The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Montallegro
The City of Rapallo
Rapallo is a small city in Italy facing the Ligurian Sea. It's location, in Northern Italy, makes a favorite vacation spot for people who live in the interior of the country. In the winter, the wealthy flock to this port for its temperate climate.
Sailboats float in the harbor and expensive villas line its hills overlooking the water. The city also draws day trippers from nearby Genoa, just 15 miles to the north.
One of the most popular tourist spot in Rapallo is a medieval-style castle that juts out into the harbor. The city's other big attraction is a shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Montallegro, located in the hills.
The people who lived in this community were once fervently Catholic. They made Mary, the Mother of Jesus, their patroness hundreds of years ago. There is a local story that her protection spared residents from various plagues that decimated other villages during the 16th and 17th centuries.
Inside the hillside shrine, dedicated to Our Lady of Montallegro, there is also a stream of water that mysteriously flows from a rock. This water is said to have healing properties.
The Story of this Devotion
On a warm summer day in the year 1557, a boy named Giovanni Chichizola was walking home in the highlands that overlooked the port. He heard a voice call his name, a common occurrence in Marian apparitions, including the more famous Our Lady of Guadalupe, in which a woman a peasant by the name of Juan Diego was greeted by a beautiful woman who also addressed him by name.
Giovanni was directed by the woman he saw standing before him to tell the residents of Rapallo about what he had seen. She also told him to look at a small picture of her, which she said had been carried from Greece by angels. It was leaning against a rock in the forest.
The lady disappeared as mysteriously as she had arrived. But not without giving him another instruction, to please fast on Saturdays. Catholics traditionally consider Saturday a day dedicated to Mary. This was the day of the week she suffered intensely, after her Son was crucified on a Friday.
Giovanni Unable to Lift the Picture
The picture didn't look very heavy, so Giovanni tried to pick it up. However, he was unable to lift it. Even when he asked a number of people to help him, no one seemed to have the strength to move the picture. The only person who could move it was a parish priest, whom Giovanni had consulted. The priest was able to carry the picture into an existing church, where it was safely locked away.
However, the next day, despite the fact it was kept under lock and key, it somehow moved back to its original spot, where Giovanni first noticed it. This seemed to indicate that the woman who appeared to Giovanni wanted the picture to remain where it was. Also, some sort of structure needed to be built to protect it from the elements.
Near the spot where Giovanni had found the picture, leaning against a rock, a newly formed spring had begun to flow. No one had ever noticed a spring in that area before.
Rapallo as it Once Looked
Construction of a Chapel
Plans were immediately laid to build a small chapel to protect this image, with the idea that a larger church could be constructed at a later date.
Doing any building in this region was extremely challenging because of the hilly and rocky terrain. However, somehow, just a year later, a place of worship was completed. Later, to accommodate the crowds that would arrive, seeking Our Lady's intercession, a big basilica was built.
The picture, placed visibly in a spot on the sanctuary's high altar, where many people still come to pray, knowing the remarkable history of how this image arrived in Rapallo.
Although such a story of a miraculous picture seems implausible and unlikely in our modern era, because we live in a very secular world, earlier generations of people had little difficulty accepting this amazing account of this Church-approved Marian apparition.
That's why this shrine is one of the top tourist attractions in Rapallo, even today. The painting seen by Giovanni was resting against a rock. That rock is now part of the basilica and water still flows from it. A faucet has been added so that pilgrims can turn it on if they want to collect some of this water, widely reputed to be able to heal the sick.
People who've had their prayers answered at a Marian shrine typically leave notes and paintings that depict the favor that was granted. Things are no different here. So many "thank you" paintings were left behind at Our Lady of Montallegro Shrine that separate galleries were built to accommodate them.