The sanctuary of Monte Sant’Angelo sul Gargano, commonly known as Monte Gargano, has been the birthplace of many legendary stories and is one of the holiest shrines in the world.
In 493AD on the 29th of September, when the bishop of Siponto went to consecrate the grotto, it was discovered that Saint Michael the Archangel himself consecrated the holy shrine in honor of God and the memory of His holy angels.
When they arrived at the grotto they found that a primitive altar had already been erected, covered with a vermilion altar cloth and surmounted by a Cross; moreover, according to the legend, they found the footprint of Saint Michael in the rock. With immense joy the holy bishop offered the first divine Sacrifice. It was 29 September (From the original Latin, in the chapter “On Saint Michael the Archangel” of “Legenda Aurea” (‘The Golden Legend’, Westminster 1498) by Dominican Friar, Father Jacob de Voragine).
Legend has it that this shrine was discovered in 490AD. One day, a rich man who lived in Sipontus lost the best bull in his herd. After a strenuous search, the bull was found standing at the mouth of an inaccessible cave that was almost impossible to reach. To put it out of its misery, they shot an arrow at it. But the arrow was miraculously redirected to strike the one who fired it. When the Bishop heard, he ordered a three-day fast and after three days, Saint Michael appeared to the Bishop and said, “I am the archangel Michael, and I have chosen to dwell in that place on earth and to keep it safe. I wished by that sign to indicate that I watch over the place and guard it.” Saint Michael soon saved the city from the imminent threat of invasion.
Today, many pilgrims visit this ancient shrine. Saint Padre Pio would often send people to the shrine as part of their penance. Saint Francis of Assisi also visited the Sanctuary but feeling himself unworthy to enter the grotto, instead prayed and meditated at the entrance.
As we celebrate the feast day of Saint Michael and the Holy Archangels, let us appreciate the grandeur of God’s creation and discover what the Church teaches us about angels. Angels are spiritual beings who enjoy the vision of God and are fully prepared to execute His will. The Bible only mentions the names of three angels: Saint Gabriel, St Michael, and Saint Raphael.
Saint Michael the Archangel
Saint Michael is the commander of the Army of God and the champion of God’s children. In Hebrew, the name Micha’el means ‘Who is like God?’ And of course, it was a declaration of the supremacy of God, for no one is like God. This was the war-cry of the good angels during the battle in heaven against Satan and his fallen angels at the beginning of time. It seems from Sacred Scripture that in the final battle at the end of time, Michael the Archangel, the captain of the hosts of heaven, will fight against the Antichrist.
In the 1400’s in France during the Hundred Years’ War, it was Saint Michael who helped Saint Joan of Arc lead the French army to victory over the English invaders at Orléans. Saint Michael, as well as Saint Catherine of Alexandria and Saint Margaret, prepared Joan for the extraordinary battle God had destined for her at the age of 18: to ultimately liberate France from the clutches of foreign invaders.
In 1884, Pope Leo XIII had an extraordinary vision of a gigantic battle between God and the Devil. After the vision, he wrote the famous prayer to Saint Michael to be said after all Low Masses, from 1886 until 1964 when the collection of prayers after Low Mass was removed from the Roman Missal.
Recently, in light of the Church crisis, this prayer to St Michael has been reinstated in over 6 American dioceses. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York said: “Enough of you have suggested this to me that I’ve concluded it’s from the Lord: that we seek the help of St. Michael the Archangel in fighting Lucifer’s invasion of the Church”.
Raphael means ‘Healing of God’. Saint Raphael reveals himself in the Book of Tobit as “one of the seven angels who stand before the throne of God” (12:5). He is the patron of travelers, and those seeking matrimony, while he is also a healer of the sick. The best way to learn about Saint Raphael is to read the book of Tobit in the Old Testament – a beautiful story of family and marriage, fidelity to God, piety, suffering, redemption, God’s providence and His blessings upon those who follow His way.
In Hebrew, the name Gabriel means ‘Strength of God’. Saint Gabriel is God’s messenger and is often recognized as the patron of messengers and those who work for broadcasting and telecommunications.
Notably, in the New Testament, Saint Gabriel appears to Zechariah to announce the conception and birth of John the Baptist. He also appears to the Virgin Mary to announce that she would conceive Jesus Christ, the Son of God: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women” (Luke 1:28).
In this never-ending war against the world, the flesh and the Devil – the three enemies of the soul – we must put on the armor of God and persevere until the end. But we are not alone. One of our greatest allies in this spiritual war are the heavenly hosts, the angels. And so, during our current battles and in the midst of this Church crisis, let us invoke St Michael as Pope Leo XIII taught us to:
Holy Michael, the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who wander through the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.