A mysterious image of Mary, together with a mysterious sound of a bell, was found after She appeared in vision to a pious priest indicating the place where it was hidden. The image continued to be clearly visible inside the basement of a fortified tower.
In 1656, a serious plague infested the kingdom of Naples and the cities of Puglia were not spared. Even the charming town of Corato (currently in the province of Bari) counted numerous victims: in vain science appealed to human remedies. The people, disheartened and terrified, resorted instead to their patron saints, and especially to Mary Most Holy.
Meanwhile, the elders knew, by ancient tradition, that in the basement of one of the 25 towers that crowned the town, the one facing south-west, the so-called Greek Tower, there must have been a prodigious image of the Madonna.
Many thought that if, in such a calamity, that icon had been exposed to public worship, the country would have been freed from the terrible scourge.
Many then ran to the Tower, made a hole in it, but only a dark and damp cavern was visible. A pious and learned Priest, Don Francesco Loiodice or Lo Jodice, nicknamed “Saccone”, passing by, seeing so many people gathered, to avoid the spread of the contagious disease, as well as for fear that it would fall into superstitious demonstrations or that some misfortune event might occur, he tried to drive the crowd away, but in vain. Indeed, this, having lit a votive lamp on the brink of the opening they made, began to ask for divine help, invoking the name of the Virgin.
To eliminate any uncertainty, then that priest had the hole enlarged, to allow for the smooth passage of a man. Then, having descended a ladder, equipped with torches, he went down there. Upon entering, he saw no image, except a small window and some traces of an ancient painting, and nothing else.
Once out of that cave, however, he began to experience a strange anxiety. He therefore entrusted himself to prayer and to God, dispenser of all advice and to Our Lady, mother of the Good Counsel.
At dawn on July 17, 1656, while the pious priest was recolled in prayer, he had a vision of the Virgin in the same position with which today is the Holy Icon known as “Santa Maria Greca”. She told him:
“Courage, my beloved, console this afflicted people, since they will be immediately freed from the terrible scourge of the wrath of God, if they dedicate the underground, well known to you in my honor and to my veneration.”
Having said that, the Virgin disappeared, leaving the Priest so much in peace and consolation. In the morning, without delay, he went to Trani, to the present Archbishop, the Spanish Dominican Tommaso Sarria, for advice and also to obtain authorization from him to transform that underground into an oratory open to public worship.
Receiving the required permit, the following day, on July 18, third Saturday of the month, early in the morning, assisted by several workers, he went to the entrance of the basement to clear it of rubble and dirt, to whitewash the walls and level the ground, making it a worthy place of prayer.
Meanwhile, the pious priest, called a painter, was trying to describe the image seen in vision. But these, despite various sketches, could not reproduce the image that appeared.
It was meanwhile around noon when Don Francesco Lo Jodice, with the people gathered there, began to beg the Virgin with the angelic greeting, asking her to complete the work she started.
And so, as a confident prayer rose to Heaven, the melodious and ringing sound of a bell was heard coming from the underground. Another sign accompanied this sign. A poor blind woman present there, a certain Beatrice Dell’Oglio, miraculously opening her blind eyes, and pointing to a painted walnut table that appeared there, began to exclaim: “Here is Mary, here is Mary!”.
At that cry, the priest, shaken by his prayer, recognizing the image appeared, broke out:
“That’s it! That’s it, the image appeared to me in vision”
and several times, with tears in his eyes, he repeated louder
“That’s it!, that’s it!”
As the voice of the prodigy spread, there was a great influx of people praying. From that distant day, in Corato, the plague completely ceased by singular marian grace, while contagion continued in the neighboring cities.
In Andria, in fact, a few kilometers from Corato, the population was reduced to a third, having perished about fourteen thousand people. It was freed only of the plague in January 1657, by a vow made to St. Sebastian martyr.
Thanks to that discovery of that unknown underground place, since then Corato became a center of faith and of numerous pilgrimages. Our Lady under the title of “Santa Maria Greca” which had miraculously appeared painted, has always shown herself, with its many miracles, Mother of all and special Protector of Corato.
The image still appears as it was at the time of its prodigious discovery. Despite many centuries and the humidity existing in the environment (in fact, it is still preserved in the ancient oratory, built in the foundations of the Greek Tower), its colors are still vivid. To those who observe the Icon, Santa Maria Greca appears as a Matron, seated on the clouds, with the Infant Jesus on her knees, surrounded by eight angelic figures, and with the particular Greek pastoral on her right hand.
The shape of the Madonna’s dress appears typically Greek, just as the tunic of the Child Jesus is Greek. The robe of the Madonna is bright red and is fastened to the waist by a belt; the coat is blue. The right foot (the only visible) is provided with a shoe. The head is covered with a veil and is surrounded by a diadem. At the foot of Santa Maria Greca can be seen a bell painted, the melodious sound of which was heard at the time of the discovery of the Image and also in other circumstances, each time varying the hue. Sometimes it was sweet and harmonious, sometimes it was thunderous and gloomy and sometimes it was heard playing with force and clamor, as if it wanted to show a sign of reward or punishment.
Finally, the attribution of the adjective “Greek” is uncertain. For some this would be due to the fact that the Icon had been found in the ancient Greek Tower (so called because, perhaps, dating back, in its foundations, to a work left by the Greeks in the Byzantine era) or to the shape of the dress or still to the pastoral that She holds.
The Mystic Servant of God Luisa Piccarreta di Corrato
The tomb of the mystic Servant of God Luisa Piccarreta is also in the same Church of Santa Maria Greca where there are devotees and parish group dedicated to the mystic.
Official website on Luisa Piccarreta – http://www.luisapiccarretaofficial.org/.
VIDEO DOCUMENTARY ON LUISA PICCARRETA
Sito Ufficiale del Santuario – http://www.santamariagreca.org/.
Tour Virtuale del Santuario – http://www.italiavirtualtour.it/dettaglio.php?id=94127