The Sanctuary of Monte Sant’Angelo, living between faith and history

Every place wears its clothes, clothes which appear different basing on what it has been through, on its past. And then there are places, like Monte Sant’Angelo, which looks like a lady at an elegant party: scenting of history, dressed with faith, bejeweled with traditions.
A pout­pourri which tastes of Puglia.

Monte Sant'Angelo

It’s the highest inhabited municipality of all Puglia, it stands on a calcareous spur of rock which faces the Manfredonia Gulf, so earth and sea seem to melt in those white little houses, in this little suggestive alleys, and in this whole village caressed by the Umbrian forest.

Typical products and souvenirs shops color the white alleys clambering up the town, where white reigns above every other color, painting houses, shops, benches, filling your eyes. That’s why the colors of the wares sold by shops steal your attention, cheering you up: a smile always pokes through when walking on those streets.

Monte Sant'Angelo, botteghe

The Castle

It stands in the highest part of town, facing a magnificent valley and testifying the following of dominations which, for centuries, have been fighting the town (as every other part of Italy).

Monte Sant'Angelo, Castello esterno

According to a document of king Pandolfo going back to 927, it seems that Orso I of Benevento built the fist tower, called Tower of Giants, when, in 837 he had a byzantine fortress.
Normans then strengthen the town building walls and a tower 60 feet high which, lately, has been used as prisons. It was Federico II to turn it in a true castle, one of his main, where he lived with his favourite, Bianca Lancia from Turin.
With the coming of the Angevins the castle became state prison which hosted names like Philippa of Antioch, wife of Federico II, and Joanna I of Naples.

The actual arrangement was made by the Aragons back to the XV century: they expanded the Svevis structure, building the eastern and western parts. Lately the Castle followed the fate of Napoleon and after his defeat passed to the Bourbons. In 1907 the municipality was able to acquire it from the heirs of cardinal Ruffo, also starting archeological excavations to re-discover the place.

Monte Sant'Angelo, castello interno

In the valley beneath the castle were even found dinosaurs’ bones, which suggests that Puglia was formerly inhabited in the paleolithic.

The Sanctuary of Monte Sant’Angelo

This is one of the few religious place where I really feel like bowing my head.
I don’t know if you ever felt that feeling of respect, of silence, as if you could hear yourself, not for faith or duty, since the place you are in is sacred, you feel minuscule end it is even hard to express yourself: the only thing you can do is observing silently or, if you are a believer, pray.

Monte Sant'Angelo, ingresso grotta

The Sanctuary, one of the most important and known of Italy, is a symbol of Christianity and to Christians. A legend goes that at least once in a lifetime Christians should go through the route which connects three fundamental stops: Starting from Saint Peter in Rome (from homo which in Latin stands for the representation of man), going to Monte Sant’Angelo (angelus,the angels who intercede between man and God), and then completing it in Jerusalem (Deus, where God was born). Three historical and fundamental stops of Christianity.
Even templars, before leaving to crusades, used to go to Monte Sant’Angelo to ask for a blessing, and, if they managed to survive, came back to give thanks.

But through all the things I heard, the one which gave me a feeling of inquietude was the believing about the true statue of Saint Michael which is in the cave: it seems that that statue should never leave the cave, because Saint Michael is the angel who weights the souls, and the very moment of him leaving that cave is believed to be the very first moment of the Apocalypse.
In Italy a saying goes: “It is not true, but still I believe it” to express all of the things you do against rationality out of superstition, good charm, or something like that. It is for this reason that in the town’s day of procession, a reproduction of the statue is taken to the streets, which stays in its cave.

Monte Sant'Angelo, statua San Michele Arcangelo

“Terribilis est locus iste, Hic domus dei est et porta coeli”, it’s the writing carved in the stone which welcomes to the Sanctuary: “Terrible is this place, home of God and door to Heaven”.
Passed that threshold, time seems to stop, even the air seems to become more… sacred. A stair goes down, underneath earth, to Saint Michael’s cave where he appeared three times, asking himself for the place to be consecrated to his name. Along the stairs, look at the walls: you will find the printings of people whom centuries, years, before you came here. Striking.

Monte Sant'Angelo, mani

Inside the Sanctuary was also found the only runic writing still intact in the whole world, of which no one knows the meaning.
After the staircase, after a huge atrium, you arrive at the cave, where the Archangel’s statue, perfect masterpiece of Sansovino, stands guarding Christians. It is also believed that on that very statue it is the ­true­ foot­print of Saint Michael. History, religion or suggestion?
In anything you believe, you should enter here, to see how even the most atheistic atheist can’t avoid being astounded.

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