FIDES Service – 31 August 2007
MARY AND EUROPE
by N. Bux and S. Vitiello
PRINCIPAL MARIAN SHRINES OF EUROPE
- MARIAZELL – STEIREN
- OUR LADY OF BEAURING – BEAURING
- OUR LADY OF THE POOR – BENNAUX
- SHRINE OF THE MOTHER OF GOD, PROTECTRESS– RILA
- OUR LADY OF LA SALETTE – LA SALETTE
- OUR LADY OF LOURDES – LOURDES
- PALATINE CHAPEL – AACHEN
- OUR LADY OF GREEN FIELDS– ALTÖTTING
- MARIA HILF – PASSAU
-THE SHRINE OF OUR LADY OF THE HOLY HOUSE AT WALSINGHAM
-THE SHRINE OF OUR LADY OF CONSOLATION – WEST GRINSTEAD
- OUR LADY OF THE ANNUNCIATION – ISLAND OF TINOS
- SHRINE OF THE ALL HOLY PORTATISSA –
- IVIRON – MONTE ATHOS
This study intends to present historical elements with regard to the origin and development of the main shrines in Europe dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. By deliberate choice and because of the inseparable bond between the growth and visibility of these Sancti Loci and the
beating heart of the People of God, the study highlights that which spontaneous and authentic support from the Sensus Fidei, and its immediate ever accompanying “pilgrim” movement,
revealed in the past and continues to reveal to the whole world.
Since it is impossible to indicate pre-eminence of certain Locus Mariae over the others,
given that it is She who with her miraculous apparitions or indications gives rise to every shrine, we will analyse the principal ones proceeding according to a criteria of geographical position in Europe according to the countries in alphabetical order and indicating those towards which the Holy People of God move most frequently.
Pilgrimage, inseparable from the existence of every shrine and explicit recognition of it, has a privileged place of encounter with the Mystery, it expresses in its every being, the cry of humanity, rooted in its need that the answer which only the relationship with God gives to the human heart, may embrace the whole of life, each and every day. Pilgrimage renders daily life a movement towards Christ.
The Holy Mother of God, to whom the Austrian people give the title Magna Mater Austriae,
has always accompanied the history of these lands, being invoked as Maria Hilf, Mary Help of
Christians. Marian devotion was brought to these peoples by the first Christian merchants from northern Italy. Later it was enriched by the teachings of the Holy Bishop Ambrose who sent his missionaries, capable of educating to Mary as the tender and loving Mother of her children, safe fortress against the ranks of Satan.
The miraculous saving of the city of Vienna under besiege by two hundred thousand Turks in the Summer of 1683, is attributed to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin. To thank the Divine Auxiliatrix the trophies of war were sent to the Shrine of Passau, now a German city, and to mark the event Pope Innocent XI instituted the feast of the Holy Name of Mary celebrated by the Church all over the world on 12 September.
Merit for the remarkable development of devotion to Mary is due to the regular Orders of the Benedictines first of all and later Cistercians, Norbertines, Franciscans and Dominicans, who built everywhere monuments, chapels, churches and shrines dedicated to the Holy Mother of God.
At the Benedictine Abbey of Lambach, built in 1032 by Saint Adalbert, the Blessed Virgin
is portrayed in frescoes majestically enthroned, similar to the Byzantine Madonna Nicopeia. In the th century image of Mary is preserved. At Rein, the conventual church at Seckau a miraculous 12
oldest Cistercian abbey Austria, built in 1129 by Leopold I, Margrave of Steiern, we see the smiling Virgin crowned with wheat spikelets, similar to Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan. At the Church of the Scots in Vienna, since 1158 the faithful are drawn by Our Lady Domina in stone,
brought here from Regensburg by Scottish and Irish Benedictines.
SHRINE OF MARIAZELL – STEIERN
Considered the most famous of central Europe and the most popular spiritual and religious place for the Catholic peoples in the region of the Danube, the Marian Shrine of Mariazell,
situated among the Steiren mountains, has its origins in the cell of the monk Magnus. He came from the Benedictine monastery of Saint Lambert to settle in these mountains around 1157, carrying with him a limewood statue of Mary which, according to tradition, he had carved himself. The monk's holy style of life and the fame of the miracles which happened here, started an unending flow of pilgrims and in 1200, Prince Henry Vladislav of Moravia, as an act of thanksgiving after being cured of a serious illness, had the first church built here Mariazell in honour of the Great Mother of the Slavic Peoples.
Two hundreds years later, in 1370, the shrine was visited by another important benefactor, King Louis I Hungary. In thanksgiving for an improbable military victory, he had a sumptuous chapel built as an ex-voto with the image of the Blessed Mother set at the centre of the church as at the Holy House in Loreto. The fame of the Locus Sanctus among the Alpine mountains and the th consequent increase in the flow of the People of God led to an annual pilgrimage started in the 17century. The present church and rich interior decorating, date to that period: of the old Gothic church there remains the door and the chapel of King Louis. Under Emperor Jozef II and with the Napoleonic wars which followed, pilgrimages to Mariazell were impossible and the shrine was sacked many times, but always flourished again.
Widespread recognition and devotion to the Great Mother of the Slavic Peoples on the part
of so many pilgrims and temporal authorities, and the consequent involvement of the latter in the progressive edification of the shrine, testify to the universal nature of mendicant man's infinite need of Christ and the only full correspondence to this need in Christ mendicant the heart of man, always through the continual intercession continua of His Holy Mother since as Dante Alighieri wrote: ?qual vuol grazia ed a te non ricorre, sua disianza vuol volar sanz’ali?.
Every man is created to encounter Jesus Christ and in Him to realise himself through His holy will. The Lord acts in history reaching our to the human heart asking for no presupposition except for human nature itself. ?Mi feci trovare da chi non Mi cercava, dissi “eccoMi” a chi non
invocava il Mio Nome? (Is 65, 1). Awareness of one's own infinite need is successive to the response of Christ, who simply “reveals man to man”. Therefore just as there is no presupposition for the encounter with the Person of Jesus of Nazareth, there is no “moral pre-disposition”, and
even less a social condition, He manifests himself gestis verbisque, through the faces of those who
love Him. In fact the ultimate goal of the Mystical Body of Christ in history, Holy Mother Church, is Salus animarum.
How great is the human soul, only God is greater (Saint Teresa of Avila).
One of the countries where devotion to the Holy Mother of God found most fertile hearts, rdthBelgium, experienced with wonder around the 3 and 4 century the Christianisation of pagan
festivals as the consequence of the evangelisation of barbarian peoples.
Gratia non tollit naturam sed eam perficit. Christianisation in fact aimed not to eradicate
the celebration of existing festivals but rather to give them new significance, operating exactly as Christ does with each human heart. He ?saves us not from our humanity but through our humanity? (Benedict XVI, Urbi et Orbi Message, Christmas 2005).
And so May Day was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary and with the edification in towns but above all in forests, of chapels and monuments dedicated to Mary, purified local superstitious practices and pagan beliefs.
Between 625 and 750 forty five Benedictine monasteries, visible sources of inexhaustible love for Christ and for his Holy Mother, were built all over the land of ancient Belgium.
Among the numerous confraternities which after the year 1000 enriched the religious life of the country, linking their beginnings to certain Marian shrines, three deserve special mention. The oldest would appear to be the confraternity of Our Lady of Tongres, founded at the shrine of the same name in 1093. About three centuries later in Flanders, the confraternities of the Rosary and Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows were started.
OUR LADY OF BEAURING – BEAURING
At Beauraing, province of Namur, Our Lady appeared to four little girls and a little boy from 2 December 1932 to 3 January 1933. The Blessed Mother, appearing on a mayflower bush of in the garden of a home for retired nuns, presented herself as Mother of God and Queen of Heaven and promised to convert sinners in exchange for prayers and the edification of a chapel and pilgrimages to it. As in Fatima, Our Lady showed her heart not crowned with thorns, but covered in gold and therefore glorified and sparkling with love for God and for mankind. The effects of the apparition were immediately visible: tens of thousands attended the last apparitions and the Home became a famous place of pilgrimage.
As it often happens, great Sensus Fidei led to the recognition of the apparition and the
garden became an open air shrine, and extended later to the grounds of the ancient Beauraing Castle, with its park and a covered part of the area with a basement building to protect the sick pilgrims in bad weather.
The Bishop of Namur gave permission for public devotion in 1943 and in 1948 he recognised the authenticity of the apparitions and two cases of healing which happened in the early years.
OUR LADY OF THE POOR – BENNAUX
Again as testimony of the historical effectiveness of divine action in space and time, according to the method of the Incarnation of Our Lord Jesus Christ, after World War I there arose and developed a large town, Banneux, not far from Liege, in the west of Belgium, whose origins are inseparably connected with the apparitions of the Queen of Heaven, so much so that it is still known as “Mary's Town”.
Here Our Lady appeared eight times from 15 January to 2 March 1933, immediately after the last apparition in Beauraing. Surrounded and crowned with light She appeared to eleven year old Mariette Beco, the daughter of poor, honest parents who were religiously non practising. That evening in January, while watching from the window for the return of her brother Julian, for the first time Mariette saw the Heavenly Mother dressed with garments whose brightness illuminated the Winter darkness.
The Gentle Lady in the apparitions which followed asked the girl to put her hands into a small spring of gelid water to alleviate the suffering of sick people.
Following the heavenly apparitions there in the garden of the Beco family in a short time Belgium's most important Marian shrine was built and dedicated to Our Lady of the Poor; it is not a basilica it is a chapel at the explicit request of Our Lady, with series of surrounding buildings and at the centre a vast area for celebrations when the pilgrims are many. From 1933, in fact despite widespread local diffidence with regard to pilgrimages, Banneux was visited by about one hundred pilgrimages from all over Europe.
The title of National Shrine of Il Belgium is attributed instead to the church of Our Lady of
Hal, situated on the road which leads from Mons to Brussels. It won the title for having witnessed
at the foot of its walls and under the protection of the Virgin Mother, many battles determinant for the country's independence. The statue portraying the enthroned Holy Mother breast feeding the infant Jesus, image donated by Saint Elisabeth queen of Hungary to her daughter Sofia, who went th century, to be precise in the year as a bride of Belgium, was exposed for veneration in the 13thth1257. In the 14 and 15 centuries the magnificent gothic church and chapel in which the holy image is venerated were erected. The fame of the miracles, scrupulously documented, obtained through the intercession of Our Lady of Hall, was such that in many towns were dedicated to Her also in France.
The decision by King Boris (882-889) to join definitively the Patriarchate of the East in 885, of which the fulcrum was the then Constantinople, today Istanbul, certainly determined the religious orientation of the history of the Bulgarian people towards Orthodox Christianity.
In this country devotion to Mary, of fundamental importance for the Slav liturgy, introduced at the same period by disciples of Saints Cyril and Methodius, was the privileged vehicle for the transmission of the faith and the foundation stone of popular spirituality, especially in the time of occupation by Turkey, which started in 1393 and lasted until the country's independence in 1878.
The Turkish invasion was such that it determined disuse of the Bulgarian language and therefore, the national culture and the language itself were preserved only in monasteries thanks to fidelity to liturgical celebrations in Slavic and the building of great libraries, especially at the monasteries of Rila and Trojan and that Zograf monastery on Mount Athos. The schools of these monasteries, to which also lay men were admitted, demonstrated their value since, alone, they met ththe need for learning dictated by a new awakening of popular national conscience in the 19
Bulgaria experienced an ideological attempt to subjugate the Church on the part of the political power, when it entered the orbit of the Soviet communist regime. But then too the profound popular sense of belonging did not permit its destruction.
SHRINE OF THE MOTHER OF GOD PROTECTRESS – RILA thTo the 10 century belongs the first Bulgarian monastery founded at Rila by a holy hermit John Rilski, to whom is attributed the title of patron saint of Bulgaria and whose body is still preserved here. This place, dedicated to Mother of God Protectress, represents the heart not only
of Christianity in that country but also the culture. Christianity in fact revealed and reveals thus to the world, that it is the only authentic custodian of man, of his authentic personal dimension, his history since, never, when responding to his infinite need, was it forced to censure some aspect of human existence instead every detail and every instant of this existence have found and find full accomplishment in Christ the Lord.
The Monastery of Rila, to which the people are linked in a special way given its fundamental function as custodian of the national culture during Turkish domination, was destroyed by fire in 1833. Immediately there was a national race for its rebuilding to restore it to its past splendour. The icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary venerated there, a gift of the Byzantine thEmperor Michael Comneno in the 13 century, was rightly called Protectress.
?The Kingdom of France is the Kingdom of Mary?. These words were used by the then Pontiff Urban II at the end of the year 1000, to express his wonder when, crossing the land of France during the preaching of the first crusade, he saw the numerous shrines of Marian devotion with which the people had adorned the whole country. th France boasts Marian shrines dating to the 6 century, epoch of the evangelisation of the
Authentic French majesty must be attributed to the sovereign Charlemagne, author of the Holy Roman Empire. He himself oversaw the building of numerous shrines and nurtured sincere and profound veneration towards the Blessed Virgin, to the point that he asked to be buried with a small statue of her placed upon his breast. Under his rule, in the city of Paris, there arose, next to the ancient cathedral of the city's patron saint Stephan, a church dedicated to the Holy Mother of God in which worship soon became prevailing compared with that of the first martyr. Thus was born the Cathedral of Notre-Dame. In the two successive centuries there were a series of emperors and kings profoundly attached to devotion for the Blessed Virgin and the gothic style too, which was becoming popular in that period, was closely connected with Marian devotion: the first eight gothic cathedrals built in northern France – Chartres, Paris, Rheims, Laon, Rouen, Bayeux, Erveux,
Amiens – are all dedicated to Our Lady.
The lands of the Franks saw love for the Holy Mother of God continue to grow during the return from the crusades until the reign of Louis XIII, whose political actions were each marked by an act of piety. Memorable in 1635, during the war with Spain, the consecration of the kingdom on his part to the Blessed Vurgin: kneeling in a ruined chapel near a battle field. This gesture, known as the “to vow of Louis XIII”, had a profound and lasting resonance in the souls of the French.
And again, in the epoch in which there was an attempt on the part of the Jansenistic heresy and Enlightenment thought to undermine devotion to Mary, the Lord gave to the Catholic Church the splendid figure of Louis Grignion de Montfort. The greatness of this paladin of love for the Holy Virgin Mother, despised if not unknown by his contemporaries, is still resplendent in his full brightness today.
Always a privileged vehicle for the protection and the transmission the faith, Marian devotion played a fundamental role during and after the ideological invasion operated by the French revolution during which Notre-Dame was reduced to a temple to the godess of reason. thAfter the fall of Napoleon, it was the Marian apparitions of the 19 century which
characterised the spiritual life of the French and, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin, a number of prestigious personages of society of the time were captivated by the Lord and bore witness to Him with their lives, reviving Catholicism in this country: Estrade, Carrel, Huismans, Bloy, Claudel and Maritain.
The testimony and enthusiasm which accompanied the first peregrinatio Mariae, during
which Our Lady of Boulogne crossed the whole of France and reached Lourdes on 7 September 1942, were such as to give rise on 23 May of the following year, on the occasion on the part of the French bishops of the nation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a new pilgrimage which was witnessed with astonishment by Robert d’Aucourt, academic of France with these words: ?Thirty thousand kilometres they walked, the “servants” of Our Lady of the Great Return … On their faces, thin their eyes, shone the faith of the great praying hosts of the 13 century?. The numerous
peregrinationes Mariae organised all over the world in the post-war years were modelled on that of Notre Dame du grand rétour.
The first apparition was seen on 18 July 1930 during the night, in the mother-house of the Daughters of Charity in Paris, by Saint Catherine Labouré. On that occasion the Mater Ecclesiae
asked the young novice to coin and diffuse a medal as it was shown to her: on the underside the figure of Our Lady with outstretched arms from which rays poured, her feet were stamping in the head of the tempter serpent. Around the edge we read the invocation: ?O Mary conceived without sin pray for us who have recourse to You?. Anyone wearing the medial would have received special graces through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The nun remained unknown all through her life and it was the Jesuit Fr Aladel, the only person to whom she confided her experience, who diffused it. The diffusion of the 'Miraculous Medal' gave rise to a vast movement of apostolate, still active today.
OUR LADY OF LA SALETTE – LA SALETTE
From the apparition in 1846 to two children, eleven year old Massimino and fourteen year old Melanie tending their masters' flocks, takes its origin the shrine of “Our Lady of La Salette”,
situated at 1,800 metres above sea level. During the apparition, the Blessed Virgin in tears, urged the French people to convert their hearts to avoid being punished by her Son who was angry with them.
This apparition, soon acknowledged by the local bishop, marked the return of the French people to Catholicism.
Immaculate Mary always calls man to conversion, as she continues to generate Christ in every human heart and to intercede with the Father that every individual may be granted enough time to convert to the truth.
OUR LADY OF LOURDES – LOURDES
The grotto of Massabielle, where on 11 February 1858 Our Lady appeared to fourteen year old Bernadette Soubirous, the daughter of a poor miller, and announced herself as the Immaculate Conception, draws millions of people travel every year who come on pilgrimage to obtain grace at Europe's most visited Shrine Our Lady of Lourdes.
Between 11 February and 16 July there were 10 apparitions many of which were only a silent presence of Our Lady. During the eighth apparition, the 'Lady' asked Bernadette to pray for sinners and kiss the ground as a penance; in the next one She asked her to drink and wash herself in a muddy puddle at the entrance to the Grotto, which in a few hours had become an abundant th She asked her to tell the priests that she would like people to source as it is today; during the 13
come in procession to the place and for a chapel to be built.
In 1862 the Bishop of Tarbes, monsignor Laurence, recognised the authenticity of the apparitions. In 1866 young Bernadette entered a convent at Nevers, where she was born to heaven in 1879 at the age of thirty six. In 1925 Pope Pius XI placed her among the host of the Saints.
The inexhaustible resonance which truth always has in the human heart, together with the stir aroused by the apparitions in French public opinion, led to the immediate development of the Shrine. The spiritual atmosphere at the Locus Mariae the solemnity of the celebrations and the air
of recollection and devotion which characterise it, made it a model to which all Shrines have since aspired. The first church, the upper one in neo-gothic style stile built on the spur overlooking the grotto, was inaugurated in 1871. The lower building, called the Rosary Church, in Romanesque -Byzantine style, was built in 1889. A third underground basilica to hold over 20,000 worshippers was added in 1958.
During the reign of the Christian emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Charlemagne, connected with Germany just as much as France, Marian devotion experienced a moment of great splendour among the German people, who today still pray to the Holy Mother of God with the title Unsere Liebe Frau, Our Beloved Lady.
PALATINE CHAPEL – AACHEN
To this periods dates, commissioned by the Emperor himself, the building in the city of Aachen peripheral see of the empire, of what was called the Palatine Chapel where the tomb of
the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire is preserved and where for six hundred years Germanic emperors were crowned. Here were placed important relics brought from Constantinople which immediately attracted numbers of pilgrims. Among these, deserving special mention, apart from the problem of their authenticity, not easily solved, the dress the Blessed Mother was wearing during the Nativity and the swaddling clothes of the Holy Babe. The relics are still shown to the faithful every seven years and the event draws enormous crowds from all over the place.
German Marian architecture was remarkably expressed in the Romanesque style during the thth10 and 11 centuries, with the building of the country's principal Marian cathedrals Spier and Mainz, and many monasteries almost all places of pilgrimage: Saint Maria in Capitol in Cologne,
the Monasteries of Trier, Reichenau, Regensburg and above all that of Maria Laach, a magnificent
building, famous for its uninterrupted tradition of theological studies. At the end of the year 1200 the advent of the gothic style stimulated mainly the production of architectural masterpieces dedicated to Mary.
The Order of the Capuchins and that of the Jesuits were of fundamental importance in the defence of authentic and sound Marian devotion, especially during the iconoclasm started by Lutheran influence. These Orders had the merit of purifying the German people from devotionalistic tendencies. Special mention must be made of the Jesuit, Saint Peter Canisius.
OUR LADY OF GREENFIELDS – ALTÖTTING
Principal shrine in southern Germany and more in particular in Catholic Bavaria, “Our Lady
of Greenfields ” in Altötting has its origin in the work of Saint Rupert, apostle of the region, who transformed a pagan temple into a Marian oratory. Here Charlemagne later had built the Chapel of Graces, of octagonal plan, and a monastery. The latter was destroyed by incursions of Hungarians still pagans, who left however the church intact. In 1228 the shrine, abandoned for a long time, was restored to its original splendour of the work by the Dukes of Bavaria, especially those of the Wittelsbach family. The hearts of the sovereigns of this dynasty are still preserved in a special apposite urn kept in the Chapel of Graces. The image venerated today at Altötting dates to 1300 and consists of a small limewood statue of Our Lady seated with the Infant Jesus, usually clothed in a richly embroidered garments and placed at the centre of a rich altar.
SHRINE OF MARIA HILF – PASSAU
The mantle of the Queen of Heaven extends over many Sancti Locii in the land of Germany;
among these we mention especially the first shrine dedicated to Maria Hilf, (Our Lady Help of
Christians) built in the town of Passau at the beginning of 1600, when the dean of the cathedral, after having had made for his devotion a copy of the painting by the famous artist Lucas Cranach, in which the Child seems to take refuge in the arms of his Mother (hence the title Maria Help),
exposed it in a small chapel which, due to a vast flow of pilgrims, was soon replaced by a shrine; no less than five volumes of vast dimensions record the graces received and healings, through the intercession della Blessed Virgin in this place.
The inseparable nature of the Petrine and Marian dimensions of the Church of Christ, guarantors of unity for the Church herself and of authentic custody of the whole Truth, has been testified many times in history because whenever loyalty to the ministry of the successors of Peter waned, there was also an unexplainable and obstinate rejection of devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
This happened, with the schism of 1534 in the time Henry VIII, also in Britain, where Marian devotion, handed on during evangelisation of the Anglo-Saxon peoples, which saw its highest expression in Saint Augustine of Canterbury sent by Pope Gregory the Great in 597, was seriously undermined by the suppression of the monasteries and shrines whose possessions were confiscated by the English crown, at the advice of pro-protestant ministers Thomas Cromwell e Thomas Cranmer.
SHRINE OF OUR LADY OF THE HOLY HOUSE– WALSINGHAM
Only at the beginning of 1800 was it possible to see a revival of devotion to Mary both on the part of Catholics, after the abolition of the laws against them, and on that of a greater part of the Anglican reality, which precisely in Marian devotion seemed to rediscover nostalgia for such beauty, constituent still today a fundamental point of rapprochement with the Catholic Church.
Among the principles shrines in Europe, the shrine at Walsingham constitutes the most excellent place of Marian devotion in the land of Britain. According to tradition it was founded by a certain dame Richeldis in 1061, who in a dream was ordered to build a chapel as a copy of the Holy House in Nazareth. The chapel when the devotion developed, was enclosed in a sumptuous gothic church. Following its destruction, in 1538, only in 1934 did Walsingham see the reconstruction of a shrine within which was enclosed the Holy House. In the same year there was the inauguration of a Catholic shrine in the former Slipper Chapel, where traditionally pilgrims
would leave their shoes to walk the last mile barefoot.
SHRINE OF OUR LADY OF CONSOLATION –
In Sussex, south of London, the Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation, thanks to the protection of the Catholic Lords Carylls, survived the tempest of the reformation, constituting thus, besides a centre of worship for Catholics, a refuge for the indomitable Catholic clergy in hiding, fervent custodians of orthodoxy in England.
With the intensification of religious persecution, the church was demolished and rebuilt in another place so as not to attract iconoclast violence. In 1863, after having gained support all over Europe, the new chaplain Fr Jean Marie, from France, erected a larger church and, as the image to venerate, he brought from Turin, Italy, a copy of Our Lady of Consolation. Every year from Westminster a pilgrimage is organised to thank the Lord and His Merciful Mother for preserving the Catholic faith in England.
Glorious Hellas, cradle of the most poetic expression of man's infinite quest, in Christianity found an answer historically and culturally. Through Constantine it became part of the Byzantine Empire. Profound and widespread devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary was stirred by the Council of Ephesus (431), held in a Marian church and under the banner of ?Maria Theotokos? (Mary
Mother of God). Many pagan temples were made into Christian churches and many dedicated to Mary; among them of fundamental importance the “conversion” of the Parthenon in Athens,
dedicated in 432, to Aghia Sofia (Holy Wisdom: The Verb, Christ) and then in 662, to the
Paniaghia Ateniotissa (The All Holy of Athens) which superimposed definitively the cult of the pagan goddess Athena. The history of this country is inseparably united with that of the Roman Empire of the West, catalyst, in what was its capital, Byzantium, of all Greek cultural and political prestige. However rather than dwell on this aspect, we will treat only the principal places of Marian devotion in the Hellenic peninsula.
OUR LADY OF THE ANNUNCIATION – ISLAND OF TINOS
This most famous and popular of Greek shrines, situated on the island of the Cyclades, has its origins in the discovery, in 1823, following instructions received by a nun in a dream, of an ancient icon of the Evengherestia (Our Lady of the Annunciation). At first, digging in the place indicated revealed nothing but the remains of an ancient church dedicated to Saint John the Baptist. With the stones recovered from it the workmen built a small chapel dedicated to Mary and just when the work was finished, a pickaxe struck an old board, revealing the icon for which they had been searching. The emotion caused by the event was such as to involve and hearten the entire population, living in expectation of imminent liberation from centuries of Turkish domination which had begun on 29 May 1453. The central moment of the celebrations is represented by a procession on 15 August every year, when the splendid icon, clothed in gold and gems and protected by a precious canopy, is carried across the island with hymns and prayers.
Deserving special mention, also the shrines of the All Holy of the Golden Step (Crissoscalitissa), and the All Holy of Grotto (Nisiros) and particularly the Shrine The All Holy
SHRINE OF THE ALL HOLY PORTATISSA –
IVIRON – MOUNT ATHOS
The icon, one of the most venerated on Mount Athos, according to tradition belonged to a widow of Nicea who kept it safe from iconoclast fury; however in 829 a solider discovered it and with the intention of destroying the icon, struck it with his sword. From the wounded face blood flowed. The soldier, deeply moved by the event, was converted, nevertheless to save it from further danger the good widow entrusted the icon to the sea, and sometime afterwards it appeared on a beach near the Georgian monastery of Iviron, one of twenty large monasteries on Athos. The title Portatissa is due to the continual rediscovery of the Marian image on the monastery gate (porta), despite repeated attempts to place it inside the church. The monks were forced to build at the monastery entrance a chapel, in which the icon is venerated still today. On the annual feast day with a solemn procession to the seashore, the rediscovery of the icon is commemorated.