Friday, May 08, 2020

The Shrine of St Michael the Archangel on Mount Gargano

Today is traditionally the feast which celebrates the Apparition of St Michael on Mount Gargano in the Italian region of Puglia. I have previously described the circumstances of the apparition in greater detail; there has been a shrine dedicated to him in one form or another on the site ever since it took place at the end of the 5th century. In the entry for his principal feast day in September, the Roman Martyrology describes the shrine as “made in a mean fashion, but outstanding in heavenly might.” In point of fact, much of the church is not “made” at all, at least not by human hands. Gargano is a large massif, rather more like a mesa than a hill, and very steep on the northern side where the sanctuary is, with the town of Monte Sant’Angelo located on top. One enters the shrine through a forecourt in the town, and after passing the doors, descends to the church by a considerable number of steps.
As you descend to the church, you pass this cross, decorated with the symbols of the Passion...
and this little shrine of the Virgin and Child.
The church itself is partly a cave, and partly a set of rooms, including a choir and a relic chapel, built in front of the cave’s opening, and supported from beneath by enormous buttresses that reach quite far down the massif. Over the door into the court that fronts the church is written “This the grotto of St Michael the Archangel, most renowned throughout the whole world, where he deigned to appear to mortals. O guest, fall down upon the dirt and venerare the stones, for the place in which you stand is holy ground.”
The courtyard in front of the church.
The cave of the apparition. The next photograph shows how it has been surrounded by constructions principally of the later 13th and early 14th century. (Unfortunately, photography is not really allowed in the church itself...)
The right portal on principal entrance to the shrine, built in 1395.
The left portal, a relative recent reconstruction from 1865.
The typanum relief shows shows a group of clergy leading a procession up to the cave at the time of the original apparition.
This tower was originally built as a military watchtower in the early 13th century, but transformed into a belltower for the church about 75 years later. As with many such projects, it was supposed to be taller, but never completed, as can be seen more clearly looking back at it from a distance.

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