Saturday, April 28, 2018

"Sono la Vergine della Rivelazione"

Yesterday I came across the pleasant little story of another apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I say "another," because of course there have been many, and you may know much more about them all than I do. I have only learned about Lourdes by watching the movie The Song of Bernadette (look for Vincent Price's great supporting role as a skeptical small town official battling a constant cold), and about Guadalupe by watching Bishop Barron's Catholicism series.

Now we have the story of the Virgin of Revelation. She is said to have appeared to an angry man in Rome on a sunny spring day in 1947, just when he had been studying his Bible in preparation for a speech he wanted to give debunking her. He was an ex-Catholic who had become a Seventh Day Adventist (I know! In Italy?); his talk to his new co-religionists was planned for that afternoon.

On that sunny spring day the man, who had brought his three children with him to enjoy the park, looked up from his absorptions to notice they had gone. In a few minutes he heard their voices in a nearby grotto (I know! Rome is very old and is built on hills near the sea. Who knows what caves and arches and ruins and stonework must lie everywhere to hand? I guess there are also grottoes). The two boys and girl were all kneeling, gazing at something in the little cave, and repeating happily "Beautiful lady, beautiful lady."

At first the man saw nothing unusual but then came a light and everything seemed to recede. He saw a beautiful woman, black-haired, barefoot, dressed in a white robe with a pink sash and a green mantle, that is a long head-veil reaching to the ground. She clasped a gray Bible to her breast and stood on a black cloth, upon which lay broken fragments of a crucifix.

She said "I am the Virgin of Revelation," which flows more musically in Italian -- Sono la Vergine della Rivelazione is carved in the stone archway at the entrance to the grotto. Or at least it is in the old photo of the man, Bruno Cornacchiola, circa 1947, evidently re-converted and testifying to the small crowd there before him. He had been studying that last book of the Bible, Revelation, in order to debunk her in the park that day.

She continued, in what can only seem like a matter-of-fact, Italian mother, eat-your-vegetables tone, "You have been persecuting me. Enough of it now." She instructed him to return to the faith, and to go to the Pope with her own confirmation of the correctness of the dogma of her Assumption, which he, Pius XII, wanted to pronounce, and did pronounce in 1950. "My body could not and did not decay. My Son and the angels took me to heaven." Lastly she requested to have a chapel built at the grotto. 

The tale goes on, to give us the informal papal approval of the apparition, then the building of a chapel and the two "Miracles of the Sun" that occurred there before thousands-strong groups of witnesses, one in 1980(!). We learn of the order of nuns, the Sisters of Divine Revelation, who take their charism from it all and wear green habits in imitation of the Lady's mantle as they pursue their mission of outreach to "this confused generation". The place was named, by St. John Paul II, "St. Mary of the Third Millennium at Tre Fontane [the Three Fountains]." The Tre Fontane refers to a Trappist abbey of that name already present nearby. It is all closeby, in turn, to the site of the beheading of St. Paul two thousand years ago. (Did we mention Rome is old? I know!)

I must admit what first attracted me about this story was the Lady's fashion sense. She is so often shown or imagined in regal lapis blue and blood red. I like the idea of white, green, and pink. It seems so fresh. Do you suppose the day will ever come when the Lady appears to someone in jeans and a top? It seems too irreverent to bear. But on the tilma of Guadalupe does she not wear the garb of a 16th century Aztec woman, complete with the red sash of pregnancy?

As with Guadalupe, and Lourdes, so at Tre Fontane: the Virgin appears in the most desolate places of poverty and even actual filth. The hill of Tepeyac in 1531 -- well, we won't call it essentially the middle of nowhere, but it was a rugged tropical colonial outpost at best, surely. We know from The Song of Bernadette that the grotto of Massabielle was a dump in which to burn hospital waste. Tre Fontane in 1947 served, weirdly, as both a trysting place and a dumping ground for the remains of aborted children. The Lady is no hothouse flower.

It will seem a little twee (wonderful word) but I like to imagine, say if I were writing a story in which the Lady appeared in jeans and a top to a modern person, what that modern person would ask. The only correct question of course is 'what do you wish me to do?' but I think the modern person would think of himself and his dopey private curiosity first. That may be why the Lady confines herself to humble or even distractedly angry people -- unprepared people, who at the crisis at least have the brains to thrust themselves away and ask fearfully about service. The rest of us, the common half-educated types, clean, safe, proud, twee, might ask: what was it like to give birth, really? What did you eat? Did you ever wear jewelry? Did you like the house in Ephesus, -- after? So you were taken up bodily into heaven. Do you miss the dust of Judea on your feet? Are your hands calloused?

Even if you know you are, thankfully, too twee for apparitions, it would be amusing to think you might get a pleasant and undemanding dream on the topic. Last night I dreamed I had to have a tooth pulled, and it required something like a construction crane outside the building, and a suction mechanism. There was no sense of horror, it all simply was. Perhaps the Lady has a tart wit.

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