The Sanctuary of Monte Sant’Angelo

Welcome to the last instalment of our Gargano adventure. We’ve told you about discovering the wilderness of Foresta Umbra, learning the secrets of organic farming and wandering the streets of lovely Vico del Gargano. Now, follow us in the exploration of a mystical place; St Michael’s sanctuary in Monte Sant’Angelo.

Where is Monte Sant’Angelo?

Monte Sant’Angelo is a Gargano hilltop town, perched over a view of hills and forests and the Adriatic Sea. At first glance, it looks like just another town. It’s bigger than Vico del Gargano, and it has touristy feeling, with souvenir shops and tourist menus.

It’s lovely to wander around its streets for a little, wander the alleyways with the characteristc lined-up white houses, sit at one of many lookouts, taking in the view. However, this isn’t the reason why people come to Monte Sant’Angelo.

Puglia Monte Sant'Angelo view
A view of Monte Sant’Angelo, see the lined-up houses?

The Sanctuary of Monte Sant’Angelo

The Sanctuary is the main reason to visit. St Michael’s Sanctuary, an underground cave church housing a footprint of the Archangel Saint, is the destination of about 2 million pilgrims a year. The Church has a history that spans back fifteen centuries, from the days of the fall of the Roman Empire.

Tower Street Monte Sant'Angelo
The Sanctuary tower at the end of the road

The legend says that the place was chosen by the Archangel Michael, who appeared several times during the year 490 AD to a local bishop near a cave. The Archangel asked that cave be dedicated to him, and promised to protect the Lombard-ruled area from pagan invaders. Indeed, two centuries later, the Archangel appeared with a flaming sword in hand, allowing the Lombards to repel a Greek invasion.

Over the centuries, a sanctuary has been built around the cave-church. Christians and pagans, Swabians and Normans, Byzantines and Lombards have prayed in the church, have made pilgrimage to the cave, walking thousands of kilometers to pay homage to the Archangel Saint. This is the South Eastern stretch of the Via Francigena, the pilgrim’s path that joined Rome to Canterbury and Santiago de Compostela, and continued southwards to the Apulian post of Santa Maria di Leuca, where ships would set sail, bound for the Holy Land.

Pilgrimage to the Sanctuary

Monte Sant'Angelo church ss trinità
Another church in Monte Sant’Angelo – The Church of the Holy Trinity

If walls could talk, is often said. Here it is indeed true. The walls are engraved with the names, handprints and footprints of centuries of pilgrims. I have been a pilgrim to Santiago, and felt, for an instant, a sense of belongingness. The sense of joy, the intense elation at having reached your destination. I cried with happiness when I set foot into Praça do Obradoiro in Santiago de Compostela, after 45 days on the Camino.

When we visited, the church was packed with pilgrims, many of them old and unsteady on their legs, some of whom had come from far away. The sanctuary is full of ex voto, silver engravings and paintings offered to St Michael as thanks for having been saved from an illness or an accident.

Monte Sant'Angelo Blue Door
Another lovely corner of the village

Visiting the Sanctuary of Monte Sant’Angelo doesn’t take long. If you speak Italian and fancy knowing more about the legend of the place, I highly recommend taking a guided tour with Enrico, the resident guide. The tour costs €3 and includes a visit to the crypts.

Enrico came from Genova, and his life was changed during a pilgrimage to Monte Sant’Angelo. This is where he felt he belonged, and decided to move there. Showing us runic script engravings on the church wall, he told us of the relation between St Michael and Odin, the main Northern god. The Lombards modelled the identity of St Michael on Odin, who welcomed the dead to Valhalla; St Michael ferried souls to Heaven.

Monte Sant'Angelo Green Doors
Wandering around Monte Sant’Angelo

We learnt of the ley lines, streams of underground energy along which many of Romanesque and Gothic cathedrals as well as Pagan places of worship were built. The St Michael ley line joins all the main Michaelic churches and sanctuary, from Ireland to Cornwall to Brittany, to the Alps, Gargano and finishing in the Holy Land.

One may not believe in God, or in the Church. I have been debating that myself for decades now. Energy will reveal itself to those who want to listen and feel. Monte Sant’Angelo is a place unlike many others. It is a place where the lives and hopes of many have crossed. Where some were changed, others – like Enrico – received a calling. If you listen to the walls, perhaps they will tell you a story.

Note: We decided to respect the privacy of pilgrims and the Sanctuary guidelines by not taking pictures inside. 

Linked to Sunday Traveler




37 thoughts on “The Sanctuary of Monte Sant’Angelo”

  1. I went to the Gargano few years ago but didn’t actually go to Monte Sant’Angelo. It looks like I missed a nice place, I have to go back and take Dale this time. Thanks for sharing!

    • Hey Franca, you should visit Monte, it was a really magical place. I’m not particularly religious, but there was something…

  2. That first shot in the post is really beautiful with those ancient stone buildings and the light blue sky as a backdrop.

    There is something special about places like Monte Sant’Angelo, where so many people have specifically traveled to the spot over the centuries due to their faith and dedication. I remember seeing the outpouring of emotion that you experienced in Santiago when I was there and it is quite remarkable to witness.

    I’m sad that this is the last Gargano post – I’ve really been enjoying the visit to this part of Italy!

    • hey Dave, I’m glad you liked the series. It was great to visit the area and I’m happy I was able to convey a little bit of magic through my posts. Thanks!

  3. Neat! I hadn’t heard of that so thank you for sharing. I love learning about places with stories and history such of this- so interesting!

  4. I love how you keep churning out these amazing hidden gems in the heart of Italy that many of us would probably never think about visiting until they read your posts!

    The guided tour with Enrico of Monte Sant’Angelo sounds worthwhile, it’s always nice to get a locals perspective and really be able to ask some insightful questions on more hidden stories that lie within the walls of this sanctuary.

    • Thanks Chris. There’s so much to see and do in Italy, a whole lifetime of travelling around won’t do justice to it!

  5. Now this is straight up my lane. Legends are kind of my thing, and I’m always learning about new ones every day. I loved the legend, and the photos were awesome. I love that you took the time to capture the details that really bring the character out of a place. This is on my list for sure.

    • Thanks Christa, glad you liked the piece. Monte Sant’Angelo was really fascinating, I loved the tales about it.

    • Thank you for stopping by Jessica. It was amazing to visit the sanctuary, a really magical place.

  6. Wow I have never heard of this place before, but what a stunner! Italy is always surprising me with how much it offers, it’s so much more than Rome/Florence/Venice.

  7. What an interesting place. It’s interesting when you visit a place of worship, whether or not you’re religious, there is a sense of peace, and like you said, a strange energy, that comes with it.

  8. Hi Margherita, thank you for the lovely posts and article. I am inspired to visit too to St. Michael’s cave. Do you have any tips on how to get to St. Michael’s cave if i’ll be coming from Padre Pio Shrine?

    Thanks a lot and God Bless!

    • Hi Rianne! If you don’t have a car, you can either hire a taxi to make things easy (it should cost about 50 euro round trip) or take a local bus. I checked online and two bus companies work the Monte Sant’Angelo-San Giovanni Rotondo route: Ferrovie del Gargano and Gargano Viaggi. Departures are every 4 hours, the best option for you is to ask locally for the most up to date schedules. I hope you have a fab trip!

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