“Our Lady of Mercy” SAVONA, ITALY (1536)
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.