Back in the late 5th century to the 6th an apparition of St. Michael happened in the southern mountains of Italy on Mount Gargano. It is a place of refuge, healing, and peace for those that seek out the promises of the great Archangel Michael. Here is a little history on the shrine.
The episode of the bull
One day a rich lord of Siponto (who some have identified as Elvio Emanuele, the 33rd leader Commander of the Siponto armies) used to pasture his herds on the Gargano mountain. All of a sudden the most beautiful bull disappeared. The owner searched for him anxiously in all the most hidden places and at last found him on top of the mountain kneeling down at the opening of a cave. Angrily he shot an arrow at the rebellious animal, but instead of hitting the bull the arrow unaccountably wounded the foot of the wealthy lord. Worried by the event, he went to see the bishop who, after hearing the account of the extraordinary adventure ordered three days of prayer and penance. As the third day ended, the Archangel Michael appeared to the bishop and spoke to him: “I am the Archangel Michael, and am always in the presence of God. The cave is sacred for me, I have chosen it; I myself am its watchful custodian... There where the rock opens wide the sins of men can be forgiven... What is asked for here in prayer will be granted. Therefore, go to the mountain and dedicate the grotto to the Christian religion”. But because this mysterious mountain was almost impossible to reach and it had also been the place of pagan cults, the bishop hesitated a long time before deciding to obey the words of the Archangel.
The episode of the victory
The second apparition of Saint Michael, known as “of the Victory” is traditionally dated in the year 492, even if scholars of today refer the episode to the war of the Longobard duke, Grimoaldo, and the Greeks in 662 - 663 when the victory that took place on 8 May was attributed by the Longobards to the intercession and help of Saint Michael. According to tradition the town of Siponto besieged by enemy troops was on the point of surrender. The bishop Saint Lorenzo obtained a truce of three days from the enemy and he turned to the Celestial Leader with faith, prayer and penance. At the end of the third day the Archangel Michael appeared to the bishop and foretold a complete victory. This message filled the hearts of the besieged with hope. The defenders left the town and fought a furious battle accompanied by thunderbolts and lightning of extraordinary intensity. The victory of the people of Siponto was complete with the extermination of the enemy.
The episode of the dedication
The third apparition is called “the episode of the Dedication. "According to tradition in the year 493, after the victory, the bishop now wanted to obey the Celestial Protector and consecrate the grotto to Saint Michael as a sign of gratitude, encouraged also by the positive opinion expressed by Pope Gelasio I (492 - 496), but the Archangel appeared to him again and announced that he himself had already consecrated the grotto. So the bishop of Siponto, together with seven other Apulian bishops went in procession with the people and clergy of Siponto to the holy place. During the procession a wonderful thing happened: some eagles sheltered the bishops from the rays of the sun with their outspread wings. When they arrived at the grotto they found that a primitive altar had already been erected, covered with a vermilion altar cloth and surmounted by a Cross; moreover, according to the legend, they found the footprint of Saint Michael in the rock. With immense joy the holy bishop offered the first divine Sacrifice. It was 29 September. The grotto itself is the only place of worship not consecrated by human hand and over the centuries has received the title of “Celestial Basilica”.
The fourth apparition
A terrible pestilence raged all over Southern Italy in the year 1656. Archbishop Alfonso Puccinelli, unable to find human means of stopping the epidemic, had recourse to the Archangel Michael with prayers and fasting. The Archbishop even thought of forcing the divine will by placing a supplication written in the name of all the towns- people in the hands of the statue of Saint Michael. And then as dawn was breaking on 22 September, while he was praying in a room of the bishop’s palace of Monte Sant’Angelo, there was a sort of earthquake and Saint Michael appeared to him in dazzling splendour and ordered him to bless the stones of the grotto engraving them with the sign of the cross and the letters MA (Michael Archangel). Whoever kept those stones devoutly would have been immune from the plague. The bishop did what he was told to do. Very soon, not only the town was delivered from the plague, but also all those who asked for the stones wherever they lived. As a perpetual memento of the prodigy and out of eternal gratitude, the Archbishop erected a monument to Saint Michael in the square of the town where it stands to this day, in front of the balcony of that room where the apparition is said to have taken place, with the following words inscribed in Latin:
"To the Prince of the Angels Conqueror of the Plague Patron and Guardian we place this monument in eternal gratitude Alfonso Puccinelli 1656"
The celestial basilica
The sacred grotto was chosen centuries ago as the destination of pilgrimages, a place of prayer and above all of reconciliation with God. In fact the apparitions are a sign, an invitation to man to bow down before the Divine Majesty. Within the span of fifteen centuries of history Christians from the whole world have come to the shrine of the Gargano, “house of God, and gate of heaven", to find again peace and forgiveness in the arms of our loving Father and to give honour to Saint Michael the Archangel, Prince of the Heavenly Army, proclaiming like him with their lives: “Who is like God!” We find many Popes amongst the pilgrims (Gelasio I, Saint Leone IX, Urbano II, Alessandro III, Gregorio X, Saint Celestino V, Giovanni XXIII when he was Cardinal, Giovanni Paolo II); Sovereigns (Ludovico II, Ottone III and his mother Teofane, Enrico II, Matilde of Canossa, Carlo d’Angio, Alfonso of Aragona, Ferdinando the Catholic, Zygmunt Stary, king of Poland, the Bourbon kings Ferdinand I and Ferdinand II, Vittorio Emanuele III and Umberto of Savoia);
Various heads of government and ministers; some were saints (Anselmo, Bernardo of Chiaravalle, Guglielmo of Vercelli, Francis of Assisi, Brigid of Sweden, Bona of Pisa, Alfonso de Liguori, Gerardo Maiella, the Venerable Padre Pio of Pietrelcina and many others) but above all thousands of pilgrims who have come from all the nations, attracted by the extraordinary fascination of the Celestial Basilica, where they find hope, forgiveness and peace, through the intercession of Saint Michael Archangel.