I buy a house. One belonging to Mari Loli's uncle was up for sale so I went to take a look. It was well suited for me with one of the three bedrooms and a bathroom on the ground floor. After several days of prayer, I made a small down payment on the house and returned home to figure out how I was going to pay the rest of the money which amounted to about $60,000.
Back home I looked into some small investments my late husband had made several years earlier. I cashed them in and had more than enough to buy the house and move my belongings to Spain.
It's now been seven years since I moved to Garabandal and I must say it's the most peaceful and prayerful place on earth. I can't tell you how many people I've met since there have been so many. They come from all over the world and they all have a story to tell either of how they learned about Garabandal or about their conversion through Our Lady's appearances here.
Photo (Left):: Valerie in 1998 meeting John Paul II.
I cannot close without saying something about the people who live in this little village that truly belongs to God and the Blessed Virgin.
The inhabitants have a completely different lifestyle from people in the United States. They make use of every God-given gift. They work long days in the fields, grow their own food raking and hoeing their gardens, graze their cows and sheep on the pastures, and raise chickens for eggs and even bees for honey. The sound of the ax can always be heard as someone cuts wood for the hearth in winter, since the houses have no centralized heating. Life here might be quite primitive by today's standards, but it is not materialistic. If we were ever snowed in without any electricity, life would go on as usual. It's no wonder the name Garabandal means paradise to me!
In 1998, Valerie met Pope John Paul II during a general audience. Of the occasion she wrote: After his talk, the people on the platform where he was, were allowed to go up and greet him. When it was my turn, I went up to him, kissed his ring and told him I loved him. For some strange reason, he asked me where I was from. I say strange because I look so American. I said, "Spain, Your Holiness." He asked, "Where?" I replied, "Garabandal, Your Holiness." Then suddenly his eyes grew large, he swayed backwards and gasping for air said in one long, drawn out sound, "G-a-r-a-b-a-n-d-a-l". When I saw the look on his face, I just started crying and they pushed me away.
Reprinted with permission from Garabandal Journal May - June 2003