A sanctuary already famous for a known apparition of Our Lady of the Boat (June 24), it becomes well known again for a second and this time the protagonists are a friar and … the Holy Family. The Virgin appeared riding on a donkey with St. Joseph accompanying her.
In Chioggia, the Capuchin Franciscans are the custodians of the Sanctuary of the Our Lady of the Boat (Madonna della Navicella), entrusted to them on October 17, 1957. It was rebuilt after about a century and a half after the disappearance of the ancient homonymous sanctuary. The latter had been raised on the Lido of Chioggia (and for this reason it was called the sanctuary of Marina), where, according to tradition, on June 24, 1508 the Blessed Virgin appeared to a vegetable farmer to ask the inhabitants for repentance and conversion. The news had spread rapidly, and already on July 8 Marin Sanudo reported the fact in his famous diaries and added that “the zente [who] was going was invaluable” to pray in the wooden chapel built on the site. The chapel was later replaced by a true Marian sanctuary.
The Capuchins also felt very fond of that sanctuary, because one of its altars was dedicated to the Our Lady of the Donkey (Madonna dell’Asinello). A devotion linked to the name of fra. Adam from Rovigo. Friar Adam was a religious highly esteemed for holiness of life and mystical gifts. On July 5, 1615, after spending the whole night in prayer, at the first dawn he had the vision of the Holy Family, who presented themselves to him as is usually depicted in the flight to Egypt, with the Virgin sitting on a donkey carrying the Baby in her arms, while St. Joseph led the mount towards … the sanctuary of Our Lady of the Boat.
“… During a procession directed to the ancient temple of Our Lady of the Boat and led by Fra Paolo Barbieri, founder of the Confraternity of Most Holy Crucifix or of the Discipline (SS. Crocifisso o della Disciplina), the friar Adam saw from the window of the convent of Saint Anthony or Ca’ di Dio [House of God] (now home of the “Zarlino” middle school) the Holy family in procession from the opposite side of the long bridge or Priuli bridge, which crosses the canal of the Cava. The Virgin was holding the Holy Child in Her arms and riding a donkey led by St. Joseph and with three angels around them taking the lead in the procession and all singing praises to Mary.”
This prodigious fact is mentioned in the Annals of the Capuchins of the Venetian province, in the Acts of Bishop Milotti and by Fathers Contarini and Vianelli. The news of the facts of the apparition was spread around the city. The bishop established the feast on the first Sunday of July and it was celebrated by the confreres of the Oratory of the Most Holy Trinity with a procession, in which the simulacrum of the Virgin was brought in processione, as it appeared to Fra Adamo. Bishop Milotti died on November 1st 1618.
Subsequently, during the famous plague of 1630-1631, they turned to heaven to implore the cessation of the scourge, they vowed to erect an altar in the sanctuary of Our Lady of the Boat another altar dedicated specially to Our Lady of the Donkey. Things went well and the vow was kept.
But at the end of the eighteenth century everything changed radically. On March 29, 1799, Austria believed it had to transform that sacred building, by the sea, into a military fortress. The sacred image which was venerated there was transported to the church of Saint Francis outside the walls. Finally, with the suppression of the religious of 1806, it passed to the church of St. James, in the center of the city.
Only a century and a half later, the reconstruction of the displaced sanctuary was thought of. It was precisely a Capuchin bishop, Msgr. Giovanni Giacinto Ambrosi, who on January 1, 1944, in the darkest period of the war, committed himself with a solemn vow that, if the city had been spared from the conflict, the temple of Our Lady of the Boat will be rebuilt. The city emerged unscathed from the war and the bishop, on March 13, 1952, solemnly blessed and laid the first stone himself.
In 1957 the care of the new sanctuary “Blessed Virgin of the Boat” (Beata Vergine della Navicella) and of the new annexed parish (of the populous “Borgo Madonna”, which rose almost from nowhere after the world war), were entrusted to the Capuchins.