One of the Three Archangels Mentioned in the Bible
On May 8th, there is a feast day which is not as familiar to those of us in recent centuries or living outside of Europe. It is the commemoration of the apparition of St. Michael the Archangel on Mont Gargano near Manfredonia in southern Italy.
Of course, St. Michael is a very popular saint for many reasons including the fact that he has a lot of patronages among which are police officer, bakers, bankers, paratroopers, sailors, radiologists, and coopers. What do we know about St. Michael?
First, he is one of the three named archangels in Scripture along with St. Gabriel and St. Raphael. His name in Hebrew means, "Who is like God?" And it has been traditionally understood that his name indicates his obedience to God in the face of satan's irrevocable fall.
In the book of Revelation, it is St. Michael who is leading the Heavenly host in their defeat of the demonic forces. And that is why he is typically shown with his sword drawn and trampling on the devil. (It should be noted that St. Michael's name also begs the answer that no one is like God. God is eternal and infinite. Everything and everyone else has been created by Him.)
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The Important Role of Angels in the Bible
It should come as no surprise that there have been apparitions of angels, including St. Michael, over the centuries of the Church. The Bible is filled with stories in which God sends His holy angels as messengers to the men and women in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. The angels play an important role in Salvation History.
Starting with the angels in the Garden of Eden, who were placed there to prevent Adam and Eve from returning, angels are instrumental in many of the accounts from Scripture. And, of course, it is St. Gabriel the Archangel who is sent by God to both Zechariah and the Blessed Virgin Mary in the beginning of St. Luke's Gospel.
And, naturally, we know that angels are an important part of our own lives. We might not think about it very much, but each of us has been given the great gift of a guardian angel. Each of us has been given a guardian angel who is a “protector and shepherd leading him to life.” (CCC 336) Although there have been saints who were able to see their guardian angel, most of us do not see these ministering spirits whom God in His mercy has given to us. We will not know the great good that our guardian angel has done for us until the time when we are able to see much more than we are able to see now.
Unlike us, angels actually do not have bodies. They are pure spirits. We, on the other hand, are both body and spirit. We have our bodies which we can see and our souls which we cannot see because there is nothing material about a soul. As pure spirits, angels are not bound by time or space. Thus, they can be present in Heaven and on earth at the same time. Again, as a pure spirit, an angel has nothing material about him. Thus, when someone sees an angel, the angel is given a bodily appearance in order to accommodate the person's inability to see something that is purely spirit.
Let's learn about the special appearances which St. Michael made to the people in a mountainous area of Italy.
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The Boomerang Arrow and the First Apparition
According to the information which we have, there have been four appearances of St. Michael in the area of Mont Gargano, Italy.
The first appearance was in the year 490, and the story is that it began when a certain man named Elvio Emmanuele lost one of his prize bulls from his large flock. After having searched for it for some time, the bull was eventually found kneeling in a deserted cave on Mont Gargano. For some reason, it was decided to shoot an arrow at the bull. However, when the arrow was shot at the bull in the cave, the arrow returned and wounded Emmanuele who had shot it.
Somewhat spooked by this odd occurrence, Emmanuele decided to ask the local bishop about what had happened. The bishop suggested that there be three days of prayer and fasting. Everyone involved joined in this spiritual exercise.
After the three days, St. Michael appeared to the bishop and made it clear who he was and that there should be no shedding of the bull's blood. St. Michael told the bishop that the place where the bull had been found would be a place of special graces and that the bishop should have the place dedicated to God. Nonetheless, despite the appearance of St. Michael, the bishop hesitated in taking any action because the place had formally been a pagan shrine and he just was not sure about the whole matter.
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A Second Apparition that Saves a City
Two years later, the nearby town of Siponto found itself the target of the barbarian king Odoacer who was looking to extend his territory. The same bishop was able to negotiate with Odoacer and to obtain a brief period of truce. As before, the bishop urged everyone to fast and pray for three days. Once again, St. Michael appeared to the bishop. This time, he told the bishop that the people of Siponto should attack Odoacer and his army and they would defeat their enemy.
This time, the bishop heeded the message of St. Michael. Despite having far inferior forces, the soldiers of Siponto took the battle to the barbarians. A violent storm ensued and sent Odoacer and his army into a retreat. The people of Siponto rejoiced, and in thanksgiving to God and St. Michael, they processed to the cave on Mont Gargano. However, no one dared enter into the cave.
St Michael the Archangel Catholic Church
The archangel appeared to the bishop a third time and let the bishop know that he should enter the cave. However, St. Michael made it clear to the bishop that he had already consecrated the place and that the bishop would find evidence of that when he entered. Sure enough, when the bishop entered the cave, he found an altar which was draped with a red cloth and a crystal crucifix on top of the altar. There was also a footprint found near the entrance of the cave which was understood to also signify that this had been the work of St. Michael.
Soon thereafter, the bishop had a chapel built at the entrance of the cave. When the chapel was built, the bishop dedicated it, but he did not consecrate the chapel. From St. Michael's message, he understood that it had already been consecrated by the angel. Thus, this chapel is considered the only building designated for worship which has not been consecrated by human hands. And the chapel eventually earned the named the Celestial Basilica. (It might also be considered the most unique St Michael the Archangel Catholic Church.)
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The Fourth Apparition: Stopping a Plague
The final appearance of St. Michael at this spot occurred centuries later in the year 1656. During that time, the region was suffering from a terrible plague. The local bishop asked St. Michael for his protection of the people. When St. Michael appeared to the bishop, the plague stopped.
Today, the basilica continues to be a place of pilgrimage under the care of the Congregation of St. Michael the Archangel. It has been enlarged and expanded, but even today, you can see some of the areas that were part of the original chapel. If you make the pilgrimage to Mont Gargano, you will be joining a number of saints who have done the same including St. Louis de Montfort and St. John Paul II.
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Fr. Horgan's book will help you better understand the Church's teaching on angels and the important role they play in our world and in our lives.
Feast Day: May 8 (Memorial) and September 29 (Memorial)
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