The title “Our Lady of Loreto” is associated with the Holy House of Loreto in Italy, the house of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, miraculously transported by the angels from Palestine to Europe.
The house of the Holy Family in Nazareth has always been the object of Christian veneration. Shortly after 313, St. Helena, mother of the Emperor Constantine, built a basilica over this holy abode. The Saracens invaded the Holy Land in 1090, plundering and destroying Christian shrines, including Constantine’s basilica. Under the ruble, the Holy House was found intact.
During the twelfth century, another basilica was built to protect the holy dwelling. In 1219 or 1220 St. Francis of Assisi visited the Holy House in Nazareth. So did King St. Louis IX of France, when he was leading a crusade to liberate the Holy Land.
In 1263, when the Muslims overpowered the crusaders, the basilica was again destroyed but, once more, the Holy House was found intact.
When the crusaders where completely driven out of the Holy Land in 1291, the Holy House disappeared.
On May 10, 1291 a parish priest, Fr. Alexander Georgevich in the town of Tersatto, Dalmatia, (present-day Croatia) noticed the sudden appearance of a small building resting on a plot of land. Puzzled, he prayed about it, and in a dream saw the Blessed Virgin Mary, who explained that the structure was the house of the Holy Family, brought there by the power of God.
In 1294, with the Moslem invasion of Albania, the house disappeared again. According to the testimony of shepherds, it was seen on December 10 of that year born aloft by angels over the Adriatic Sea. This time the Holy House came to rest in a wooded area four miles from Recanati, Italy. As the news spread fast, thousands flocked there, and many miracles took place at the site.
Due to contrary circumstances, twice again the house was moved, finally coming to rest in the town of Loreto, Italy, its present location.
As miracles continued to occur in connection with pilgrimages to the house, deputations were sent to Nazareth to determine its origins in 1292, in 1296, and in 1524. All three declared that the measurements of the house corresponded to the visible foundations of the house of Nazareth.
In 1871 at the suggestion of Cardinal Bartolini, Professor Ratti of the University of Rome was given mortar and stones from the house at Loreto, and similar materials from houses in Nazareth. Ignorant of which was which, Prof. Ratti ascertained that the composition of the material from the house of Loreto while not original to Italy was identical to that of the material from Nazareth.
Other striking facts about the house in Loreto are that it has no foundations. The walls rest on a plot that was part field and part road, a sure indication that it was not built there but placed there. The style of the house of Loreto is not Italian but Eastern. And the original door was on the long side of the house, indicating that it was a dwelling and not a church.
Today a great basilica houses the dwelling of the holiest of families. From 1330, practically all the Popes have considered Loreto the greatest shrine of Christendom. Bulls in favor of the shrine were issued by Pope Sixtus IV in 1491 and by Julius II in 1507. While the miracle of the translation of the house is not a matter of faith, Innocent XII, in the seventeenth century, appointed a special Mass for the Feast of the Translation of the Holy House. Numerous saints have visited the house-relic.
As pilgrims enter the small precinct, they read on the threshold, “Hic Verbum caro factum est” – “Here the Word became flesh”. Above the altar inside the holy house is an ancient statue of Our Lady holding the Infant Jesus, known asOur Lady of Loreto.
In 1900, the Catholic Church was healthy and growing in China. There were 40 bishops, about 800 European missionaries, 600 native Chinese priests and about 700,000 Catholics throughout China.
It was during this time that the Boxer Uprising (1898–1900) started what ushered in a period of animosity against all things European.
It was from this hatred that the Boxer Rebellion was born. In June 1900, the Boxers besieged the Beitang cathedral. Directing the defense during the siege was the French Lazarist Bishop Pierre-Marie-Alphonse Favier, C.M., of Peking. Bishop Favier, who designed the cathedral, kept a journal during the siege and gave vivid accounts of what was endured before and during the siege.
He provides the following account of the Boxer revolt:
The Boxers are a truly diabolical sect; invocations, incantations, obsessions, and even possessions, are common among them. Savants may attribute their extraordinary doings to magnetism or hypnotism or may look upon them as victims of hysteria and fanaticism, but to us they seem to be even more directly instruments of the devil. The hatred of the name Catholic drives them to the greatest excesses.
Established as they are in every village they unite on a day specified to attack any one Catholic settlement, destroying and murdering everything and everyone in it.
Small children were quartered, women were burned in church or run through with a sword, men were stabbed or shot and some were even crucified.
The conduct of the Catholics is admirable; apostasy is proposed to them, but they prefer flight, ruin, even death.Ten thousand Boxers and soldiers from the regular army besieged the cathedral, which was the Lazarists’ usual place of residency. Behind the church’s walls were over 3,000 Chinese Catholics, 30 French sailors led by a 23-year-old Lt. Paul Henry (who died in the siege), 11 Italian soldiers led by a 22-year-old Lt. Olivieri, and numerous French and Chinese priests and sisters. This siege resulted in the deaths of more than 400 people. Over the two-month siege, the Catholics endured continuous bombardment, mine attacks, flaming rockets and starvation. Many of the children died from smallpox.
Among the admirable figures in the siege was Sister Helen de Jaurias, the Superior of the Sisters of Charity in Beitang, of whom it is said that she possessed the virtue and character of their foundress, Saint Louise de Marillac. Her diary, containing the daily events of the siege until her death on August 20, 1900, provides proof of this: despite having to lodge and feed 1,800 women and children, she overcame the burden of old age and fatigue. She went, as she expressed it, “to observe from Heaven the triumph of Holy Church and the conversion of China.”
In 1901, at the Lazarists’ motherhouse in Paris, Bishop Favier would recount events of this dramatic siege:
Every night during those two months, the Chinese [Boxers] directed heavy gunfire at the roofs of the cathedral and the balustrade surrounding it. Why? wondered [Lieutenant] Paul Henry and the missionaries. There was no one there to defend the cathedral. After the liberation, the pagans provided the key to this mystery: “How is it,” they said, “that you did not see anything? Every night, a white Lady walked along the roof, and the balustrade was lined with white soldiers with wings.”
Their miraculous survival was attributed to the appearance of a woman in white, Our Lady of Deliverance. Bishop Favier had a chapel erected in thanksgiving, in the church of Beitang in her honor.She is represented as the Empress of China holding in her arms the Child Jesus, Who is depicted as an imperial prince.
Bishop Favier expressed his absolute confidence in Providence that thus manifested Its protection:
The good God wishes to save the missions of China. The persecution had been so cleverly organized, that it seemed that the Catholic religion in China was going to be extinguished. However nothing of the kind happened. Thanks be to God.Death gives birth to life. Blessed are those who succumb to death, they prepare the way for the final triumph, they are martyrs crowned by God.
Born in 1814, Alphonse Ratisbonne was from a family of wealthy, well-known Jewish bankers in Strasbourg, France. In 1827, Alphonse’s older brother, Thèodore, converted to Catholicism and entered the priesthood, thus breaking with his anti-Catholic family whose hopes now lay in the young Alphonse. At 27, Alphonse was intelligent and well mannered. He had already finished his law degree, and decided to travel to Italy before marrying and assuming his responsibilities in the family business. However, God had other plans for him.
While in Rome, Alphonse visited works of art, and strictly out of cultural curiosity, a few Catholic churches. These visits hardened his anti-Catholic stance, and nourished his profound hatred for the Church. He also called on an old schoolmate and close friend, Gustave de Bussières. Gustave was a Protestant and several times had tried, in vain, to win Alphonse over to his religious convictions. Alphonse was introduced to Gustave’s brother, Baron de Bussières, who had recently converted to Catholicism and become a close friend of Father Thèodore Ratisbonne. Because of the Baron’s Catholicism and closeness with his turncoat brother, Alphonse greatly disliked him.
On the eve of his departure, Alphonse reluctantly fulfilled his social obligation to leave his calling card at the Baron’s house as a farewell gesture. Hoping to avoid a meeting, Alphonse intended to leave his card discreetly and depart straight away, but was instead shown into the Miraculous Medal house. The Baron greeted the young Jew warmly, and before long, had persuaded him to remain a few more days in Rome. Inspired by grace, the Baron insisted Alphonse accept a Miraculous Medal and copy down a beautiful prayer: the Memorare. Alphonse could hardly contain his anger at his host’s boldness of proposing these things to him, but decided to take everything good-heartedly, planning to later describe the Baron as an eccentric.
During Alphonse’s stay, the Baron’s close friend, Count de La Ferronays, former French ambassador to the Holy See and a man of great virtue and piety, died quite suddenly. On the eve of his death, the Baron had asked the Count to pray the Memorare one hundred times for Alphonse’s conversion. It is possible that he offered his life to God for the conversion of the young Jewish banker.
A few days later, the Baron went to the church of Sant’Andrea delle Fratte to arrange for his friend’s funeral. Alphonse reluctantly went with him, all the while making violent criticisms of the Church and mocking Catholic practices. When they arrived, the Baron entered the sacristy to arrange the funeral while Alphonse remained in the church.
When the Baron returned just a few minutes later, the young man was gone. He searched the church, and soon discovered his young friend kneeling close to an altar, weeping. Alphonse himself tells us what happened in those few minutes he waited for the Baron: “I had only been in the church a short while when, all of a sudden, I felt totally uneasy for no apparent reason. I raised my eyes and saw that the whole building had disappeared. Only one side chapel had, so to say, gathered all the light. In the midst of this splendor, the Virgin Mary appeared standing on the altar. She was grandiose, brilliant, full of majesty and sweetness, just as she is in the Miraculous Medal. An irresistible force attracted me to her. The Virgin made a gesture with her hand indicating I was to kneel.”
When de Bussières talked to Alphonse, he no longer found a Jew, but a convert who ardently desired baptism. The news of such an unexpected conversion immediately spread and caused a great commotion throughout Europe, and Pope Gregory XVI received the young convert, paternally. He ordered a detailed investigation with the rigor required by canon law, and concluded that the occurrence was a truly authentic miracle.
Alphonse took the name Maria Alphonse at baptism, and, wishing to become a priest, was ordained a Jesuit in 1847. After some time, and at the suggestion of Pope Pius IX, he left the Jesuits and joined his brother Thèodore in founding the Congregation of Our Lady of Sion, dedicated to the conversion of the Jews. Father Theodore spread his congregation throughout France and England, while Father Maria Alphonse went to the Holy Land. In Jerusalem, he established a house of the congregation on the plot of land where the praetorium of Pilate had formerly stood.
The two brothers died in 1884, both famed and well-loved for their exceptional virtues.
THE little village of Beauraing is located about sixty miles southeast of Brussels, Belgium, and had about two thousand people at the time of the apparitions. Most of the people in the region made their living by farming, and some worked in nearby quarries and forests, while many had gardens which helped in supplementing their food supply. At one time, the people had been staunch Catholics, but by 1932, many had drifted away from the Church. Some were indifferent toward the Catholic Faith while others were hostile to it. Not helping the situation was the Labor Party which was Marxist and anti-Catholic, and which had carried the district in many elections. It was a time of unrest in the world as well, because the Communists were in power in Russia and were trying to extend their godless rule throughout the world. Benito Mussolini was master of Italy, and Adolf Hitler was soon to have complete power in Germany.
In this terrible world situation, the Blessed Virgin displayed her motherly concern by visiting Beauraing thirty-three times. The visionaries were five children, four girls and one boy, who belonged to two families. The children of the Voisin family were Gilberte, who was thirteen, Fernande, fifteen, and their younger brother, Albert, eleven. The two girls of the Degeimbre family were Andrée, fourteen, and Gilberte, nine. It became a habit for four of the children to walk each evening to the Academy where Gilberte Voisin attended school until 6: 30 p.m. When Gilberte was dismissed, the little group returned home. Arriving at the convent school, which was operated by the Sisters of Christian Doctrine, they entered the gate and walked to their favorite place to wait, a garden that displayed a small Lourdes grotto. Beyond the garden was a street and above it a small bridge that crossed over it.
On November 29, 1932, while waiting for Gilberte, Albert was the first to notice a luminous lady walking on the bridge. He at once exclaimed, “It is the Virgin Mary walking atop the bridge.” The figure then proceeded to move in mid-air toward the treetops within the garden. Albert’s companions also saw the Lady, and when the nun opened the school door for Gilberte to leave, Gilberte also saw the Lady. Sister Valeria was alerted by the children, but she dismissed the story as simply child’s play since she saw nothing. The children excitedly informed their parents who were extremely skeptical but listened as the children described the beautiful Lady as wearing a long white gown with a silk veil that flowed down to where a small cloud covered her feet. They said that as the Lady drew near to them she seemed to emanate a bright light. Her hands were folded in prayer and she smiled at them, but said nothing.
The next evening, when Gilberte was leaving the school, all five children once again saw the beautiful Lady walking along the bridge. When they again reported it to their parents, their parents became furious and thought that someone was trying to scare them. The next evening, Mrs. Degeimbre took a stick with her to inspect the bushes for the prankster. While Mrs. Degimbre was thrashing the bushes, the children were heard to cry, “Oh, oh.” This time the Lady was near the Lourdes grotto, her hands joined in prayer, her eyes raised to Heaven. She looked at the children, smiled and while rising from the ground, she disappeared.
For the next apparition, the Lady appeared under the arch of a hawthorn tree in the convent garden. It was there that she appeared for all the following visitations. During the early visions, the Lady did not carry a Rosary, but later there was always one suspended from her right arm. For each of the visions, as soon as the children saw the lady they simultaneously dropped to their knees and recited the Hail Mary in high-pitched voices.
The children again described the vision as looking young, about eighteen or twenty; her eyes were a beautiful deep blue and rays of light formed around her head like a crown. She wore a long, white, heavily pleated gown without a belt. The children said that the dress reflected a kind of blue light and the Virgin’s hands were pressed together as if in prayer, but she parted them as she vanished from sight. On December 2, when the Lady again appeared, Albert made himself the spokesman of the group and asked: “Are you the Immaculate Virgin?” The lady smiled and nodded her head. “What do you want?” Albert asked. The Lady’s first words were “Always be good.” She appeared two more times that day and during the last time she asked: “Is it true you will always be good?” “Yes,” Andrée cried. “We will always be good.” The Lady then disappeared.
Crowds began to form, but no one except the children saw the vision. When the Lady asked the children return on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, approximately fifteen thousand people assembled, expecting a great miracle. During this apparition, the children recited the Rosary while they waited for the Lady, who asked for a chapel to be built. During this apparition, a number of doctors made an attempt to distract the children during their ecstasy by pinching, slapping, by shining a flashlight in their eyes and even attempting to burn their fingers, but the children were unaffected. Four days later, the Lady announced, “I am the Immaculate Virgin.” Fernande, on December 23, asked the Lady, “Why do you come?” The Lady answered: “That people might come here on pilgrimage.” On December 29, the Blessed Virgin opened her arms in the usual gesture of farewell, and it was then that Fernande saw in the region of the Virgin’s chest, a heart of gold surrounded by glittering rays. Our Lady then said, “Pray. Pray very much.”
During the next vision, all the children children saw the golden heart. In the following apparitions the Blessed Mother said, “I will convert sinners … I am the Mother of God, the Queen of Heaven. Pray always.” Another time she gave a secret to each child and asked, “Do you love my
Son? Do you love me? Then sacrifice yourself for me.”
During the last vision she showed her heart of gold, said, “Good-by,” and disappeared. Some of the children wept in heart-wrenching disappointment.
When the visions ended, the children visited the hawthorn tree each day to recite the Rosary. Their families never benefited financially from the visions, although they were frequently visited by the curious.
In 1933, it was estimated that over two million pilgrims visited the hawthorn, which by then was protected by a bronze railing. Cures also bestowed legitimacy for unbelievers and many cures were investigated investigated and regarded as miraculous. And, according to the Lady, many of the visitors were converted, including some Communists who at first meant to scoff and ridicule. All of Belgium knew of the visions, and because of some criticism and opposition, the bishop almost immediately initiated an investigation in 1935. In 1936, Bishop Heylen consulted with Pope Pius XI who praised the heroic faithfulness of the children in going to the hawthorn every night for prayers. Many documents, studies and letters were circulated between the Holy Office, various cardinals and diocesan officials, so that by February 2, 1943, Bishop Charue accepted the validity of the visions of Our Lady of Beauraing and participated in official ceremonies celebrating the recognition. The Holy Father once again gave his personal approval of the apparitions by blessing the Sanctuary and the pilgrims in 1947. On July 2, 1949, Bishop Charue wrote to the clergy of his diocese:We are able in all serenity and prudence to affirm that the Queen of Heaven appeared to the children of Beauraing during the winter of 1932–1933 especially to show us in her maternal Heart, the anxious appeal for prayer and the promise of her powerful mediation for the conversion of sinners.
The chapel that the Lady requested was built and consecrated on August 21, 1954. Many confessionals were added for the converted sinners while the former Academy convent was converted into a home for ill pilgrims. None of the children were called to the religious life, instead, they all married and raised their children in the good graces of the Catholic Faith. The visionaries always shunned attention, saying that they were merely instruments through whom Our Lady gave her message to the world—one of the messages being proof of her tender love for the world by the displaying of her golden heart. Our Lady of Beauraing. Our Lady appeared thirty-three times to five children in 1932 in the village of Beauraing in Belgium. She asked that the children be good and pray very much, and that people come there on pilgrimage.
Some say whales swallow their children when they see that they are in danger. This is what Mary does. “When storms rage she protects them in her own bosom until she brings them to the harbor of salvation.”
Blessed be God who has given Mary to us as a secure refuge in all of life’s dangers.
Our Blessed Lady told St. Bridget, “A mother uses every effort to save her son in the midst of his enemies. So, I will do to all sinners who seek my mercy.” In every battle with hell’s powers, we will conquer by having recourse to the Mother of God, saying always, “We fly to your protection.” How many victories this short prayer has won over the powers of hell!
Oh children of Mary, be of good heart. Remember, she accepts as her children all who choose to be her children. Rejoice! Why do you fear to be lost when Mary defends you? “Rejoice, for whatever judgment there is, will be pronounced by your brother (Jesus) and your mother (Mary)”.
“Whoever loves this good mother, should always trust, remembering that Jesus is his brother and Mary is his mother.”
“O safe refuge! Our judgment depends on our Brother and our Mother.”
Mary says “He that is little, let him turn to me.” (Pr 9:4) In danger, children always cry “Mother, Mother.” Mary desires that we be her children and call on her in every danger. She saves all who have recourse to her.
William Elphinstine was a young Scotch nobleman, born into Protestantism. Enlightened by grace and helped by a Scotch Jesuit, he saw his errors and became a Catholic by Mary’s intercession. He left France for Rome. In a vision, he saw his deceased mother who told him that she was lost because she died outside the Catholic Church. He redoubled his devotion to Mary and thought of being a religious. Delicate in health, he went to Naples, where God wanted him to live and die as a religious.
Shortly after arriving he became seriously ill and was accepted into the Jesuits. He received Viaticum and was professed. After this, he thanked Mary for snatching him from heresy and leading him to die in the true Church, surrounded by his religious brothers.
Told to rest a little, he said, “This is no time to rest. I am close to the end.” He saw his guardian angel who told him he would only spend a short time in purgatory and then go to heaven. A devout religious learned by revelation that he was in heaven.
Mary my Mother, I no longer deserve to be your son. It is enough if you accept me as your servant. Yet you must not forbid me to call you “Mother”, because this name consoles me and reminds me to love you. When I think of all my sins, I am consoled that you are my mother. Please allow me to call you “Mother.” Then, after God, you will be my refuge in this valley of tears. I hope to die with my soul in your hands and saying, “Mother, have pity on me.” Amen
In her City of God, Venerable Maria of Agreda, a XVII Century Conceptionist nun and mystic, to whom the Blessed Mother dictated her life, writes of a marvelous event in the early Christian Church.
After the first Pentecost, one of the five thousand first converts was a girl called Lillian. One day she fell gravely ill, and the devil, capitalizing on her bodily weakness, and the fact that she had given in to a few sins, took the form of a woman, and paid her sick-calls.
Little by little, by slandering the disciples of Jesus and the Christian community, the fiend introduced doubts in Lillian’s mind about her new-found Faith. At first the sick girl resisted, speaking of the peace and kindness of the beautiful lady who was Jesus’ Mother. But the devil assured Lillian that she was the worst of all. In the end, Lillian gave up her Faith.
One of the disciples of Jesus on visiting and finding Lillian’s attitude changed, tried to win the girl back to Christ, but to no avail. Deeply concerned, he informed the Apostle John.
St. John immediately visited the young woman and was able to see legions of devils surrounding her sick bed. Though the devils recoiled at his sight, so deceived was the girl, that he could not make a difference.
He then had recourse to the Blessed Mother, who, at the time was living in Jerusalem. On hearing of the case, Mary Most Holy implored her divine Son for the welfare and salvation of this young strayed lamb. She then made ready to visit the girl with St. John.
Just then, several angels appeared, and gallantly ushering Holy Mary onto a throne of clouds, carried her to Lillian’s side.
As soon as the great lady set foot on the threshold of the sufferer’s door, the demons infesting the room took chaotic flight, tripping over each other in their haste, and seeking refuge in the depths of Hell.
With the air cleared, Holy Mary sat by the dying girl, and with gentle words sweetly brought her back into her Son’s fold. Lillian wept tears of repentance and asked for the last Sacraments, which St. John administered. Thus, with her Mother holding her hand, Lillian expired.
As if not enough, Our Lady, with her prayers, made up for the girl’s time in Purgatory, and summoning one of her angels, bid him deliver the purified soul to heaven.
So, when saying the Hail Mary, may we stress:
“…pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death. Amen.”
On March 22, 1888, the day before the Feast of the Compassion of Our Blessed Lady, two peasant women were shepherding their sheep on the hills in Southern Italy near the village of Castelpetroso. Fabiana Cicchino (35-year old virgin) and Serafina Valentino (34-year old married woman) belonged to Pastine, a hamlet in the diocese of Bojano. One of their sheep had strayed onto a hill nearest Castelpetroso. Fabiana found the lost sheep in a ravine near some rocks. But a strange light was coming from a crack in the rocks. The rays of the bright light formed a clear image of Our Blessed Virgin on her knees with her eyes gazing toward heaven. Her arms were outstretched in an act of imploring and offering of her Son, full of wounds and lying dead beneath her. It was the image of the Pieta.
Mary appeared as Our Lady of Sorrows, wearing a deep red dress and a dark mantle. She was a very beautiful, fair-skinned, young woman with disheveled hair and bleeding from wounds received from seven swords. The Blessed Virgin never spoke. When Serafina caught up to Fabiana, she could not see anything.
They returned home, crying, sobbing, trembling, and terrified. People naturally inquired as to the cause of their emotions. But very few believed them, and nobody paid much attention to their statements.
During the Solemnity of Easter on April 1, 1888, the same vision occurred again to these two women in the same location. This time, Serafina also witnessed the apparition. More people became curious after this encounter and began to believe that something was truly happening there. People began to go to the mountain and visit the spot of the alleged apparitions, some 2,600 feet above sea level. First, a child saw Mary; then an avowed heretic witnessed her also. Others affirmed that they saw Our Blessed Virgin bearing her dead Son in her arms.
Pilgrimages began, and within a few days, some four thousand persons visited the spot – which was double the number of those living there. Soon, this place which had been generally unknown, suddenly became the center of attraction to countless crowds from the neighboring countryside. Of those who went, some testified that they saw the Blessed Virgin as Our Lady of Carmel, Our Lady of Grace, and also Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary. But most of the time, she appeared as Our Lady of Sorrows. She was usually alone but was also accompanied at times by St. Michael, St. Anthony, or St. Sebastian. Among those who testified to these apparitions was a well-known disbeliever, who received the grace of seeing Our Lady four times in half an hour.
The apparitions were accompanied by another phenomenon; in May of 1888 the body of water at the foot of the mountain began bestowing miracles. Soon, believers from other countries came in masses to behold and experience the extraordinary events and the fountain of miracles. Angelo Verna, a six-year old mute boy, was given a drink of this water by his father and was completely healed by receiving the gift of speech.
The priest in the diocese treated the whole affair as delusional and preached against it. A second priest, Don Luigi Ferrara, was also a disbeliever –until he saw her, too!
“I had many times derided those who visited the mountain on which these wonderful apparitions took place. On May 16, 1888, however, I felt a desire to visit the place. When I arrived, I began to look into one of the fissures, and I saw with great clearness Our Lady, like a statuette, with a little Child in her arms. After a short interval I looked again at the same spot, and, in place of the Most Holy Virgin I saw, quite clearly, the dead Savior bearing the crown of thorns and all covered in blood. Whenever I think of these visions on this mountain, I am moved to tears and cannot speak.”
News of the occurrences reached Msr. Francesco Macarone-Palmieri, Bishop of the diocese of Bojano. While in Rome on business, he updated Pope Leo XIII on the events near Castelpetroso, adding that he should have liked the apparitions to have been confirmed by “some clear sign.” The Pope replied by asking the Bishop if he did not think the apparitionsin themselveswere signs. Pope Leo XIII asked the bishop to return to the site of the apparitions and make a further investigation.
“The Blessed Virgin appeared daily more frequently as the Mother of Sorrows, and, at other times, as Our Lady of Mount Carmel or the Queen of the Holy Rosary. A number of persons affirmed that they saw apparitions of St. Michael, St. Anthony, St. Joseph, St. Sebastian, together with the Blessed Virgin, and also the Holy Face of Jesus surrounded by angels.
As the event became more widely known and acquired a high degree of credibility, I deemed it expedient to have an account reduced to writing and certified to by the depositions, under oath, of those who had been eye-witnesses of the prodigy. The preparation of this report occupied several months. When it was completed, I took it in person to Rome to submit it to the Sovereign Pontiff that the Holy See might pronounce authoritatively and definitely in the matter.
I, myself, can bear witness that I visited the sacred spot, and, after some time spent in prayer, saw the Apparition of the Blessed Virgin. At first the image of Our Lady appeared faint and indistinct, but at length she appeared in the attitude and proportions of the representation of the Mother of Sorrows published in one of the numbers of the Servo di Maria. Besides myself and the very large number of persons whose names are recorded in the official report, there are the Vicar-General of the diocese, the Archpriest of the Cathedral, and many other ecclesiastics, who also beheld the miraculous Apparitions. With joyful heart, I affirm that the wonders happening in Castelpetroso are the last touches of the Divine Mercy, to call those who have gone far from the right way.”
In November of 1888, Count Charles Aquaderni, director of the magazine,Servo di Maria,went to the blessed rocks with his son, Augusto, who was sick with a serious bone tuberculosis. Miraculously, the boy was healed at the site!
On December 18, 1889, Father Joseph Lais, a physicist, medical doctor, and sub-director of the Vatican Observatory, examined everything and was convinced that no optical illusion could be responsible for what people had been seeing.
“The observations I made of the character of the people lead me to recognize that they are profoundly convinced of the event having taken place. Their simple and ingenuous demeanor does not suggest the suspicion that the fact should be, to some extent, fanciful or the effect of imagination. The natural formation of the rocks excludes the theory of trickery.”
The Bishop of Bojano formed a committee in 1889 to begin collecting funds for a church to be built on the site of the apparitions. Pope Leo XIII blessed their work, imparting the Apostolic Blessing to the members of the committee and to all those who contributed to the fund. The cornerstone for a beautiful Gothic church was laid in May of 1890 in front of 30,000 faithful. The layout symbolizes a heart with seven chapels at its center representing the seven sorrows of Mary, the seven swords piercing her heart.
On December 6, 1973, Pope Paul VI proclaimed the Blessed and Sorrowful Virgin Mary as Patroness of the region – upon a request by the Bishop of Molise. Pope John Paul II visited the sanctuary as a pilgrim on March 19, 1995. A community of friars and sisters has been established since 1993 — called the Franciscans of the Immaculate.