September 5: Our Lady of the Woods, Galloro (1621)
The little tiled picture of Our Lady of the Woods, found in 1621 at Galloro, marked the site of an older church built there in her honor and long since ruined, probably by one of the periodic invasions by foreign troops.
The tile was discovered by a small boy named Santi Bevilacqua, who was an orphan and lived with his uncle at L’Ariccia. Santi had been sent to watch the sheep, and was in the nearby brambles picking berries when he saw a low stone wall half-hidden in the brush and decided to investigate. He followed the wall and at one point fell into the brambles. When he picked himself up, he saw a picture of the Madonna painted on the wall. Being a pious child, he knelt and said a prayer; then, the following day he returned with a bouquet of flowers.
Soon a number of his friends were coming with him to the Madonna in the woods. They brought flowers and sang hymns as they went along. This did not impress the neighbors, who feared for their fruit with so many children passing by. Finally, the children set about making a path that would let them into the brambles by an easier way, and in the course of their construction unwisely set fire to the brush. Quite a fire ensued and they were forbidden to go into the brush or into the woods to play.
Sometime after this Santi was playing in his carpenter shop and fell asleep in a corner near a pile of lumber. The lumber fell on him as he slept and he awoke only in time to cry out to the Madonna of the Woods to save him. His frightened uncle, unpiling the lumber, discovered the boy unhurt and demanded to know who had saved him. The boy told him again about the Madonna at Galloro. The uncle made inquiries, and found that there was indeed a wall there which had once formed part of a church. There was an attractive little tile on one side of it, showing the Madonna. He set about rebuilding the church.
Research revealed that the tile had been painted by a monk of Grotto Ferrata and that the church had been a pious venture of a good woman. There had been a dispute of the ownership of the land, and the church was abandoned. The years had converted the site into a wilderness again.
Santi’s uncle with great perseverance and with the help of the Madonna, got the funds together and started rebuilding the church. Others helped, and in time a chapel was built to Our Lady of the Woods, and also a home for priests. Santi went there to live, so that he could serve Masses at the shrine.
By 1633, there were fifteen Masses said daily, and the pilgrims were coming in such droves to see Our Lady of the Woods that a fine new church had to be built. The site was nearby but it required the moving of the picture, which was set into the stone wall. It took much skill and prayer to move the picture without damage, but it was finally accomplished by a devout group of workmen, chanting litanies as they worked.
Plague and cholera both passed by Galloro when people prayed at the shrine of Our Lady. These and other miracles endeared her to the people, and it is still a place of pilgrimage, Our Lady of the Woods.
*from The Woman in Orbit
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