The history of the sanctuary begins with a “miracle”. The owner of a vineyard had an image of Mary painted on a wall that bordered his property. The image of Our Lady on the throne, however, changed her features: the color of her face and unexplained healings happening.
Corgnate di Bobbio is the name of the pleasant countryside which, just outside Porta Nova, extends to the Dorbida torrent, slightly flowing down towards the Trebbia river. Here, in the second half of the 1400s, stands the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Help (Madonna dell’Aiuto). In this area a certain Adriano Repetino of Belosso, who lives in Bobbio, has a vineyard. The property borders, on one side, facing the public road, with an evident purpose to defend the vineyard from the incursions of passersby, the Adriano builds a protective wall, at the bottom of which, in the direction of Piacenza, adapts a blind window and painted upon it a sacred Image. It depicts Our Lady seated on a stool with the Child Jesus on her knees, who blesses with her right hand, while on the left she holds a bouquet of country flowers. It is the Image that still constitutes the spiritual center of the Shrine.
The author is unknown, but could easily be one of the locals; the image reveals good taste of its author in the choice of colors that pleasantly blend in beautiful harmony. The face of Our Lady is suffused with an admirable serenity, while that of the Child, less impressive, seems to have a slightly frowned air. The whole of the pictorial composition, however, is sufficiently expressive; the seated attitude, widely used in those days, inspires rest and tranquility.
At the beginning of the summer of 1472, this painting by Corgnate was talked about, attracting the attention of the entire town of Bobbio and the neighboring countries. We can only know what has happened in part, from three notarial deeds drawn up by the notary Giovanni da Villori, which have come down to us in a paper transcript, in which “speaks about color changes in the image, followed by a noteworthy devotional movement and from many healings of the infirm”.
With the absence of the Bishop, who died in the spring that year, the Chapter Vicar Pietro Balbi immediately intiates an investigation, with a positive outcome, on the events of Corgnate and asks Adriano Repetino for a piece of the vineyard to build a church there. The donation is made verbally and the construction of the church begins immediately; on August 18 the three notarial deeds are drawn up, for the legal regularization of the donation, and the name given to the sanctuary is: “Church of the Annunciation of Mary”.
At the beginning of the 1600s, the Madonna di Corgnate returned to the limelight with facts that aroused enthusiasm throughout the area around Bobbio. The Bishop of Bobbio, Marcantonio Bellini, is the privileged and responsible witness of what happened in Corgnate, who narrates in his diary:
“June 5: the bishop was told that there was a large rush of people, because, according to rumors collected, today at 3 pm the face of the sacred image was covered with sweat and some had received prodigious healings.”
After the singing of the Vespers and the Lauds in the Cathedral, the Bishop together with the clergy and a multitude of people went to the aforementioned sacred image, which is located outside the city near the church of S. Maria di Corgnate, in a small temple first protected by an iron gate; for the special devotion of the people and for the many graces obtained there, the Image had become famous and popular. As soon as the Bishop arrived, he found a multitude of people there and that many alms and offerings had been made. The Bishop diligently questioned those present and also asked the priest Giuseppe Bertolasio, chaplain of the church. In order to provide temporarily, pending a mature decision, he decreed and ordered to take appropriate information and appointed the deputies described below for the conservation and care of alms. He also established that from now on the image would be called the “Blessed Virgin of Help.”
Miracles multiply, devotion of the faithful grows; the first small church is transformed and becomes the splendid Sanctuary as can be seen today, solemnly consecrated on 13 July 1738. The Madonna dell’Aiuto (Our Lady of Help), was crowned in 1947 with great gratitude for the protection granted to the city during the war, was proclaimed the main Patroness of Bobbio, by unanimous resolution of the City Council. In 1970 Pope Paul VI elevates the Sanctuary of the Madonna dell’Aiuto to Basilica. Pontifical recognition thus places the Sanctuary among the most significant monuments of Marian devotion in Italy.
VIDEO PILGRIMAGE: (auto-subtitle in english is available)**
** To activate auto-subtitle in English – (click to play the video, then click the icon to activate the subtitle -> then click the “Impostazione” or Settings icon () -> after which click the option “Sottotitoli(1) (Subtitle) ” and then select the option “Traduzione automatico (Automatic translation)” and then choose the language you want, for es. “English”)