IMG_4412After a journey of several hours in which we slowly descend into Puglia, we arrive in Monte Sant’Angelo, at the Gargano peninsula. It is extremely cold for this time of the year, and we are glad that we have been able to book two rooms in the beautiful Hotel Sant’Angelo, just across the entrance to Michaels Sanctuary. It’s an Italian holiday: the sanctuary is full of pilgrims, and Mass is being celebrated all day through. Pope Francis has proclaimed 2016 to be the Year of Mercy, so many are arriving here to do penitence. We descend along the long stone stairs that start right behind the entrance door. On the walls you see signs left by the pilgrims here, amongst others special carvings of hands and feet. Millions of people have passed before us here…

Grotto-Oct06-DC9610sAR800Then, at what seems to be the bottom of the Sanctuary, you enter a churchlike place, that is built all around S. Michaels Cave. In the cave, on the altar next to a Longobardan chair stands Michael’s statue. But more touching is the small niche at the back of the cave, the place where according to legend Michael appeared in the third century after Christ and asked a local shepherd to build a sanctuary for him. Next to him stand two beautiful statues, one of the Trinity, and one of a special Madonna. After Mass we take the opportunity to stand on the spot where the Michaels and the Athena line cross, right before the altar. I am feeling a strong and beneficent energy again, an important addition to the cord that we are weaving on our journey through Italy.

More places ouIMG_4489r catching our attention. In the Museum of the Stones underneath the church we admire a beautiful collection of Longardan style sculptures, amongst others with Christ Pantocrator and Goddess-like Madonna’s. The guide explains that this space was in Longobardan times the corridor where the pilgrims were received, long before the construction of the church. At the end of the corridor you can still see the remains of the old Scala Santa that they climbed on their knees in order to do penitence. They then arrived in the cave, which was still open, and with purifying water streaming through it. I suddenly can imagine the journey made by Matilda, and also her father Bonifatius, here, in order to do penitence, with much more hardship compared with the modern pilgrim. Matilda still figures in the stories about famous visitors told by the local population. I can feel our connection again…
IMG_4428Next to our hotel is an impressive complex of three churches. Above the entrance is a rose with four mermaids, their tails intertwined, with in the middle an eight pointed star. I have always interpreted this as the mermaids guarding the Gate to Heaven, since eight is the number of eternity. But now I get an even more profound intuition. Behind the Gate is a church dedicated to St. John the Evangelist that according to the information plate represents the Ascension as announced in the Apocalypse. You can feel in the extremely high dome. Again a special fresco of S. Michael on the otherwise sober walls. Were the mermaids placed there as guardians of the journey towards the New Jerusalem? It would again explain why there are so many churches where you meet both Michael and the mermaid, a theme that I addressed in my book ‘The smile of the sirena’….

IMG_4510The cream on the pudding of this visit was a book that I got recommended by the guardian of the museum that shows that Monte Sant’Angelo is built on Neolithic sites. Many dolmens and caves have been found here, and also a huge standing stone that is aligned with the summer solstice. It confirms again that Michael’s sanctuaries were frequently built on spots of the Solar Gods of antiquity, and that they were venerated together with the Earth Goddess. Gargano, the name of the peninsula, comes from Gorgon, one of her names. To me it seems that the people who lived here long ago knew of the crossing of the leylines in the cave. To them we owe the fact that we are standing here now, and that millions of people have been here, as hermits and pilgrims, and as inhabitants who guarded the ancient mysteries and adapted them to new times. It’s not the end of our discoveries, though, more secrets are awaiting us…

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