Sanctuary of San Michele Arcangelo
The history of the Sanctuary of San Michele Arcangelo begins in ancient times, even before the church was considered such. According to Strabo, a well-known historian, what is now the sanctuary was a primitive pagan temple dedicated to Calcante, priest of Apollo and soothsayer.
As testified by the Liber de apparitione sancti Michaelis in Monte Gargano, the Sanctuary was established between the end of the fifth and the beginning of the sixth century at the behest of Lorenzo Maiorano, then Bishop of Siponto. The church was built with the aim of eradicating pagan cults from the traditions of the inhabitants of the Gargano. The figure of the Archangel is linked to 3 apparitions that took place in that period and that definitively consecrated the sanctuary to the celebration of this religious figure.
At that time, the Sanctuary of San Michele Arcangelo was very different from what it looks like today: it could only be accessed by crossing the valley of Carbonara, through a porch and a gallery that literally came out in the irregular and deep cave. At that time St. Michael began to be considered the healer of diseases and the one who presents the souls of the deceased to the divine throne.
In the Lombard era, the Sanctuary became the national shrine of the Lombards and underwent several structural changes. The first pilgrimages by the faithful from all over Europe date back to that period.
Between the end of the ninth and the beginning of the tenth century, the church was targeted by the Saracens. The most serious attack suffered was in 869, following which the sanctuary was greatly damaged. Thanks to the will and the help of the emperor Ludovico the church was restructured and frescoed. These interventions were followed by others in the middle of the 10th century. But it is to Charles I of Anjou that we owe the main changes, including the easier connection between the cave and the town through the extension of the existing staircase. It was also he who commissioned the construction of the nave and the bell tower.
From the 17th century onwards, Monte Sant’Angelo, the place where the Sanctuary stands, became one of the most important religious centres in Italy and the number of pilgrims visiting it increases every year.
During the seventeenth century, the city of Monte Sant’Angelo became the most important centre of the Gargano. The Sanctuary registers an increasing number of presences by believers and devotees of all social backgrounds.
From 1970 to 1996 the Sanctuary was managed by Benedictine monks and today is under the leadership of the Congregation of St. Michael the Archangel. It is to this that we owe the construction of the penitential chapel in 1999.
Since 1997 the “Celestial Basilica“, so called because consecrated by the same Archangel Michael to whom it is dedicated, has been granted the Angelic Forgiveness: reciting the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed and praying for the Pope, visitors confessed and communicated receive the plenary indulgence.
Those who stay in Vieste and want to visit Monte Sant’Angelo can reach the city by car or bus; the two towns are about 55 km from each other.