Around the year 490, a lord of the Gargano was searching for one of his prize bulls. He almost gave up, judging the bull was helplessly lost, when he spotted him in a cave, kneeling. The cave was high above the lord, and hopelessly inaccessible. The bull would never be able to get out; so, as a gesture of mercy, the lord shot an arrow toward the bull to put the animal out of its misery. The arrow changed its course in mid-flight, like a boomerang, and struck the lord.
The lord went to the local bishop, declaring what had happened. The bishop immediately instituted three days of fasting and prayer to be done outside of the Cave, as he was not sure if it was a Heavenly inspired occurrence, or from the other place. While the bishop, his priests, and the lord were on the Gargano, praying at the mouth of the cave, St. Michael appeared to the bishop, and declared:
"I am the Archangel Michael, and am always in the presence of the Lord. This cave is sacred to me; it is of my choosing. There will be no more shedding of bull's blood. Where the rocks open widely, the sins of man may be pardoned. That which is asked here in prayer will be granted. Therefore, go up the mountain and dedicate the grotto to Christian worship."
The bishop apparently was not convinced that the apparition was truly the Prince of the Heavenly Hosts, or he could not have hesitated in obeying the command. The bishop hesitated with "should I, shouldn't I," for two years!
The nearby town of Siponto was being invaded by pagan hordes. It was certain that the town would be defeated. Gargano was right in the path of the invaders. If Siponto fell, it was pretty definite that Gargano would go, also. The bishop asked for a three day truce for prayer.
During this time, St. Michael appeared to the bishop, again. He promised, if the people would attack the enemy believing victory would be theirs, walking in faith, he, Michael, would lead them to victory. The townspeople advanced boldly. A sand storm assailed and whipped the enemy, blinding them; huge pellets of hale joined in, pummeling them relentlessly. Terrorized, they retreated from Siponto, leaving the area forever.
The bishop climbed up the mountain to the cave. He did not come down for a long time. He seemed to be agonizing. He did not enter the cave, but instead prayed outside, at the mouth of the cave . When he came down, the bishop still did not have a church built there, where the faithful could worship. We don't know what caused the bishop to hesitate this second time.
There was an anguish that didn't leave him, a gnawing inside of him, eating at him. The cave and the Archangel's words were constantly on his mind. His spirit was being wrenched by a tug-of-war. He was being pulled in opposite directions. He knew he should be honoring the Angel's request. In his heart, he knew it was truly St. Michael who had appeared to him both times. But, in his head? Well, something or someone was holding him back.
The following year, as the anniversary of the apparition drew near, the bishop appealed to the Pope for guidance and direction. The Pope ordered the bishop to go to the cave, with other bishops and priests from the area, for three days of prayer and fasting. He was to ask the Lord for discernment, and the Angel for help. The bishop prayed outside the cave, at the mouth of the cave, again not inside. During this time, Michael appeared to the bishop, a third time. He ordered the bishop to enter the cave:
"It is not necessary that you dedicate this church that I myself have consecrated with my presence. Enter and under my assistance, raise prayer and celebrate the Sacrifice of the Mass. I will show you how I myself have consecrated that place."
The bishop finally did as the Archangel Michael dictated. When he entered the cave, he found a splendid altar covered with a red cloth and a crystal cross upon it, as the Archangel had foretold. At the entrance was the imprint of a child's foot, confirming the presence of the Archangel.
A structure, which appears to be a church, was built over the cave. From the street level, one can see towers, and arches, and bells. Actually, it's only a facade. Pilgrims have to walk down 86 steps to the cave, which is the church. It was set up as a church, with an altar rail, pews, and side chapels. Over the years, an Episcopal (bishop's) chair was carved out of a huge block of stone and placed at the side of the altar. Chapels were hewn lovingly out of local stone and placed in the cave. It was even raised to the level of a Basilica! It is known as the "Celestial Basilica"; maybe because the church has never been consecrated by a bishop (nor have any relics been placed in the altar stone). It has been consecrated by the presence of Michael, himself.
The Cave of St. Michael immediately became a famous Shrine for pilgrimages. At one point in the Middle Ages, there were four major Catholic Shrines in the world. They were called: Deus (or God) for the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem; Apostoli, for the tombs of the Apostles in Rome; Sanctus, for the Shrine to St. James, called Santiago de Compostela, in Spain, and Angelus, for the Cave of St. Michael, in the Gargano in Italy.
The history of the Shrine is not only most unusual, but also a great tribute to, and affirmation of, the power our Lord Jesus has given to His Angels, especially His Prince of the Heavenly Hosts. Michael has protected the Shrine from the earliest days. It really gets interesting, as we go down through the ages. The whole world was constantly either attacking or under attack, being conquered by this one and that one. Italy was occupied by many foreign invaders."