On Puglia‘s Gargano peninsula lies an ancient shrine that is both historically as well as spiritually significant. Known as Monte Sant’Angelo, this shrine is where veneration of Saint Michael in Western Europe began and is said to have been consecrated by the Archangel himself. Other famous shrines to Saint Michael the Archangel, such as Mont Saint Michel in Normandy and Saint Michael’s Mount in Cornwall are part of a tradition that began on Monte Gargano in the 5th Century. The shrine of Monte Sant’Angelo is one of the oldest pilgrim destinations in Europe and over the centuries has attracted saints, kings, pilgrims, tourists, and popes.
Monte Sant’Angelo: Origins of the Shrine
The shrine of Monte Sant’Angelo, which consists of a large cave, had once been the site of a pagan temple in pre-Christian times. Beginning in the year 490, it has been the site of at least four visitations by Saint Michael the Archangel, who specified this spot as a place where prayers will be answered.
The first visitation involved a local lord, who lost a prize bull in the cave; when the lord fired an arrow it returned back from the cave and struck him in the foot. The local bishop received a vision of the Archangel telling him to consecrate the cave, however the bishop did not listen. The second visitation of Saint Michael the Archangel saved the town of Siponto (today known as Manfredonia) from an invasion, celebrated by the Church on the 8th of May.
On the third visitation, Saint Michael the Archangel appeared to the local bishop and stated that he consecrated the shrine himself, the only time this has happened in history. When a procession made its way to the cave they found the cape of the Archangel used as an altar cloth and his footprint embedded in the rock. In the year 1656 Saint Michael the Archangel appeared again, this time to the bishop of Monte Sant’Angelo to stop a horrible plague that struck Southern Italy. While the Archangel has not appeared since then, the votive gifts left by centuries of thankful worshipers attest to the continued sacredness of this spot.
Monte Sant’Angelo: The Sanctuary
The original shrine, dedicated to Saint Michael the Archangel is still located inside a natural grotto and offers pilgrims who pray there a plenary indulgence against sin. Due to the popularity of Monte Sant’Angelo, the area around this simple grotto has been embellished over the years and a town grew up around the shrine. An octagonal bell tower and gothic portal dating to the 14th century lead to a series of atriums, chapels and altars before entering what is known as the Celestial Basilica.
The inner grotto houses an altar with a statue of Saint Michael the Archangel, however there is another important altar dedicated to Madonna del Perpetuo Soccorso, Our Lady of Perpetual Help. There are other statues and altars within the grotto, as well as a former crypt. The shrine at Monte Sant’Angelo also houses a museum that displays many of the ancient offerings and artifacts left by pilgrims since the 5th Century. One of the museum’s prize possessions is a silver crucifix housing a piece of the True Cross, given to the shrine by Emperor Frederick II.
Sources / For More Information:
- James, Colleen Heater: The Pilgrim’s Italy: A Travel Guide to the Saints.
- 1st ed. InnerTravel Books, Nevada City, 2003.
By Justin Demetri