April 5: Our Lady of Divine Providence, Cussanio, Italy
The shrine of Our Lady of Divine Providence, or the Santuario Madonna della Divina Provvidenza, is located in a rural district of the diocese of Fossano, Italy, called Cussanio. According to tradition, in the year 1521 the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to a deaf mute, Bartolomeo Coppa, (sometimes spelled Bartholomew Cup), who had been both deaf and mute since birth. The man was a shepherd who drove cattle to pasture, was said to be of vulgar appearance and stature, and who could always be found dressed in his coarse robe. Not that anyone would look for him, because no one cared about Bartolomeo at all until the 8th of May in 1521, when he saw a great lady dressed in white who approached him with maternal affection. Blessing him, the lady instantly cured Bartolomeo of his disability and gave him a mission. The lady told Bartolomeo to preach penance to the inhabitants of Fossano, and to proclaim the righteousness of God, warning them of a deadly scourge if they did not do penance. The lady then simply vanished.
Bartolomeo went through the streets of the city as a preacher of repentance, calling Christians to leave the path of sin, threatening the chastisement of God. For three days he preached unheeded, until tired and hungry after these days, he dejectedly returned to the scene of the miracle and fell asleep on the open ground.
And it is here that a new prodigy took place. Our Lady, who does not abandon her faithful, appeared to Bartolomeo a second time. No longer dressed in white, she was now attired in blue, and knowing of Bartolomeo's hunger, she brought with her three loaves of fresh bread. When Bartolomeo awoke, the lady gave him the bread and again asked him to preach penance to the people of Fossano before vanishing again.
Bartolomeo took the bread, giving a part to his master and some to those in the neighborhood. Renewed in spirit, he returned to Fossano and reminded them of the Lord's threats, but again he was only ridiculed and not believed.
After just six months, in October of that year, a hideous plague broke out in and around Fossano. There were thousands of victims, death, sadness, and desolation, before they remembered the words of poor Bartolomeo, who had foretold their punishment. They decided to follow his warning, though late, and had recourse to Our Lady and did penance. The plague subsided, and a small chapel was erected at the scene of the apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary which was known as Our Lady of Divine Providence. Over the years this chapel started the awakening of devotion to the mother of God and pilgrimages began to the chapel.
In 1600 the Augustinian Brothers of the Congregation of Genoa came to Cussanio and the friars built the great monastery complex next to the sanctuary. During the French Revolution the convent and church were suppressed and the buildings forcibly abandoned.
Then, in the year 1872, the bishop Emiliano Manacorda, a personal friend of Saint Don Bosco, arrived at the diocese and claimed ownership of the monastery that had been wrongfully confiscated by the state and decided upon the complete renovation of the sanctuary. Work began shortly after 1875 and continued for about twenty years, and included the elevation of the majestic dome and the reconstruction of the entire façade. The nave was extended, two aisles built and the interior was adorned with altars, sculptures and paintings. Two of the paintings, attributed to the painter Giuseppe Barotto, depict the two scenes mentioned above and are now preserved in the church.
James Fitzhenry, roman-catholic-saints.com, Marian Calendar
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