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St. Michael Sanctuary

St. Michael Sanctuary

Via Reale Basilica 127, Monte Sant'Angelo



The Sanctuary of Monte Sant'Angelo sul Gargano, sometimes called simply Monte Gargano, is a Catholic sanctuary on Mount Gargano, Italy, part of the municipality of Monte Sant'Angelo, in the province of Foggia, northern Apulia. It is the oldest shrine in Western Europe dedicated to the archangel Michael and has been an important pilgrimage site since the early Middle Ages. The historic site and its environs are protected by the Parco Nazionale del Gargano. In 2011, it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of a group of seven inscribed as Longobards in Italy: the places of the power (568-774 A.D.). The complex of buildings consists of the Battistero di San Giovanni in Tumba, damaged in 1942, and the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore. The baptistery presents a rectangular storey on which rests an octagon supporting an elliptical section and a high tambour that supports the cupola. The church erected in the eleventh century by Archbishop Leone stands upon the remains of an ancient necropolis. A few remnants attest its once-rich fresco decoration. The Castello was enlarged by the Normans upon an episcopal residence of Orso, Bishop of Benevento, to provide a suitable seat for the Honor Montis Sancti Angeli, further modified by Frederick II. The massive, octagonal bell tower was built in the late 13th century by Frederick II as a watchtower. It was turned into a bell tower by Charles I of Anjou. Behind a forecourt the sanctuary presents a portico of two Gothic arches, the right one of 1395 by the local architect Simone, the left one is a reconstruction of 1865. From the portico, steps lead down to the low arched nave. The cavern can be accessed from a Romanesque portal, called the Portale del Toro ("Gate of the Bull"): the doors, in bronze, were made in Constantinople in 1076, the donation of an Amalfitan noble. They are divided into 24 panels portraying episodes of angels from the Old and New Testaments. The archaic cavern opening to the left, with its holy well, is full of votive offerings, especially the 12th century marble bishop's throne supported on crouching lions. Among the ex voto objects is a statue of the Archangel by Andrea Sansovino.
An ancient history, not only spiritual but also architectural, which exudes from that limestone cave so mystical and singular in which the archangel Michael appeared three times towards the end of the fifth century to the then bishop of Siponto, St. Lawrence from Constantinople, committed to eradicating pagan worship and thus opening the doors to Christians. According to ancient stories and texts, St. Michael entrusted his message to the bishop: "I will be the watchful keeper of this cave, in it the sins of men will be forgiven". A fourth appearance occurred in 1656 when the archangel saved the city from the plague. To the immense cavern you can access from the valley through a portico and a gallery that emerged in the irregular and deep cavern. In the seventh century they were the Lombards, who had occupied the territories of the Gargano, to carry out some work of restructuring and expansion of the "celestial basilica" (as not consecrated by men but by the same archangel) who became a point of reference for many faithful coming also from the northernmost regions of Europe, as evidenced by the different inscriptions engraved on the walls of the crypts. The structures of the Lombard period served as an entrance to the sacred grotto (at least until the 13th century) and developed for about 60 meters beneath the floor of the current basilica, although clearly visible within the lapidary museum where the staircase is clearly visible " straight "and" tortuous ". Around the cave, during many centuries, the entire complex of the sanctuary has been formed and transformed several times. In 2011 it was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The structures that currently lead the pilgrim to the sacred cave are the work of the Angevins who, in the thirteenth century, with impressive works, created a real monument building, with its entrance portal, the staircase with its characteristic 86 steps distributed in five ramps, the large nave, the bell tower. The atrium and the upper entrance façade were built in the 19th century.
The Christian tradition recognizes to each of the three archangels a particular attribute: Michael is the defender, Raphael the healer, Gabriel the announcer. The archangel Michael appears already in the Jewish tradition as the prince of the angels, protector of the chosen people, symbol of divine assistance. In the New Testament (chapter 12 of the Apocalypse) he is presented as an opponent of the devil, winner of the last battle against Satan and his supporters. The archangel is also recognized as the guide of the souls to heaven after death, and, for this reason, he is sometimes represented with a balance to weigh the souls. The sanctuary of Monte Sant'Angelo is one of the key points of an ideal straight line that unites other European churches along the pilgrimage from Ireland to Jerusalem: St. Michael's Mount in Cornwall, the island of Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy and the Sacra di San Michele in Piedmont.The devotion to St. Michael, victor over the evil, shows itself in all its strength through the search for forgiveness and reconciliation with God. Every year more than two million are the faithful who come to Monte Sant'Angelo. The presence of Italians and Polish is very strong. Until the seventies, pilgrims also wlaked to reach the sanctuary as a sign of veneration and penance. That ancient tradition is being reborn today. On 29 September, when the solemn procession in honor of St. Michael winds through the narrow streets of Monte Sant'Angelo, the faithful are concentrated in Manfredonia, San Marco in Lamis, Vieste and Mattinata and, on foot, they reach the city in celebration. Since the white marble statue of Carrara has a considerable weight, only the sword is taken and carried in procession. That sword which symbolizes the word of God (as St. Paul says in the Letter to the Jews) and the victory of good over evil and which for many faithful has always been a sign of hope.
The Jews already considered the Archangel Michael as Prince of the Angels, Protector of the chosen people, symbol of the powerful divine assistance towards Israel. He appears for three times in the Old Testament, particularly in the book of Daniel (Dan 10,13.21; 12,1), where He is presented as the defender of the Jewish people and the supreme head of the heavenly army who defends the weak and the persecuted: “But at that time shall Michael rise up, the great prince, who standeth for the children of thy people: and a time shall come such as never was from the time that nations began even until that time. And at that time shall thy people be saved, every one that shall be found written in the book” (Dan 12,1). Tradition also gives St. Michael the task of the weighing the souls after death. That is why he is sometimes represented holding a pair of scales as well as a sword. Moreover, in the first centuries of Christianity, especially amongst the Byzantines, St. Michael was considered a heavenly doctor of men’s infirmities. A lot of churches, chapels and oratories were dedicated to St. Michael in the whole of Europe. The Archangel is often represented on the spires of bell-towers, because He is considered the guardian of churches against Satan. Furthermore lots of the ossuary chapels in cemeteries are dedicated to him. Many cities in Europe (Jena, Andemach, Colmar) venerate Him as their patron saint; in Italy we find more than 60 localities under His protection (Caserta, Cuneo, Alghero, Albenga, Vasto…). Some nations entrusted themselves to Him, such as the Longobards and sovereigns, such as Charles Anjou, great protector of the Gargano Shrine and the sovereigns of the Valois dynasty. St. Michael is also the protector of many categories of workers: chemists, gilders, merchants, manufacturers of scales, judges, fencing instructors, radiologists. Finally, we would like to remind visitors and pilgrims that the religious family who are at present the guardians of the Shrine on the Gargano belong precisely to the Congregation of St. Michael the Archangel.
- History : a historical overview of the Longobard period
- Art: research of images of Saint Michael
- Tourism and religion : religious pilgrimages during the Middle Ages and nowadays.

Basilica di San Nicola di Bari - Largo Abate Elia 13, 70122 Bari



  • PDF

    Galleries of pictures Here you can find a gallery of images to use for didactical research and group work


  • General presentation
    The short video presents the Sanctuary and its history and main connections with old roads of pilgrimage.


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This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This web site reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.