Worshippers flock to Santa Margarida Volcano Chapel every summer to celebrate the feast day of St. Margaret of Antioch
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Catholic travelers may be accustomed to seeing stunning chapels built on top of cliffs or mountains. But the Chapel of Santa Margarida Volcano in Catalonia, Spain, takes the concept a step further. Erected in about the 15th century, the Chapel of Santa Margarida stands in the middle of the former crater of a now-extinguished volcano.
The original building was destroyed by an earthquake and rebuilt in 1865 in Romanesque style. Today, the sober looking one-nave chapel stands alone among the grass and shrubs that have grown in what was once a lava emitting crater. All around it are the volcano walls, now covered by a deciduous forest. Arriving at this remote chapel is not an easy task. It’s a 25-minute hike from the nearby village of Saint Pau along a steep path before one finally reaches the summit of the 2,238-foot-tall volcano.
Functions are not usually held here, except for a feast held on July 20 in honor of the feast of Saint Margaret of Antioch, patron saint of pregnant women. On that day, hundreds of worshippers make the hike to attend Mass and to take part in celebrations.
According to a story published in Smithsonian magazine, the fact that the feast of St. Margaret of Antioch is held in a dormant volcano may not be a coincidence. St. Margaret of Antioch was an early Christian living in Antioch, modern-day Turkey, who was put in prison for refusing to let go of her faith and marry a Roman general. According to the Christian tradition, while she was in jail the devil appeared to her in the form of a dragon. The story goes that the dragon swallowed Margaret but she was miraculously able to escape. The dragon’s belly was cut wide open and Margaret emerged intact.
According to a culture researcher cited in the Smithsonian, the chapel in honor of St.Margaret of Antioch was built inside a volcano to protect worshippers from fire (i.e. the devil-dragon).
Today, locals can rest assured that the danger of fire and lava is gone as the last eruption of the volcano, part of a volcanic complex know as La Garrotxa Volcanic Zone, took place 10,000 years ago.