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.”