Monte Sant’Angelo, Italy: Saint Michael’s Cave. We visited this church/cave during our week in Gargano. The Catholic faith is woven deeply into this building and throughout the caves below as is the deep connection that we all have to nature and to that which created us.
The story of Saint Michael’s Cave:
In the year 490, when a nobleman of this small village lost the best bull in his herd, he went searching for him and found the bull kneeling in a deserted cave. The cave was inacessible, and so to put the animal out of its misery, the nobleman shot an arrow at it….but to his amazement the arrow turned around and struck him instead! Stunned by this apparently supernatural event, the man went to see the local bishop for advice.
The Bishop, uncertain of whether this was of divine origin or not, ordered 3 days of prayer and fasting. Saint Michael also appeared to the Bishop; however, he had his doubts about the apparition, thinking perhaps he had just dreamed it, and decided to ignore it and put it out of his mind.
When, a few years later, a city in the Bishop’s diocese was threatened with annihilation by pagans, Saint Michael again appeared to the Bishop and promised that the city would be spared if the townspeople would attack the enemy in faith, which it was. Again, the Bishop had doubts, and still did not have church built on the site.
But it was constantly on his mind so in the following year as the anniversary of the apparition approached, he appealed to the Pope for guidance. The Pope ordered the Bishop, along with other Bishops and Priests, to go to the cave for three days of prayer and fasting. Not wishing to go in to the cave, the Bishop prayed at the entrance and then, on the third day, once again Saint Michael appeared to him.
Saint Michael said: “I am Michael the Archangel and am always in the presence of God. I chose the cave as sacred to me. There will be no more shedding of bull’s blood. There the rocks open widely, the sins of men may be pardoned. What is asked here in prayer will be granted. Therefore, go up to the mountain cave and dedicate it to the Christian God.”
He ordered the Bishop to enter the cave, telling him that is was not necessary for him to consecrate the cave since he, Saint Michael, had already done so.
This is considered to be one of the holiest places in Italy located on the eastern coast of Italy close to Padre Pio’s shrine in San Giovanni Rotondo. It has been visited by countless popes and saints: St. Francis of Assisi, St. Bernard of Clarvaux, Saint Bridget of Sweden, at least 7 popes including Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. Saint Francis of Assisi considered it to be so holy that he would not even enter it.
It is an unassuming church that we entered that hot day in June. Stairs led deep into the ground where we were led to several different caves – one where that had an altar and a Catholic sanctuary design. When we entered that cave, there was a mass being offered in polish. I understand that masses are held throughout the day in various languages. We walked around to the back of the sanctuary to stand next to the cave rock walls. When I could get near to the cave stone, I could feel the vibrations in the cave wall. Then we walked even further down to the original cave which holds a quiet stillness even though so much has been built around it. It was most intriguing to experience the energies of this original cave holding the sacred deep quiet of humanity’s faith in what created it while the rest of the building was overlaid with the trappings of Catholicism. All this additional structure did not take away from the power of the original cave and the rock that supports the entire structure.