It is one of the first Marian apparitions in Europe after centuries of religious turmoil and struggle, and since then the people, rich and poor, old and young, have sought and found in this place divine help during persecutions, foreign occupations and personal trials of all types. But its peculiarity lies more in the fact that Mary Most Holy addressed her message to non-Catholic Christians.
It was Grand Duke Jogaila in 1387 when he married the queen of the neighboring Poland and his successors to spread the Christian faith in their territory, which until then was pagan. They established the ecclesiastical hierarchy, built churches and even taught catechism to their subjects.
A Marian church was built in 1457 in honor of Our Lady in Šiluva. In the sixteenth century, a Lutheran pastor complained that members of his flock traveled to Šiluva to participate in the Catholic feast with the indulgences of the Nativity of Mary. In fact, the Protestant reform, proclaimed by Martin Luther in 1517, hit Lithuania quickly and strongly, starting with the nobility. From 1532, the owner of the Šiluva church became a Lutheran. In the decades that followed, many Catholic churches were confiscated and closed.
During this time a parish priest in Šiluva buried an iron chest with documents concerning the foundation of the temple and sacred articles before it was completely demolished. Many simple farmers kept their Catholic beliefs but could not practice that faith.
The Protestant reform began to lose strength in Lithuania around the beginning of the seventeenth century: on the one hand, the local Calvinists had turned towards Arianism, which denies the divinity of Jesus Christ, an extremism unacceptable for many nobles; on the other hand, Jesuits began to arrive in the region and Catholics began to struggle to recover their lost churches. But what most rekindled the faith was the apparition of Mary, Most Holy in Šiluva.
The year was 1608. The oldest record left to us, written in 1651, describes the event in this way. Some young shepherds were grazing the flock in the territory of the ancient temple. On top of a large stone in the field, they saw a young woman with flowing hair, holding a baby in her arms and crying sadly.
One of the children ran to tell the Calvinist catechist of Šiluva what they had seen. The catechist, together with the rector of the Calvinist seminary, came to the place, saw the young woman, and asked her: “Young woman, why are you crying? “.
The girl replied: “I cry because people used to worship My Son in this place, but now they plow and sow.” Then she disappeared.
The news of the apparition spread quickly. The bishop sent one of his legates to investigate. The only man who knew where the iron chest was buried was now old and blind. When they took him to the field where stone Mary appeared, he miraculously recovered his sight and was able to locate where the chest was buried with documents and other valuable things.
Thanks to these documents, the Catholic Church won a legal process to recover its land in Šiluva. A chapel was built on the apparition stone and a church was erected nearby on the site of the original 15th century temple. The new church of Šiluva immediately attracted crowds by the thousands, which was quite unexpected in an area predominantly Protestant.
According to historical accounts written at that time, it had a reputation for a place of special graces and miracles, where people became more devoted Christians. Within a few years, the church had to be enlarged. Pope Paul VI gave it the title of minor basilica in 1974.
The current chapel of Our Lady, Health of the Sick rises above the apparition rock with the shape of a 44 meters high tower. Its construction dates back to the early twentieth century to commemorate the third centenary of the apparition, and was completed after the First World War, in 1924. The decoration of the chapel, however, was completed only in 1999, having been blocked for decades by the Soviet religious persecution.
The painting of Mary and the Child Jesus which is placed above the high altar of the time was, until recently, considered a remnant of the fifteenth century church which was hidden in the iron chest with legal documents, and rediscovered with these documents in the place of the apparition of 1608.
It is a copy of the icon Salus Populi Romani, which is venerated in the Basilica of Saint Mary Major in Rome, the oldest western church dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
In 1775 the Holy See granted permission to solemnly crown Mary and Jesus in the miraculous image of Šiluva.
In 1886, a crowd of 40,000 people attended the centenary of the coronation. People came despite Tsarist Russia’s efforts to close access to the shrine. Russia had annexed Lithuania in 1796. Even during the communist period, the authorities closed the roads leading to the city, forbade the means of transportation to bring people to that place, spread rumors of dangerous epidemics in that area, and even sent people into exile or to prison for participating at religious processions. But there were always people who dared to come to the shrine, whatever the obstacles or consequences might be.
Among the apparitions of Our Lady, that of Šiluva stands out not only for its antiquity, according to Mgr. Tamkevičius, but also because it is perhaps the only time when Our Lady has addressed her message to non-Catholic Christians, which is a made with theological and ecumenical meaning. The apparition shows that the Mother of the Redeemer cares about each one, since Jesus died on the cross not only for Catholics, but for all men. 450 miracles and spiritual favors were received by the pilgrims.
What most strikes Msgr. Tamkevičius are the constant queues at the confessionals in Šiluva, and the extraordinary sincerity with which people confess their sins and reconcile with God.
In Šiluva, he says,
” .. souls rekindle their piety again and decide with Mary’s help to put all aspects of their spiritual life in order.”
The sanctuary has seen an increased flow of pilgrims, especially on the feast days of the Blessed Virgin and on the 13th of each month – which since 1981 has been called “Mary’s day”
Pope St. John Paul II prayed in the temple of the humble village of Šiluva in 1993, two years after the Baltic nations recovered independence.
In 2006 Benedict XVI blessed new gold crowns for a miraculous image of Mary and Jesus in Šiluva.
Sito Ufficiale: www.siluva.lt;