A Pilar of the community

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Today may be the day for the perfect crime. Spain’s Guardia Civil are celebrating the fiesta del Pilar, in honour of their patron saint. The festivities started here this morning with some militaristic goings on involving the town band, guardia civil officers and ceremonial swords. There will, no doubt, be plenty of food and drink later, in honour of the Virgen del Pilar, who is said to protect the men and women who “give their lives to defend the constitution and territory of Spain”.

Pilar was officially declared as patron of the corps in 1913, though the origins of her links with the country’s military police appear to go back much further. Bizarrely in a country whose constitution enshrines the separation of state and church, Pilar also carries the distinction of having received the gold medal of police merit, which Spain’s interior minister Jorge Fernández Díaz bestowed on her in 2012.

The gold medal is normally reserved for police who have died heroically, usually in acts of terrorism. But another Virgin joined Pilar this year in receiving the honour, when Díaz gave it to the Virgin Mary, no less. Or to a statue of her in Malaga, to be precise.

This time the award was widely denounced, not least by the police officers’ union which said “give the virgin whatever you like, take her some flowers, make her the patron saint of our people, but don’t give her a police medal, least of all one reserved for police officers who have lost their lives in an attack”.

The Movimiento hacia un estado laico (Movement Towards a Secular State) and Secular Europe are challenging the Spanish government in court over Virgingate, having vowed to limit what they call an ingrained Catholic influence in public affairs. The outcome rests with the high court, which has decided, probably wisely, that a panel of magistrates will examine the case without the need to call witnesses.

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