The Sanctuary of Mary the Mystical Rose
The Fontanelle di Montichiari, situated in the province of Brescia, has become an open-air Sanctuary since 1966. It is the destination of many pilgrims who come from Italy and abroad. At Le Fontanelle the Virgin Mary is venerated under the name of Mystical Rose.
The story tells that on the 17th April 1966, visionary Pierina Gilli was contacted by the Madonna and lead to this location, at the time known as Fonte San Giorgio (Saint George’s Well), after the marian apparition Fonte di Grazia (Well of Grace).
How the Sanctuary looks like
The Sanctuary, as opposed to what one may guess, does not look like a classic worship venue, such as a church: it looks instead like an open amphitheatre with two separate chapels inside of it. The biggest is dedicated to the celebration of the mass, whilst the smaller one contains the Well of Grace, whose water is considered miraculous.
This structure reminds of Lourdes, and as it happens there, many pilgrims come here to practice ritual ablutions and wash away their sins.
One can access the well through the Holy Stairs, which worshippers climb pronouncing one Ave Maria at each step. The steps were built on the exact path followed by the Virgin Mary during her apparition.
Pierina used to keep a diary of her visions; thanks to the diary it was discovered that the visions of the Madonna were preceded by visions of a nun: Maria Crocifissa di Rosa, founder of the Ancelle della Carità (Charity Maids), canonized by Pope Pio XII in 1954.
The apparitions of Suor Maria Crocifissa di Rosa
On the 14th April 1944, shortly after joining the Ancelle della Carità, Pierina contracted meningitis. After a sort of coma, she saw sister Maria Crocifissa di Rosa, who predicted her healing and the future events Pierina will be part of. The apparition occurred on the 17th December, remembrance day of sister Maria Crocifissa di Rosa, who was beatified on the 15th December 1940.
The second apparition of sister Maria Crocifissa di Rosa was on 24th November 1946, after Pierina suffered of an intestinal obstruction. This time -however – sister Maria appeared in company of the Virgin Mary. This was the first of the marian apparitions described in Pierina’s diary.
These are the words of Pierina:
So I saw a beautiful Lady, almost transparent. She was dressed in purple, and a white veil was covering her from head to toe; she had her arms open and I could see three swords piercing her heart.
On the 12th March 1947 Pierina suffered a heart failure, a consequence of a renal colic; in that moment she saw Maria Crocifissa for the third time, this time the saint was alone.
The Madonna appeared a second time on the 24th November 1946, when Pierina was at the Hospital of Montichiari working as a nurse.
According to her, the Virgin mentioned the following words: Prayer, Sacrifice and Penitence.
On the 1st July 1947 there was a third apparition, during a rosary.
On the 13th July 1947 there was a fourth apparition, the most important of all. This time the Madonna appeared with Saint Maria Crocifissa and (the Virgin Mary) called herself Mystical Rose and Mother of the Church. The swords were no longer piercing her breast, but were on the floor instead. One of them was wrapped in a mantle depicting three roses: one was white, one red, one yellow, representing prayer, sacrifice and penitence respectively. These were the actions required to worshippers to redeem themselves from their sins.
The next apparitions happened in the Duomo of Montichiari and then - twenty years afterwards - at Le Fontanelle.
The apparitions at Le Fontanelle
The Madonna appeared again on 17th April 1966 by the spring located at Le Fontanelle. According to Pierina, these were the words of the Virgin:
My Divine Son Jesus is all love. He sent me to make this spring miraculous. As a sign of penitence and purification, kiss the step, stop, give another kiss and go down. Then for the third time again kiss the step and (ensure that) a crucifix is placed here. Those who are ill and all my children will have to ask my Divine Son for forgiveness, before taking or drinking the water (of this spring)... Now your mission is here, among those who are sick and in need.
On the 13th May of the same year, there was another apparition, during which Madonna asked Pierina to call the spring Spring of Grace.
The 8th June 1966 there was a third apparition, followed by a fourth on 6th August 1966 during which Mary asked to create the Global Union of the repairing Communion, recurring every 13 October, adding:
I have chosen this venue of Montichiari because in the children who work the soil there is still humility as in poor Betlem.
What is the position of the Church?
The Catholic Church does not recognise the apparitions at Le Fontanelle, but recognises the marian cult of our city. This has not always been the case. In the past the worship has been negatively addressed by the Diocese of Brescia.
The first communication of the Diocese was in 1968, the worshippers were cautioned as the apparitions were still in a phase of analysis and approval.
This was re-affirmed in a communication sent in 1975 by bishop Mons. Luigi Morstabilini who also asked the worshippers to practice their marian devotion in places other than Le Fontanelle.
The position of Diocese and Church became stronger after an announcement of bishop Bruno Foresti made in 1984:
The Bishop of Brescia, supported by the authority of the Saint Congregation for the Faith Doctrine communicates:
- The so-called apparitions of the Madonna of the Mystical Rose in Montichiari don’t have supporting evidence to be recognised as true;
- The worship of the Mystical Rose is therefore not approved and can’t be practiced nor promoted;
- Anybody promoting – through publications or pilgrimages – this venue does not help, but rather disturbs the Faith, inducing worshippers to act in ways which are contrary to the dispositions of the Church.
These words were re-affirmed in 1997 by the same bishop.
In 2008, the bishop Mons. Luciano Monari reinforces the opposition of the Church against the cult:
In particular, it is explicitly asked to single and groups who so far have directly supported the marian cult at Fontanelle, not to broadcast messages and publications, nor to promote the cult, nor to start activities that could even indirectly induce worshippers to think that the Church has positively modified its judgement about the apparitions and other supernatural phenomena.
On 1st July 2013 Mons. Luciano Monari confirmed the negative opinion of the Churh on the visions of Pierina Gilli, but in this decree there is also the will to norm the marian cult. A sign that the cult (not the apparitions) is effectively recognised, even if still under observation.
Who was Pierina Gilli
Pierina Gilli was born in San Giorgio of Montichiari (BS), on the 3rd August 1911, in a family of farmers. Her father Pancrazio Gilli, died in 1918 as a prisoner in WWI, when little Pierina was only 7. Her mother Rosa Bartoli, had to re-marry to take care of Pierina and her brothers.
Pierina had many jobs before finding her vocation and joining the Ancelle della Carità.
At first she worked as assistant at the council nursery school in Montichiari, then as housekeeper for a priest in Carpenedolo don Giuseppe Brochini and finally as a nurse at the hospital in Desenzano del Garda.
She died on 12th January 1991 in Montichiari.