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Sanctuary of Monte Sant'Angelo

The Sanctuary of San Michele Arcangelo. A part of the tower is visible on the right.
The octagonal tower (campanile) of the Sanctuary of San Michele Arcangelo.
Statue of Saint Michael overlooking the entrance of the Sanctuary.

The Sanctuary of Monte Sant'Angelo sul Gargano, sometimes called simply Monte Gargano, is a Catholic sanctuary on Mount Gargano, Italy, part of the commune 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 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. Places of the power (568-774 A.D.).


  • History 1
  • Architecture 2
  • Pilgrimages 3
  • The guardians 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • Notes 7
  • External links 8


The earliest account of the foundation myth of the Sanctuary is a Latin hagiographical text known as 'De apparitione Sancti Michaelis' (Bibliotheca Hagiographica Latina 5948).[1] According to this legend, around the year 490 the Archangel Michael appeared several times to the Bishop of Sipontum near a cave, asking that the cave be dedicated to Christian worship and promising protection of the nearby town of Sipontum from pagan invaders. These were the first apparitions of Michael in Western Europe. To Michael's dramatic later intercession, appearing with flaming sword atop the mountain, in the midst of a storm on the eve of the battle, the Lombards of Sipontum attributed their victory (May 8, 663) over the Greeks loyal to the Byzantine emperor, and so, in commemoration of this victory, the church of Sipontum instituted a special feast honoring the Archangel, on May 8, which then spread throughout the Catholic Church. Since the time of Pius V it has been formalized as Apparitio S. Michaelis although it originally did not commemorate the apparition, but the victory of the Catholic Church Lombards over the Orthodox Greeks.

Our earliest manuscripts of 'De apparitione' are of the early ninth century, and so this version was probably composed in the eighth century. The text tells of three different 'apparitions' by St Michael, which 'appear to have nothing in common and suggest at least three layers of narrative accretion'; the oldest strata of the text seem to go back to an earlier, lost version of perhaps the sixth century.[2] In the summary of Richard F. Johnson,

Garganus, a wealthy man of Siponto who owned a large herd of cattle, became enraged with a bull that had strayed from his herd. When he found the bull at the mouth of the cave, he shot it with a poisoned arrow which reversed its trajectory in mid-flight and killed him. Hearing of this mysterious event, the archbishop instructed the local citizens to fast for three days. During the course of the fast, St Michael appeared to the bishop and revealed to him the significance of the event. At this point in the hagiographical account, the narrative of Garganus and the bull is interrupted, and the account of St. Michael's military intervention on behalf of the Christians of Siponto is taken up. According to this part of the legend, the Sipontans and their neighbors, the Beneventans, were besieged by the pagan Neapolitans. In despair, the Sipontans turned to their bishop for help. The bishop instructed them to perform a three-day fast and to pray for protection from St. Michael. The archangel appeared to this bishop and assured him of their victory over the pagans. The Neapolitans were defeated and as a sign of his aid in their victory, St. Michael left the mark of his footprints in the stone of the cave where Garganus had been killed. After the description of the archangel's military intervention, the hagiographical narrative returns to the scene of the grotto and gives an account of his third apparition. The Sipontans, in great doubt and fear as to whether they dare enter the grotto, consulted their bishop again. A third time, St. Michael appeared to the bishop and told him that there was no need to consecrate the grotto chapel since he had already done so. St. Michael instructed the bishop to enter the chapel first and conduct mass. In the cavern, he discovered an altar, covered with a red cloth. The bishop then appointed priests and psalm-singers to conduct daily services in the grotto-chapel. The account of the "discovery" of the grotto-chapel ends with a description of the clear and sweet water which seeped from the ceiling stone beyond the altar. When drunk from the glass vessel suspended by a silver chain near the source, the dripping water heals all manner of infirmities. The hagiographic account of St. Michael's three apparitions on Monte Gargano ends with St. Paul's observation on the function of angels (Hebrews 1:14): "For angels are ministering spirits and sent to minister for them who will receive the inheritance of salvation."[3]

The legend of the Archangel's apparition at Gargano is also related in the Roman Breviary for May 8, as well as in the Golden Legend (Legenda Aurea), the compendium of Christian legend compiled by Jacobus de Voragine between 1260-1275. Its presence in the Godeln Legend ensured its wide circulation in medieval Europe.[4]

Pope Gelasius I (reigned 492-496) directed that a basilica be erected enclosing the space. The Basilica di San Giovanni in Tumba is the final resting-place of the Lombard king Rothari (died 652); the designation "tumba" is now applied to the cupola on squinches.[5]


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 drum 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 to 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.[6] The massive, octagonal campanile 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 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 in 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.[7] Among the ex voto objects is a statue of the Archangel by Andrea Sansovino.


During centuries, millions of pilgrims went to Monte Sant'Angelo in order to visit the “Celestial Basilica”. Among the pilgrims who visited the Saint Michael Archangel Sanctuary were many popes (Gelasius I, Leo IX, Urban II, Alexander III, Gregory X, Celestine V, John XXIII as Cardinal, John Paul II), saints (Bridget of Sweden, Bernard of Clairvaux, Thomas Aquinas) emperors, kings and princes (Louis II of Italy, Otto III, Herny II, Matilda of Tuscany, Charles I of Naples, Ferdinand II of Aragon).

Also Francis of Assisi went to visit the Sanctuary, but feeling himself unworthy to enter the grotto, he stopped in prayer and meditation at the entrance, kissed and carved on a stone the sign of the cross in the form of “T” (tau).

The guardians

Since 13 July 1996, the pastoral care of Saint Michael Archangel Sanctuary has been given to the Congregation of Saint Michael the Archangel.

See also


  • Arnold, J.C. "Arcadia Becomes Jerusalem: Angelic Caverns and Shrine Conversion at Monte Gargano." Speculum vol. 75 (July 2000), pp. 567–88
  • N. Everett, "The Liber de apparitione S. Michaelis in Monte Gargano and the hagiography of dispossession", Analecta Bollandiana 120 (2002), 364-391. (Argues that the Liber reflects conflict between the churches of Siponto and Benevento over control of the Gargano shrine, and that the Liber dates c.663-750).
  • Piccardi L., "Paleoseismic evidence of legendary earthquakes: the apparition of Archangel Michael at Monte Sant’Angelo (Italy)." Tectonophysics vol. 408 (2005), 113-128.


  1. ^ Ed. by G. Waitz in the Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores rerum Langobardicarum et Italicarum (Havover 1898), pp. 541-43; reprinted, with an English translation, in Richard F. Johnson, Saint Michael the Archangel in Medieval English Legend (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2005), pp. 110-15.
  2. ^ Richard F. Johnson, Saint Michael the Archangel in Medieval English Legend (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2005), pp. 37-38.
  3. ^ Richard F. Johnson, Saint Michael the Archangel in Medieval English Legend (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2005), pp. 37-38.
  4. ^ Richard F. Johnson, Saint Michael the Archangel in Medieval English Legend (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2005), p. 65.
  5. ^ "La Tomba di Rotari è un battistero del XII secolo con copertura a cupola (o Tumba)." [2]
  6. ^ Itinerari turistici Monte Sant' Angelo - Gargano
  7. ^ The votive offerings have been studied in Giovanni Battista Bronzini, Ex voto e Santuari in Puglia: 1. Il Gargano (Florence:Olschki) 1993.

External links

  • - la testata giornalistica di Monte Sant'Angelo, a cura dell'associazione culturale Obiettivo Gargano.
  • Golden LegendJacopus de Voragine, : Saint Michael
  • Selected modern bibliography
  • Virtual tour of the Sanctuary
  • Monte Sant’Angelo & the Gargano Photos

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