The Catholic Defender: Savona: Shrine of Our Lady of Mercy
On 18th March 1536, Our Lady appeared to a peasant Antonio Botta as he was going to work in his vineyard. He described the Blessed Virgin Mary as being dressed in white and surrounded by a dazzling light. The vision stood on a large rock overlooking a stream near the river Letimbro. As he knelt before the vision, Our Lady asked him to go to his confessor and exhort the people to prayer and penance. She asked that three Saturdays of fasting be observed and that three processions be organised in honor of God and the Mother of Jesus.
Our Lady said “If it were not for the prayers and good works done by the Brothers, the world would be even worse than it is.” She then asked Antonio to return to the same place on the fourth Saturday to receive another message meant for the Curia and the people of Savona. Antonia immediately informed the local priest who then informed the Bishop of the diocese. Though the priest and the bishop were receptive to the vision and the message, the local Mayor refused to accept it and summoned Antonio to his castle for questioning him on the vision. It is believed that during Antonio’s interrogation, some fishermen off the coast of Savona saw three flames that rose high into the sky above the cathedral and the castle.
The second apparition took place on 8th April 1536 at the same place of the first vision. Our Lady stood with outstretched hands extending downward in a gesture of mercy. Once again Our Lady asked Antonio to observe three Saturdays of fasting and the processions. She exhorted Antonio and his fellowmen to follow the creed and said “Mercy my son, not justice.” This message quickly spread to all parts of Italy and later Europe. Soon a chapel was built at the site of the apparition and March 18 began to be observed as an annual festival with votive procession to the shrine.
During the apparition, the Madonna dressed in white and wrapped in a dazzling light, told Antonio to go to his confessor and ask him to announce to the people, a fast for three Saturdays and a procession to the site where she appeared, to honour God and His Mother. She then asked him to return on the fourth Saturday.
On the fourth Saturday after the event, corresponding to 8 April 1536 and on the eve of Palm Sunday, Antonio Botta returned to the place of the apparition. There the Virgin appeared to him again, asking for three more fast Saturdays and a new procession of the people, especially the disciplinary Confraternities, praising their work and recommending that they announce to everyone
e, repentance of their vices and sins, to live the Creed and then she disappeared after saying: “Mercy, my son, not justice.”
This teaching of the Madonna was accepted with faith and dedication by the City of Savona, which was going through a difficult period, after the defeat suffered in 1528 by the Republic of Genoa.
Since then, on 18 March of each year, to commemorate the event of the apparition, a procession led by the Bishop is made, with the Confraternities of the Diocese and the faithful, departing from the Cathedral square of Savona and arriving at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Mercy which was built to honour the apparitions to Antonio Botta.
The construction of the architectural complex of the Sanctuary was started in the same year in which the Marian apparition took place, i.e. in 1536. The whole today includes the Basilica with the square, the Pallavicino and Tursi palaces, the large late-sixteenth-century palace of the New Hospice and other buildings. The Basilica collects masterpieces by prestigious artists, such as Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Orazio Borgianni, Bernardo Castello, Domenichino and is also a very honoured place of worship.
It became a pilgrimage site and people began coming from all parts of Europe and later from around the world to pray to Our Lady of Mercy. Several miracles have been reported at the Shrine by pilgrims. Pope Pius VII was exiled to Savona on the order of Napoleon in the year 1809. During his years in Savona, he vowed that if he were released he would crown the statue of Our Lady of Mercy. On fulfilment of his intention, in 1815 the Pope honoured his word by placing a royal diadem on the statue of Our Lady of Mercy on May 10, 1815. In recent years, Pope Benedict XVI visited the Shrine on May 17, 2008 and gave the Golden Rose, a sign of special distinction offered to Marian Shrines.