History of the Sanctuary
On the first Sunday of September 1465, Maria, a 13-year-old girl from Garlasco, was leading her flock to pasture; she was deaf-and-dumb, and she was resigned to her state, that she accepted as God’s project on her life.
Suddenly, the sky turned dark as a storm was coming near. Maria tried to take shelter under the small roof of a niche with a fresco depicting the Virgin Mary, a votive offering of the painter Agostino from Pavia, who had escaped drowning in the Ticino river.
At that time, the river flew a few metres away from where Maria was; there were also many hawthorn - in Italian “biancospino” – bushes, called “buslà” in Garlasco dialect: for this reason the place was known as “Bozzola”.
Suddenly, a big light appeared: it was the Virgin Mary that entrusted Maria with a mission: “Maria, go and tell Garlasco people that I would like them to build a Sanctuary here, as a protection for the whole Lomellina (the Vigevano and Garlasco area, translator’s note). Many will be the graces that I will grant in this place, and my children shall experience the treasures of my Mercy”.
Maria went back to Garlasco: no more deaf-and-dumb, she told everyone about the apparition and the message she had received, and she was immediately believed by her fellow-citizens.
Since then, Maria was named Maria Benedetta (Mary the Blessed), for the miracle that the Virgin Mary had made on her. There are no precise pieces of information about the following years of Maria’s life: it seems that the Garlasco’s parish priest took care of her, and she entered a cloister between Alagna and Tromello, two villages at a small distance from Garlasco.
At that period, a small church (corresponding to the current presbytery) was built in the place chosen by the Virgin Mary.
In 1600 the church was enlarged.
In 1662 the bell-tower was built.
In 1702 works for the octagonal dome were started.
In 1860 the main aisle was lengthened, the right and left arms were added and the inside of the sanctuary was completed: it is a Doric order Greek cross with an octagonal dome, with a lantern.
In 1890 the building of the façade was begun, after a drawing of Mr. Marietti; later, it was knocked down, and built a second time after a project of Mr. Nava, an engineer from Milano, and decorated with statues of pottery by Mr. Provini (Milano) and Mr. Repellini (Cremona).
Two cement statues, representing Faith and Hope, made by the Rossi Speluzzi factory, Milan, were set on two granite bases.
In 1927, three coat-of-arms (Bishop Giacinto Scapardini’s, Saint Peter’s Basilica’s and Garlasco municipality’s) were placed on the façade, with a decoration made by Mr. Emilio Tornagli, Milan.
In the first decades of the last century the painters Mr. Emilio Tornagli, Mr. Giovanni Panzarasa, Mr. Galli and Mr. Mazzocchi finished the inner decoration of the Sanctuary, with contributions by Mr Biagio Canevari and Mr. Giovanni Battista Garberini, who took charge of the frescoes; the flooring was completed, and the Sanctuary got more and more adorned by the gifts devotees brought.
In 1927, the Sanctuary was given the title of “Basilica”; in 1954, a fountain was built in the middle of the large square in front of the church.
On September 8, 1931, Monsignor Scapardini, Bishop of Vigevano, with a special authorization from the Vatican, laid two gold crowns on the Virgin Mary’s and Jesus’s heads of the wooden simulacrum.
In 1990 Monsignor Giovanni Locatelli, Bishop of Vigevano, entrusted the present Rector of the Madonna della Bozzola Sanctuary, Father Gregorio Vitali, of the Holy Family Congregation, Bergamo, with the task of managing the restoration of the Sanctuary.
First of all, the roofs and the outer structures were refurbished; later, the church courtyard and the inner structures (including the frescoes) were completely restored.
On April 25, 1991, during a pastoral visit, Monsignor Giovanni Locatelli blessed the group of statues behind the high altar, comprising the statue of the seer, Maria Benedetta, and the one of the Virgin Mary, both made of bronze and finely decorated.
In the following years, two altar-pieces were added: the former depicting the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Virgin Mary, the Apostles, Monsignor Giovanni Locatelli, Pope John Paul II and ordinary people; the latter represents Mary pleading with Jesus and His Divine Mercy for the pilgrims’ needs.
Another important project nearing completion is the ex-voto gallery: along with the votive offerings, two groups of statues, dating back to the 18th century, shall soon be placed; the former represents Christ’s Nativity and the latter people crying, in local dialect so called “Karagnon”, over Christ’s dead body.
In the 90s, Father Gregorio Vitali, the Rector of the Sanctuary, started a youth prayer group, “Apostoli e Servi di Maria” (Apostles and Servants of Mary); its members not only devote themselves to choir and liturgical services but also take care of managing the Sanctuary facilities and Café. In its tasks, this youth group is supported by many adult and elderly people, especially as regards the organization of the “Settembre Bozzolese” festival and of the Easter fair.
In 2003, the “Comunità Emmanuel” (Emmanuel Community) was born: lead by Father Gregorio and Mr. Roberto Mandrini, it is a recovery centre for young people with addiction problems, who are given, in the Sanctuary area, a chance to start a new life, supported by many volunteers.
As for liturgical services, it is important to mention the Holy Mass on Wednesdays at 08.45 p.m.; this evening service is followed by the exposure of the Blessed Sacrament and by a Prayer for the Sick and for everyone needing relief from the troubles of everyday life; moreover, every first Sunday of the month, the afternoon Mass is followed by a special blessing for the couples experiencing difficulties in having children.
Thanks God the Sanctuary is now experiencing a lively and fruitful period showing that Lomellina area is not only famous for fog, frogs, rice and mosquitoes but also for this Sanctuary, where people can meet God and be blessed by Him through Virgin Mary’s intercession.