“Our Lady of Manaoag”
MANAOAG, PANGASINAN, PHILIPPINES (1610)
In 1610, a man was walking home along a lonely road in the Pangasinan region when he happened to hear a lady’s mysterious voice. Turning around, he was greatly surprised to see a radiant lady holding a small child on one arm while a rosary was suspended from her right hand. The vision appeared to be standing on a bright cloud over a small bush. Saying nothing, the Virgin looked sweetly at the man – who was now on his knees in profound reverence.
When the villagers heard of the vision, they hastily journeyed there and soon built a small church over the place of the apparition. A town soon flourished near it and was named “Manaoag” — which means “to call.”
The Blessed Virgin seems to have protected this region ever since then from numerous threats. There was a time in which mountain tribes were accustomed to burning Christian villages. One day, when Manaoag was destined to be torched, flaming arrows were shot into the little church. Not a single flame set it on fire.
On an even greater scale, during World War II, four bombs were dropped. Three landed on the patio and only damaged the facade of the church. One bomb crashed through the roof of the church, but it failed to explode inside. The church was miraculously saved.
In 1698, huge swarms of locusts began to ravage the rice fields. They came in swarms so vast that the sky was darkened. An image of the Blessed Virgin (that had been brought to the Philippines by Padre Juan de San Jacinto of Spain in the early 17th century) was taken out to the fields. Desperate for help, they placed the small image on the ground and then watched in amazement as the locusts began to destroy each other in a totally unexpected manner that had never been witnessed before. The carnage continued until not a single locust could be found alive.
Another miracle took place during the drought of 1706. The fields had been scorched by the drought, and the seedlings were shriveled from the heat. As days passed with more sun, heat, and no rainclouds, the people began praying to Our Lady for help and took her image once more out to the fields. During the first day of a novena, and after a procession with the miraculous statue, Our Lady showed her compassion again for this region by gathering rain clouds as soon as her image was returned to the church. The sky dimmed and a downpour of much-needed rain soon fell. This rainfall continued for many days until the ground was refreshed and the crops were saved.
Another spectacular miracle was documented in 1698. It was on Easter Sunday when a fire of unknown origin devoured the whole town and crept steadily toward the church. The parish priest was notified of the danger and rushed to the scene. He grabbed the statue of Our Lady from inside the church and took it out to protect it from harm. He prayed and pleaded with Blessed Mary, saying,
“Dear Lady, if you do not spare the church from fire, I will hurl myself into the flames with you so that the two of us may be consumed by it.”
After he pleaded with Our Lady of Manaoag, the flames immediately died down and were extinguished. Once again , the church was miraculously saved.
Many pilgrims visit the shrine of Our Lady of Manaoag every year – but, especially during the months of April and May when annual, worldwide pilgrimages occur. Many other miracles attributed to Our Lady are depicted in giant wall paintings in the church. The crowds were huge on April 21, 1926, when the Papal Nuncio canonically crowned the image of Our Lady of Manaoag.
Allegedly, Our Lady visits all the barrios of Manaoag and all the towns in the district of Pangasinan every twenty-five years.
The exact date of the discovery of the Madrid image is unknown, although it is known that it began when Spanish friars were traveling through the village of Traigueras on their way to Rome to gain approval for the Order of Minims, founded by St. Francis of Paola (1416-1507). When a furious storm descended upon them, they prayed for God’s guidance and help. Looking for shelter, they saw a mysterious light coming from a cave. They hurried to it and found the beautiful statue of the Virgin Mary holding the Child Jesus. Surrounding it was a shimmering light and a heavenly fragrance of flowers.
When nobody in Traigueras knew anything about the statue and did not claim it, the friars carried it with them to Rome. On arriving there, they met with Pope Paul V (1605-1621), who heard the story of the discovery – and not only venerated and blessed the statue, but also gratified the friars by granting full approval of their new Order of Minims.
The image was first placed in the Royal Hospital of Madrid where many miracles were granted. In fact, there were so many miracles that King Philip III ordered the construction of the Sanctuary of the Puerto del Sol where the image is found today, beautifully adorned and sumptuously enthroned.
The image of “Our Lady of Good Success” in Madrid was dear to the hearts of countless souls, including Sister Mariana of Jesus Torres, who, even as a child, received visits from the Blessed Mother. After joining the Order of the Immaculate Conception, Sister Mariana was sent from Spain to Quito, Ecuador to found another house of the Order — of which she became the Abbess. Her great devotion to Our Lady under this title was continued when she arrived in Quito, Ecuador.
It was there in Quito, on February 2, 1610, while she was praying to the Blessed Mother, that she was granted another heavenly visitation. Identifying herself as “Mary of Good Success,” the Virgin Mary asked that a statue be made to her likeness for the consolation and preservation of the convent – and for those faithful souls who would pray to her.
“It is now necessary that you have my holy statue made promptly, just as you see me, and that you make haste to place it in the place which I indicated to you. With this statue I will favor not only my convent, but also the people of Quito and all the people throughout the centuries.”
Mother Mariana responded with great humility:
“Beloved Mother of my soul, the tiny ant that thou hast before you will be unable to relate any of thy beautiful features … or thy height. It will be necessary that the three Archangels who accompany thee … would come to sculpt thy statue which thou askest me to have made, so that the work may be as thou wilt …”
Blessed Mary replied, in a calming manner,
“Do not be worried about any of this, dear daughter. The perfection of the work is my concern. Gabriel, Michael, and Raphael, with the whole Heavenly Court, will secretly take care of the making of the statue … Regarding my height, bring the cord here that you wear, and measure me without fear, since to a Mother like me, the confidence, respect, and humility of her daughters pleases her. Beloved daughter, put into my hands one of the ends of your cord, and I will place it upon my forehead, and you will apply the other end to my right foot.”
The three Archangels lifted the crown of the Queen of Heaven while she was placing the end of the cord on her head. But the cord was too short to reach to the ground. But the Child Jesus reached out from his Mother’s arms and miraculously stretched it to reach. Then Mother Mariana came out of her ecstasy and now had the exact measurements for the statue.
On February 5, 1610, she contacted a Spanish sculptor, Francisco del Castillo, and honored him with this special project that would be due for consecration on February 2, 1611. The bishop routinely inspected the work going on in the choir loft. On January 10, 1611, he noted that the statue only needed a final coat of paint before completion. The sculptor indicated that he must travel far to Pasto, Colombia to get the fine paints required, and so he left town.
At midnight, the first hour of January 16 (the day the sculptor was to return), Mother Mariana witnessed the choir loft and entire church illuminated with a supernatural light. The tabernacle opened by itself, and the three archangels, Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, placed themselves before the throne of God — and something was given to them. Choirs of angels united their voices in singing, “Blessed Mary, temple and tabernacle of the Blessed Trinity.” In the next instant, Mother Mariana saw the three archangels in the choir loft, illuminating the statue with their divine light. St. Francis of Assisi appeared and joined the three archangels as they approached the unfinished statue. The statue was transformed so rapidly that Mother Mariana could not perceive how it happened. St. Francis took the cord from around his waist and placed it around the statue’s waist. Then he and the archangels disappeared as the Blessed Virgin appeared and entered the statue herself while angels continued to sing the Latin hymn, Salva Sancta Parens.
At 3:30 a.m. Mother Mariana came out of her ecstasy and saw the statue still illuminated by Divine Light. When all of the convent sisters came to see the miraculous completion of the statue, they heard the angels still singing and saw the supernatural light still present. Later that day, when the sculptor returned, the nuns watched quietly as he approached the choir loft. As he approached the statue, he dropped to his knees and cried out, “This exquisite statue is not my work!” He wept as he realized that a miracle had been performed. He immediately composed a written statement testifying to the beautiful changes in the sculpting and painting that “were not of my hands.” The bishop was notified, and he, too, knelt and wept before the beautiful masterpiece, verifying the miraculous changes performed by angels that had completed the wooden statue in the sculptor’s absence.
During other apparitions to Sister Mariana, the Blessed Mother confided several prophecies, some of which have already taken place, thus validating her words. Many predictions are pertinent to the troubled times of the present. Some of these prophecies include a warning that Masons and other secret sects would have an influence – even within the Church. She warned:
“A worldwide campaign against the virtues of chastity and purity will succeed in corrupting the youth … evil will invade childhood innocence. The clergy will leave much to be desired because priests will become careless in their sacred duties … Faithful priests upholding, the Faith will suffer greatly and will be overwhelmed with vexations in order to stop them from fulfilling their ministry. The precious light of Faith will be extinguished in souls by the almost total corruption of customs.”
Then Our Lady of Good Success continues to complain that:
“Those who have the financial means to help the Church will do nothing. Their miserly attitude toward God and His Church will allow evil to seemingly triumph.”
Many other prophecies were given which depict the future as being very troublesome for the Church.
The Pope’s “infallibility will be declared a dogma of Faith by the same Pope chosen to proclaim the dogma of the mystery of my Immaculate Conception. He will be persecuted and imprisoned in the Vatican through the usurpation of the Pontifical States and through the malice, envy, and avarice of an earthly monarch.”
“Unbridled passions will give way to a total corruption of customs because Satan will reign through the Masonic sects, targeting the children in particular to insure general corruption.
“Unhappy, the children of those times! Seldom will they receive the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. As for the sacrament of Penance, they will confess only while attending Catholic schools, which the devil will do his utmost to destroy by means of persons in authority.
“The same will occur with Holy Communion. Oh, how it hurts me to tell you that there will be many and enormous public and hidden sacrileges!
“In those times, the sacrament of Extreme Unction will be largely ignored.… Many will die without receiving it, being thereby deprived of innumerable graces, consolation, and strength in the great leap from time to eternity.
“The sacrament of Matrimony, which symbolizes the union of Christ with the Church, will be thoroughly attacked and profaned. Masonry, then reigning, will implement iniquitous laws aimed at extinguishing this sacrament. They will make it easy for all to live in sin, thus multiplying the birth of illegitimate children without the Church’s blessing….
“Secular education will contribute to a scarcity of priestly and religious vocations.”
“The holy sacrament of Holy Orders will be ridiculed, oppressed, and despised, for in this both the Church and God Himself are oppressed and reviled, since He is represented by His priests.
“The devil will work to persecute the ministers of the Lord in every way, working with baneful cunning to destroy the spirit of their vocation and corrupting many. Those who will thus scandalize the Christian flock will bring upon all priests the hatred of bad Christians and the enemies of the One, Holy, Roman Catholic, and Apostolic Church. This apparent triumph of Satan will cause enormous suffering to the good pastors of the Church…and to the Supreme Pastor and Vicar of Christ on earth who, a prisoner in the Vatican, will shed secret and bitter tears in the presence of God Our Lord, asking for light, sanctity, and perfection for all the clergy of the world, to whom he is King and Father.”
“Unhappy times will come wherein those who should fearlessly defend the rights of the Church will instead, blinded despite the light, give their hand to the Church’s enemies and do their bidding. But when [evil] seems triumphant and when authority abuses its power, committing all manner of injustice and oppressing the weak, their ruin shall be near. They will fall and crash to the ground.
“Then will the Church, joyful and triumphant like a young girl, reawaken and be comfortably cradled in the arms of my most dear and elect son of those times. If he lends an ear to the inspirations of grace–one of which will be the reading of these great mercies that my Son and I have had toward you–we shall fill him with graces and very special gifts and will make him great on earth and much greater in Heaven. There we have reserved a precious seat for him because, heedless of men, he will have fought for truth and ceaselessly defended the rights of the Church, deserving to be called ‘martyr.’”
“At the end of the nineteenth century and throughout a great part of the twentieth, many heresies will be propagated in these lands.…
“The small number of souls who will secretly safeguard the treasure of Faith and virtues will suffer a cruel, unspeakable, and long martyrdom. Many will descend to their graves through the violence of suffering and will be counted among the martyrs who sacrificed themselves for the country and the Church.
“To be delivered from the slavery of these heresies, those whom the merciful love of my Son has destined for this restoration will need great will-power, perseverance, courage, and confidence in God. To try the faith and trust of these just ones, there will be times when all will seem lost and paralyzed. It will then be the happy beginning of the complete restoration….
“In those times the atmosphere will be saturated with the spirit of impurity which, like a filthy sea, will engulf the streets and public places with incredible license.… Innocence will scarcely be found in children, or modesty in women.
“He who should speak seasonably will remain silent.
“There shall be scarcely any virgin souls in the world. The delicate flower of virginity will seek refuge in the cloisters.…Without virginity, fire from heaven will be needed to purify these lands.…
“Sects, having permeated all social classes, will find ways of introducing themselves into the very heart of homes to corrupt the innocence of children. The children’s hearts will be dainty morsels to regale the devil.…
“Religious communities will remain to sustain the Church and work with courage for the salvation of souls.… The secular clergy will fall far short of what is expected of them because they will not pursue their sacred duty. Losing the divine compass, they will stray from the way of priestly ministry mapped out for them by God and will become devoted to money, seeking it too earnestly.
“Pray constantly, implore tirelessly, and weep bitter tears in the seclusion of your heart, beseeching the Eucharistic Heart of my most holy Son to take pity on His ministers and to end as soon as possible these unhappy times by sending to His Church the Prelate who shall restore the spirit of her priests.”
Mother Mariana of Jesus Torres died on January 16, 1635, after receiving the Holy Eucharist and the Sacraments of the Church. After three hundred years, in 1906, when the church was being remodeled, her tomb was opened. They were stunned to find her body perfectly intact with no decay after three hundred years! This divinely incorrupt body is now kept in a small chapel in the lower level of the cloistered convent. Her Cause for beatification was opened on the diocesan level by the local bishop. At the conclusion of the investigation of her heroic virtues, she was given the title, Servant of God.
At the request of Blessed Mary, her statue was placed above the Abbess’ chair in the upper choir of the convent because she desired to be Abbess of the convent “until the end of time.” Unlike the statue in Madrid which depicts the Baby Jesus on the left arm, while the right hand of the Virgin holds a queenly scepter. The statue in Quito also has the Baby Jesus on the left arm, while the right hand holds a crosier and the keys of the convent – not a royal scepter. The crosier denotes her authority as Abbess.
When the Protestant Reformation swept over Europe, the little town of Siluva in Lithuania saw their Catholic lands seized and the Lutheran faith dominated in 1532. By 1551 that gave way to Calvinism, and the Catholic following died out over the following decades. So, when Mary appeared in 1608, it was in a completely un-Catholic atmosphere. One summer day in 1608, a number of children were tending their sheep in a field on the outskirts of the village of Siluva. They were playing near a large rock, close to a wooded section of the field, shouting merrily to one another in carefree fun. Suddenly, one after another stood transfixed, staring in the direction of the rock. In the silence there could be heard the sound of loud sobbing. Then the children beheld a beautiful young woman standing on the rock holding a baby in her arms and weeping bitterly. Her overwhelming grief was only too evident. She did not speak, but looked at them sadly as she stood there, weeping as though her heart was breaking. So profuse were her tears that they ran down her cheeks, and some of them splashed on the rock. The woman was dressed in flowing blue and white robes, unlike any costume with which the children were familiar. Her long, light brown hair fell softly over her shoulders. A strange light surrounded both the woman and child. When the children went home that evening, they told their parents and neighbors about the weeping woman.
Word spread rapidly, and the next day, a large number of people went to the place where she had appeared, impressed by the children’s tearful insistence that they were telling the truth. When the children were questioned, either separately or together, each told the same identical story, even to the smallest detail. The Calvinist catechist was also present, along with the rector of the Calvinist seminary. The Catechist dismissed the events as nothing but the work of the devil. But, as he was speaking, the woman again appeared on the rock, very sorrowful with tears in her eyes, holding a child in her arms. The assembled people became very frightened and did not dare to say a word. The Catechist finally got enough courage to ask, “Why are you crying?” Mary replied,
“Formerly in this place, my Son was honored and adored, but now, all that the people do is seed and cultivate the land.”
Then she disappeared in front of everyone present. They were confused, dumbfounded, and stunned. They did not really believe that it was the work of the devil as the Calvinists had insisted. A blind man, more than a hundred years old, heard about the apparitions from a nearby village. He recalled a night, eighty years ago, that he helped Father Holubka bury an ironclad chest, filled with church treasures, next to a large rock. The villagers led the blind man to the field where Mary had appeared to see if he might be able to locate the place where the treasures had been buried. No sooner had he reached the spot, when his sight was miraculously restored. Falling to his knees with joy and gratitude, he pointed to the exact spot where the chest had been buried. The ironclad chest was dug out of the ground, and when it was opened, there – perfectly preserved – was the large painting of the Madonna and Child, several gold chalices, vestments, church deeds, and other documents. The painting was enshrined in the Basilica of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Many miracles have been recorded over the years. The apparition was authenticated by a Papal Decree by Pope Pius VI on August 17, 1775.
First Apparition: Vailankanni was a small fishing village on the coast of India with only a few dozen residents around 1580. While the men went fishing every day, the women and children tended the fields and animals. Along the main road was a favorite rest stop for many travelers – a fresh water pond with a large shady banyan tree to rest under. Every day, a poor milk delivery boy would take his pot full of milk door to door, making deliveries. At one point he grew weary and decided to rest under the favorite banyan tree by the pond. Suddenly he was bathed in a brilliant light – out of which appeared a beautiful woman holding an infant in her arms. She asked him if he would spare some milk for her child. Without hesitation he handed the pot to the lady. She fed her baby, thanked him, and handed the pot back. Then she quickly vanished before his eyes. But when he looked at his pot, it was completely empty – and he knew his master would be angry.
Despite his fears, he chose to be truthful with his master. The master was indeed angry, but then they both noticed that the empty pot was now overflowing with milk! Recognizing it as miraculous, the master was certain that the boy must have met a divine being – and asked the boy to take him to the spot of the apparition. They both went to the banyan tree and knelt in prayer. The Lady appeared again and, this time, identified herself as Mary, Mother of Jesus. Residents of the local Catholic community were ecstatic and renamed the pond, Matha Kulam – Our Lady’s Pond. Miraculous cures were attributed to the water from this pond. Later, a building was constructed over it, and it became known as “Our Lady’s Tank”.
Second Apparition: A lame boy had been helping his mother in Vailankanni by selling her daily pot of buttermilk to travelers along the main road. Buttermilk was a real treat, and he had no problem selling all of it by the end of each day. One day, as he sat along the side of the road, a strange and brilliant light surrounded him. A beautiful lady appeared in the light, holding an infant in her arms. She asked if she could have some buttermilk for her child. Without hesitation he poured her a cup, and she gave it to her child. Then she asked the lame boy if he would deliver a message for her to a certain Catholic gentleman in nearby Nagapattinam. The boy replied that he wanted to do her the favor but could not because of being so lame. She smiled and told him to stand up. Immediately, he was surprised that he could walk, jump, and run – for the first time in his life! She again commanded the boy to contact the Catholic gentleman in the nearby town of Nagapattinam to build a church in her honor. He was so excited that he ran down the road, thrilling the villagers who knew he had been unable to walk. The gentleman had no trouble believing the young boy because he had had a dream in which Blessed Mary had told him to do the same thing. He asked the boy to take him to the spot of this apparition. The first thatched church was built on that very spot by this Catholic gentleman.
Third Apparition: Sailing from Macau, China to Colombo, Sri Lanka, a Portuguese merchant vessel got caught in a tempest in the Bay of Bengal. When the sailors reached the point of absolute despair, they began praying to the Virgin Mary. They promised that if they would live, they would build a chapel in her name wherever they could find safety and land. The stormy sea soon became quiet, the clouds parted, and land was spotted nearby. Their ship reached the shore of Vailankanni safely on the 8th of September, Blessed Mary’s birthday. Holding to their promise, the Portuguese sailors returned two weeks later and built a church right there on the beach where they had landed.
September 8th is now the feast day for Our Lady of Good Health. Every year a procession begins on August 30, and people come from all over India – some walking as much as 200 miles on foot, because of their devotion and sacrifice to Mary. As many as 500,000 pilgrims visit every day during this week long celebration. Ironically, very few are Christians – most are Hindu, Muslim, Parsee, Egyptian, etc. The little church on the beach is now a magnificent basilica with at least eight million visitors every year.
After Vatican II, Pope John XXIII officially recognized this pilgrimage site as the “Lourdes of the East” due to the healing waters of the pond. Adjacent to this basilica is a museum of “offerings” left behind by hundreds of pilgrims – often with their personal stories of miraculous healings. There are many shrines around India now, dedicated to Our Lady of Good Health.
Some time after 988 A.D., when Grand Prince Vladimir I married a Byzantine princess and consequently became a Christian, the painting of Our Lady of Kazan was treasured and revered by the Russian people. The icon’s origins are rooted in the early founding days of the church of the apostles. It was brought from Constantinople, across the Black Sea, up the Volga River to a monastery in Kazan, deep in the interior of the former Mongolian Empire. By 1101, pilgrims were traveling vast distances on foot to pray before this icon. In 1209, the city of Kazan was overrun and conquered. Angry mobs destroyed the city and the monastery – the icon being lost in the rubble, apparently lost forever.
Three hundred and seventy years later, on July 8, 1579, a small, nine-year old girl named Matrona was suddenly startled by an immense flash of light. She fell to her knees in amazement at the beauty, holiness, and eternal kindness of the Mother of God – who was standing on a cloud and clothed in the brilliance of God’s love. The “beautiful lady” asked the child to rescue the ancient and holy icon of Our Lady of Kazan from the burned-out ruins of the old monastery near Matrona’s home. She was to give certain directions and specific instructions to the people so that they could locate it.
Word spread quickly, and many people gathered at the ruins. Matrona quietly repeated the instructions that she had heard from Mary. The others sang folk songs with joy and great anticipation. In no time at all, digging right where Mary said to look, they uncovered the miraculous icon. Suddenly, there was total silence. People had fallen to their knees in astonishment and awe as they experienced the sacred Presence in the icon. People spoke of a divine light that radiated forth from the painting of Our Lady of Kazan.
Thousands upon thousands gathered at the site of the apparition. Even high-ranking clergy and aristocrats wept with amazement. Almost immediately, miracles and healings occurred in the lives of those who gazed with reverence upon the holy icon.
It was safely housed in a convent especially constructed for it – and known throughout the Russian Empire as the Liberatrix and Protectress of Holy Mother Russia. Peter the Great proudly carried it as his banner as he marched into battle against Russia’s enemies. During the reign of Alexander II, a magnificent basilica was constructed in Moscow (at Red Square) which housed the sacred icon. Miracles and healings proliferated from its presence there. But the Bolsheviks saw it as a threat to their philosophy and revolution, so on October 13, 1917 (the day of the Fatima Miracle!), they destroyed the Basilica of Our Lady of Kazan. That same day at Fatima, Mary was telling the visionaries,
“If humanity does not turn back to God, Russia will spread errors and terrors worldwide.”
Somehow, the sacred icon had been saved and mysteriously removed from Russia — and discovered years later in a castle in England! Seventy-five years after its destruction, the great basilica was reconstructed at Red Square. The sacred icon has been housed at Fatima in a beautiful Byzantine-style Shrine, constructed especially for its time in exile. On October 13, 1992, His Holiness Aleksey II announced that Russia looks forward to the “peace and abundance” that its anticipated return shall bring eventually.
On July 2, 1557, a farmer named Giovanni Chichizola was walking on a donkey trail on a wooded hill overlooking the city of Rapallo. Coming upon a cool, shady spot, he paused for his noonday rest. The sound of a sweet voice calling his name startled him to alertness. There, standing close beside him, was a beautiful lady surrounded by an intense light. The Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to him and reassured him by saying,
“Do not fear, Giovanni. I am the Mother of God. I have chosen you to be a messenger of my motherly will. Visit the ecclesiastics of Rapallo and let them know that the Mother of God has chosen this place as her perpetual dwelling place and would like a church to be erected here. I leave here a pledge of my love.”
The vision then directed his attention to a small picture propped against one of the rocks where he had been resting.
“Tell the people that this picture was brought here from Greece by the angels. I leave it here as a token of my love for them. Fast on Saturday.”
The vision then disappeared as if carried away in a cloud. The farmer Giovanni studied the icon on the rock. The picture depicts Our Blessed Mary lying on a bier at the time of her passing from this world on to the Heavenly Kingdom. The Holy Trinity is represented by the figures in the central part of the icon. Surrounding the Virgin in a mournful attitude are several saints and two angels. Giovanni attempted to pick the icon up off the rock, but he could not budge it at all. Much to his surprise, a spring had begun flowing from the dry ground by the rock – the exact spot where the Blessed Virgin had appeared.
He went to the village and told the people what had happened. The priests to whom he told his story were skeptical, but because of Giovanni’s excitement they reluctantly followed him to the place of the apparition. There they saw the picture which none of the peasants could lift, and the spring which had mysteriously appeared. One of the priests raised the portrait without difficulty and carried it in procession to the parish church, where it was carefully locked up pending further investigation. But, the next morning, the icon had disappeared from the church – only to be found back on the rock up on the wooded hill.
Once again, the villagers brought the icon back down the hill and to the church where it was displayed all day to the veneration of many. The people were impressed with the details of Giovanni’s experience. At the end of that day the icon was locked away for safekeeping. But they were surprised the next morning to find that it had disappeared again! After a long search, the icon was discovered to be back up on the rock on the hill overlooking Rapallo.
All agreed that these supernatural journeys of the icon were a clear sign and indication that the Blessed Mother wished for the icon to remain in that particular place. They believed that they should build her requested church on that spot so that it could house and protect the treasured icon.
The very next year in 1558, the Archbishop of Turin authorized the building of a church on the “Hill of Joy” where Mary’s visit had taken place. Construction began immediately and during the following year the church opened and was dedicated to Our Blessed Mother. For seventeen quiet years the precious icon was loved and venerated on the Hill of Joy.
In 1574, a group of Greek sailors, sailing from Ragusa, experienced a bad storm while crossing the Gulf of Tigullio. The ship’s captain, Nicholas de Allegretis, together with the crew, promised Our Lady that if they were saved, they would make a pilgrimage to the nearest sanctuary dedicated to her. Upon safely reaching land, they climbed the hill to the sanctuary to fulfill their vow of thanksgiving. It was then that they noticed the treasured icon, recognizing it and declaring that it was formerly venerated in Ragusa – but that it had mysteriously disappeared from there in 1557. The Greeks claimed ownership, which resulted in court proceedings before the magistrate of Genoa. Eventually, the icon was given back to the Greeks for safe transport to its original location in Ragusa.
The icon was taken to the port, boarded on the ship, and placed in a secure location. The ship was well out to sea when the icon suddenly disappeared! Eventually, the captain and his crew learned that the icon had reappeared back in the church on the hill where Our Lady had wanted it to stay. All agreed this time that it should remain there out of respect for Blessed Mary’s wishes.
Every year, the 2nd of July is celebrated as “Apparition Day.” The people of Rapallo travel to the Hill of Joy in a grand procession, carrying an ancient wooden crucifix and a silver shrine with the Mother’s statue. Upon reaching the sanctuary, the first-time pilgrim is amazed by the huge collection of votive offerings and ex-votos, some of them in silver, which decorate the walls, giving proof of prayers answered and miracles worked through the Virgin’s intercession. Records reveal that Our Lady’s intervention brought about deliverance from the plague in 1579, 1590 and 1630. On these and other occasions, the people saw to it that Our Lady was thanked by means of votive plaques, hundreds of which still hang in the basilica. The ex-votos became so numerous that galleries were built to accommodate them. These additions to the sanctuary soon proved inadequate, since the plaques multiplied to such an extent that even the cloister and sacristy were covered with them.
The Sacred Congregation of Rites, in 1739, granted the plea of the city of Rapallo to name Our Lady of Montallegro as its patroness. Once again the shrine found acceptance with the Vatican when Our Lady of Montallegro was crowned in solemn ceremonies on July 7, 1767 by the Bishop of Ajaccio, Corsica.
In the chapel of St. Joseph can be found the spring that began flowing from the time of the apparition. It is said to originate from the rock where the icon was originally found. Today, the rock is found almost concealed at one side of the altar. And what of the water from the miraculous spring? A white marble trough with a faucet is provided for those who want to drink the water or collect it in bottles. Just above the faucet is a small door through which the rock is visible.
Pilgrims can approach the site on foot by way of an old mule track or by cable car from Rapallo. Pilgrims are intrigued with the beauty of the sanctuary and the treasured, miraculous icon – called Our Lady of Montallegro. In the basilica which replaced the original chapel, the celebrated picture is enshrined in a pavilion behind the high altar.
Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone, the Secretary of the State of the Vatican, joined in the celebration for the 450th anniversary of the appearance of Our Lady of Montallegro in 2007. The feast day of Our Lady is celebrated with great joy on the first three days of July each year.
Just ten years after Juan Diego was given the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, another Juan Diego in Tlaxcala, Mexico had a similar experience. His full name was Juan Diego Bernardino. Tlaxcala, once the most populous and largest city in the country, was suffering an epidemic of smallpox. Estimates claim that nine out of every ten Indians died as a result of the infection.
To help Juan’s relatives who had been stricken with the disease in the village of Xiloxostla, Juan walked to the River Zahuapan to collect water that was thought to have medicinal properties. After filling his jug with water, he made his way to the village through a thick grove of ocote trees. He abruptly halted at the sight of a “beautiful woman” of regal bearing standing among the trees. The reassuring smile of the Lady gave him the courage to draw closer to her. With a heavenly voice she greeted him,
“May God preserve you, my son. Where are you going?”
Overcome by the woman’s beauty and surprised at seeing her among the trees, Juan hesitated before he was able to reply,
“I was taking water from the river to my sick ones who are dying.”
“Come with me,” the Lady said, “and I will give you water to cure the disease. It will cure not only your family, but all who will drink of it. My heart is ever ready to help those who are ill, for I cannot bear to see their misfortune.”
Anxious to obtain miraculous water that would cure his relatives, Juan followed the lady with happy anticipation. When they came to a depression in the ground, the lady indicated a spring of fresh water. In her soft, almost musical voice, she told Juan,
“Take as much of this water as you wish, and know that those who are touched by even the smallest drop will obtain, not merely relief from their illness, but perfect health.”
Juan emptied his jug of the river water and filled it with the clear water of the spring. Wanting to express his gratitude, he turned to the Lady, who then entrusted him with a message for the Franciscans at the Monastery of San Lorenzo where Juan was employed.
“Tell the religious for me that in this place they will find my image. It will not only manifest my perfections, but through it I shall generously bestow favors and kindness. When they find the image, they are to place it in the chapel of San Lorenzo.”
When the Lady disappeared among the trees, Juan hurried to the village with his precious water. Upon reaching the bedside of his afflicted relatives, he told them about the Lady and the miraculous spring, as well as her promise of health through use of the water. Juan watched in amazement as the Lady’s word was realized when each was restored to health after drinking the miraculous water.
The next day, Juan returned to the monastery and told the friars of his experience. After questioning him during the day, they decided that his story had merit and planned on visiting the place with Juan at night so as to avoid the curious.
Before reaching the place, they noticed a glow in the distance, and when they arrived, the grove of ocote trees was on fire. The largest tree in the grove – and ONLY this one – was burning along its entire length. Since nothing could be done, they left, but planned on returning after Holy Mass the next morning. With the addition of some of the parishioners, they set out and found a puzzling situation. The fire had destroyed only the lower branches of the surrounding trees. The tallest tree, which had burned its entire length, was indeed blackened. Why the dry summer heat had not destroyed the other trees in a similar manner remained a mystery.
One of the friars had fortunately brought an ax with him and was instructed by the abbot to chop down the trunk of the large tree. A Mexican writer of that time left this report:
“A new marvel met their eyes. Within the trunk of the fallen tree was visible the image (statue) of the Holy Mother of God, representing the mystery of her Immaculate Conception – which can be seen today in the temple lovingly erected later by her children …”
Thus, the tale of Juan Diego Bernardino was fully verified in the presence of many witnesses. They agreed that the apparition of the Virgin Mary to her servant Juan Diego was a happy reality on the day that she showed him the medicinal water and sent him to advise the religious where they would find her sacred image.
With the singing of hymns, the statue was brought to the chapel in a grand procession. The abbot removed the present statue of San Lorenzo and replaced it with the miraculous image of the Mother of God. The Indian sacristan resented the removal of the statue of San Lorenzo and secretly transferred Our Lady’s statue to another location in the middle of the night. But, the next morning, the statue of the Virgin Mary was found back on the altar where the abbot had originally placed it. Determined to not be stopped, the sacristan again removed the statue of Mary the next night – and actually took it home with him. But to his shock, the statue disappeared from his home and reappeared back on the altar in the church by the next morning. Stubbornly, the sacristan was even more determined to stop this mischief. On a third night, he hid the statue of Mary at the church in a cabinet with vestments – and then slept in front of it in order to catch the mischievous ones! Once again, the beautiful God-given image of Our Lady escaped through supernatural means and appeared back on the altar where Blessed Mary had desired it to be placed. The sacristan was now convinced that Our Lady’s wish to be placed on the altar should be respected.
Today, the original 58-inch tall statue of Our Lady is now found in a magnificent niche or Camarin above and behind the altar in the Basilica of the Virgin of Ocotlan. From the earliest days the statue was called Nuestra Senora de Ocatlatia – which means Our Lady of the Burning Ocote (tree). Now, it is simply called Our Lady of Ocotlan – Ocotlan being the Nahuatl word for “place of the pine tree.” The beautiful statue of Our Lady is always dressed in costly vestments. She wears a splendid golden crown which is surrounded by a halo of stars. The crown represents Our Lady’s coronation by the pope in the year 1906.
Among the persons of distinction who visited the miraculous statue was the Archbishop of Puebla, Juan de Palafox y Mendoza, who visited it in 1644, and Archbishop Diego de Osoria de Escobar, who honored the statue in 1670.
Additionally, the shrine of Our Lady was recognized by Pope Clement XII – who authorized a feast day for Our Lady of Ocotlan, and Benedict XIV — who raised the shrine to the status of a basilica and granted indulgences and Apostolic indults to the faithful who venerate the image. Other popes who also recognized the apparition were Pius VI, Pius X, and Pius XII.
One of the most beautiful churches in Mexico enshrines the statue of Our Lady of Ocotlan. Also of interest to visiting pilgrims is the place of the miraculous spring and the small chapel that stands in the ancient ocote grove where Our Lady appeared to Juan Diego Bernardino.
An elderly farmer named Antonio Botta was surprised to receive a visit from the Queen of Heaven on March 18, 1536. The farmer described the Virgin Mary as being dressed in white and surrounded by a dazzling light. The Blessed Virgin stood on a large rock overlooking a stream near the river Letimbro. As he knelt reverently before Our Lady, Blessed Mary directed Antonio to go to his priest with the request that three Saturdays of fasting be observed, and that three processions be organized in honor of God and the Mother of Jesus. Then Mary asked the farmer to return to this same place on the fourth Saturday to receive another message meant for the Curia and the people of Savona. When she vanished from his sight, a sweet fragrance of flowers lingered for some time.
Obeying the words of the Virgin Mary, Antonio went immediately to inform his local priest, Monsignor Bartholomew Zabreri, who then shared the message with the bishop of the diocese. Although they were receptive to the requests of the Blessed Virgin based on the sincerity and humility of the elderly farmer, the mayor of the area, Genoese Doria, was not convinced. He promptly summoned the farmer to the castle for questioning about the circumstances of Mary’s visit. Legend states that during the interrogation of Antonio, some fishermen just off the coast of Savona saw three flames that rose high into the sky above the cathedral and the castle.
The second visit by the Blessed Virgin Mary happened as predicted on April 8, 1536, the fourth Saturday after the first appearance of Our Lady. She appeared with the same brilliant illumination on the exact same location as in the first visit. The elderly farmer, Antonio, recalled that she stood with outstretched hands extended downward in a gesture of mercy. Once again, Our Lady asked him for the three Saturdays of fasting and the processions. She praised the local fraternities and brotherhoods for their dissemination of the Word of God. She urged Antonio and his countrymen to follow the Creed and disappeared after saying these words,
“Mercy, my son, not justice.”
News of this apparition spread quickly. There was such an influx of pilgrims that a committee was formed to handle the increase in numbers. Large sums of money donated by pilgrims resulted in plans being developed for the building of a place of worship. Soon, a chapel at the site of the apparitions was authorized by Bishop Bartholomew Chiabrers on April 21, 1536. Plans for the new church were also approved by the city council of Savona and Cardinal Spinola Horace on July 24 of that same year. By August 11, 1536, the construction of the church was begun.
Four years later in 1540, Savona decreed that March 18 would be observed as an annual festival with a candle votive procession to the shrine. Pope Pius VII was exiled to Savona by Napoleon from 1809-1812. During those years he vowed that if he were released, he would crown the statue of Our Lady of Mercy. The pope kept his promise, placing a royal diadem on the statue on May 10, 1815. Pope Benedict XVI honored Savona and the church with a papal visit on May 17, 2008.
Thierry Schoere was a blacksmith who lived in the village of Orbey. On May 3, 1491, he was on his way to market when he stopped by an oak tree. A fatal accident had occurred at that location, and the family had placed a crucifix on the tree where he had fallen. Getting off his horse, Thierry knelt down to pray for the repose of the victim’s soul.
Suddenly, he was dazzled by a bright light. In the brilliant light he could distinguish the figure of the Blessed Mother dressed in a long white veil. She was holding three ears of corn in her right hand while the other hand held a clump of ice. Without identifying herself, she began to speak,
“Arise, brave man. See these ears? These are the symbols of fine harvests that will reward virtuous and generous people and bring peace and contentment in the homes of faithful Christians. As to the ice, it means hail, frost, flood, famine and all its attendant misery and desolation that will punish disbelievers with the gravity of their sins which tire the Divine Mercy. Go down to the village and announce to all the people the meaning of these prophecies.”
When the vision disappeared, the blacksmith became terribly frightened, and, upon reaching the village, he said nothing – in disobedience of Our Lady’s wishes. He went inside the market, purchased a sack of wheat, and started to prepare it for placement on his horse.
But the sack of wheat became uncommonly heavy and could not be lifted. Even with the help of others, the sack could not be moved. The villagers wondered if witchcraft was involved! It was then that he remembered the words of the Virgin, and realizing the weight of the sack was a signal to him, he loudly shared the message that had been entrusted to him by Our Lady. Many people heard the message spoken with sincerity and took it to heart, resolving to do better in the future. When he had finished telling of his experience and the message given to him, he easily lifted the sack of wheat and secured it onto his horse, and left for home.
During the summer of that same year, a wooden chapel was built on the site of the apparition. Pilgrims made their way there, and miracles were reported. Eventually, this little church was enlarged with the addition of other buildings. For many years, various religious Orders conducted services for the many pilgrims who came from all parts of the country, especially on May 3, the anniversary of the apparition.
For the 519th anniversary in 2010, special services were held, during which many ears of corn were blessed by several priests. These priests, the Redemptorists, have cared for the shrine since 1911. Four years after the original apparition, in 1495, after careful investigations were conducted, the bishop of Basel authorized worship at the shrine and all demonstrations of faith.
VICENZA, ITALY (1426, 1428) “Madonna of Mount Berico”
There was so much pestilence and sickness between 1404 and 1428 in the region of Vicenza, Italy, that the population declined drastically from death or fleeing the area. In those difficult years, Vincenza Passini (age 70) went up the hill each morning to bring food to her husband who worked in his small vineyard. She led a simple, honest life with a heartfelt devotion to Blessed Mary. She attended church regularly and was mindful of the poor.
On March 7, 1426, at 9:00 a.m., Vincenza encountered a beautiful woman on her path up the hill. She had “the likeness of a most beautiful queen with garments more resplendent than the sun, wreathed in a fragrance of a thousand scents.” Overcome by the beauty of the woman, she fell to the ground. The beautiful woman spoke:
“I am the Virgin Mary, the Mother of Christ who died on the Cross for the salvation of men. I beg you to go and say in my name to the people of Vicenza that they must build in this place a church in my honor if they want to recover their health. Otherwise, the plague will not cease.”
Vincenza wept with joy, kneeling in front of the Madonna. But then she asked her,
“But the people will not believe me. And where, O glorious Mother, will we find the money to do these things?”
The Virgin Mary replied,
“You will insist so that my people do my will, otherwise they will never be rid of the plague – and, until they obey, they will see My Son angry with them. As proof of what I say, let them dig here, and from the rock, living water will spring. As soon as the building begins, money will not lack.”
After saying this, Blessed Mary took a twig, and with a graceful movement, traced the Sign of the Cross on the ground. Then she also drew the shape of the church to be built. Finally, she planted the twig in the ground where the high altar of the shrine stands today.
“All those who visit this church with devotion on My feast days and on every first Sunday of the month, will be given an abundance of grace and the Mercy of God and the blessing of My Motherly hands.”
Vincenza immediately obeyed the beautiful woman and began telling everyone that she met. But, she soon realized that nobody believed her! The plague was foremost on everybody’s minds. Even Bishop Pietro Emiliani gave little credence to her story. So, as Mary predicted, the plague raged on. Vincenza resumed her work, performed deeds of charity, and climbed the hill on feast days to pray on the spot where Madonna had appeared.
On August 1, 1428, the Virgin Mary appeared again to Vincenza. She repeated her previous warning and recommendation for the health of the people. Because of the horrific conditions of the ongoing plague, the people chose to believe her this time. The Hall of Government decided to build a church on Mount Berico, beginning construction just 24 hours after this last apparition! As soon as the church was completed, the plague disappeared, and the region no longer suffered from it.
The Lady had spoken of water that would spring from a rock at the place where the shrine was to be built. While digging in the ground, “a wonderful and incredible quantity of water welled out like a spring … overflowing like an abundant river that ran down the hill with great noise.”
A beautiful statue of the Madonna of Mount Berico is enthroned in the shrine. It is “an imperious image in marble, painted with skill in various and precious colors.” It depicts the Madonna with an open smile. Her head is framed by curls, and she wears a gold-decorated veil, a gold-colored dress with a greenish, gold-edged mantle. Figures of children, women, and men are huddled beneath the mantle that drapes over the Virgin’s extended arms. She also wears necklaces and a golden crown that was placed there by Cardinal Giuseppe Sarto, the Patriarch of Venice – who later became Pope Pius X.
During the First World War, the city of Vicenza was behind enemy lines. Thoroughly frightened, the people made a solemn vow to the Madonna of Mount Berico, promising that if they and their lands remained safe, they would observe the birthday of the Madonna every year in a special way. She granted their prayers, so every year on September 8, great crowds visit the sanctuary to offer their gratitude. People also honored her wish for devotion on First Sundays of every month, so two large chapels were added to this grand basilica in 1972 along with thirty additional confessionals. The Servants of Mary took possession of the shrine in 1435 and are still ministering to pilgrims today, almost 600 years later.
On his visit on January 11, 1978, Pope Paul VI announced:
“We decree that the Most Blessed Virgin Mary be honored with the name of Madonna of Mount Berico, and that from now on truly be the principal patron, next to God, of the city and diocese of Vicenza.”
On August 22, 2000, Pope John Paul II sent a message to the Patriarch of Venice, recounting his own visit to the Madonna of Mount Berico:
“I, too, had the joy of making a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Mount Berico on 7-8 September, 1991, to ask the Blessed Virgin to bless the people of the area and to show herself to be the tender and provident Mother of those who suffer and those who long for justice and peace.”