Saint Michael’s cave in Cagnano Varano
Saint Michael’s cave in Cagnano Varano is situated in the north of Gargano (Apulia), at least 1 km from the southern seashore of the Varano’s lake and approximately 28 km from San Giovanni Rotondo. From the point of view there is the very interesting part on naturalistic, historical and religious. From the tradition it might have been visited even by Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Pius from Pietralcina. Today it is a destination of tourism and religious pilgrimage: in fact, many visitors come everywhere from naturalistic and religious interests.
Inhabitant since the Palaeolithic, as vouched for the report and other rests was recovered; the cave was haunted even in the age of the Neolithic and Classic. The cave used to the Archangel Saint Michael’s cult in the medieval era, but before was abode of other Pagan cult, it presumed, they left to trace even right now. The low relieve of a snake squat on an ancient Monolithic other reports in fact, a pre-existent Longobardo cult, the plant, the site the altars and the frescos rupestrian send to cults Pre-Christians: Mazdaic and Mitriac, Romans and Paleo-Christians.
The cavern is a hollow of nature karsts 52 metres long, from 6 to 15.60 metres wide and from 3 to 7.2 metres height. The entrance is exposed to the south and prospect on the Saint Michael’s channel and on the Angel’s hill.
You can reach to the cave crossing the sill of a gate, at the peak of the cave is positioned a niche who guesses Saint Michael’s statue. This statue has been substituted one of the most ancient and the original making; it has been stolen, in dated 1631 by Petranzeri.
After you pass through a brief avenue followed from the flower bed and from a smelly oleanders, it reaches to the square opposite the cave, it adorns from a green and stitch hedge, nearby to whom you can see a well-reservoir and a bell tower called hermits of the prayer.
In front of the church-cave is founded in a major part of the block of rocks from the grey colour, on whom to pick green branch of prickly pear, and from the smooth wall plastered of white, remade recently. The entrance is protected from a wrought-iron gate, new manufactured, interested by the Comunità Montana del Gargano. This gate was gone to substitute the 1932 and the wooden door dated in 1898.
Inside the cave reigns a deepest silence and a low dim light product from the lights and some candle lighted by the devotes. To come out clearly to the visitor’s eyes the beauties of the cavern, constitute from the phenomenon of Karstism, from the similar wall to the natural frescos, from the spectacular shapes and changing. In the nearest of the entrance it plucked the varies shading off green, while the walls less exposed to the light of the sun, decorate it from niches, they are marked from grey and from the white calcareous rock. From the vault it hangs down the white stalactites.
The flooring is constituted by the different stone rectangular shapes. On them it comes out here and there stalagmites and engraving by hand and feet, left from the believers before they go to the war or to return in a difficult mission.
On your left of the entrance door you can find a small vestry and a holy water basin on octagonal shape. Inside of the vestry, on the front of the old altar plastered of white is effigied a reptile squat. His presence left to suppose the frequent time made by the Longobardi cult populations practising in the cave and they didn’t miss it in that zone. There is a conformation karsts behind the basin mentioned to the motivo del toro (the reason bull) present in the legend of the Archangel’s Saint Michael. Always in front on the left wall there is another interesting congregation calcareous represents Saint Michael’s wing.
At the end, at the centre is situated the major altar, over hanged by a marble urn with 4 columns even in marbles, by the capital decorates who stores the Archangel’s statue, a faithful copy who venerates in Monte Sant’Angelo. The sculpture shows a teenager saint, with wing, who wears a short tunic of Longobardo’s style, the boots and the overall or mantle descent from the back. The right arm that holds the sword is bended behind of his head and the weapon seems to intimidate the demon, dragon, snake, tied with a chain to the left foot of the Archangel who tramples down the evil symbol. The expression of the Saint was very calm; on his head holds a crown with a cross on the top, a long curly hair has he got from the head to the shoulder. On his left arm there is a little shield with a script: Qui ut dues? The aspect of the demon looks like the animal from the pointed ears, the open mouth with the long teeth, while his forehead has deepest of wrinkles.
In front of the altar there is a baluster. At the two sides of its was parallel and frontal until the year 2000 with two long seats in stones, today it is only one, this is situated at the right of the major altar: the other one was taken away, maybe for more space in it.
Behind the altar, some stairs were excavated in the calcareous rock to access the visitor in a deepest part and in the most darkness of the hole; the vault is marked from the myriad of stalactite. In this location it came again the puddle and the basin of Saint Lucy, an interesting basin full of water, originated from the continuous stillicide, it kept for the eye miraculous. The believers in fact, they touch the water with the fingers and they wet it on their eyes.
On your right of the entrance, some meters of a hall, there is a Saint Rafael’s altar, with a niche who store the statuary complex, constitute from the statue of the Saint, 80 centimetres height, with a bar on his hand, in the act to beat the symbol of the evil and a dog, a sign of the fidelity.
On your left wall near the altar’s major, is the altar of the Annunciation, more modest, that represent the statue of Our Lady almost 70 centimetres height, and a small corner on your left back.
On the right wall and the frontal of the cavern you can see painting on the rock in unknown epical: To the right it exists the frescos of Four Evangelists, (almost illegible), from three halo personating (the Christ, at the centre from the interesting red tunic to put in commas from the fish scale, next to maybe from the proto martyr of Cagnano, Saint Stephen, and another monk who hold the book, maybe Pacomio a Brazilian monk to whom you can read the script) and the frescos of Our Lady with a child, probably the epical Paleo-Christian, as it vouched the red mantle, an omega and other Christ grams. Almost the frontal is represented the Crucifix.
From the month of May 2002 nearby the higher altar the believers’ red very impressed in the rock of the calcareous cave the effigy of Saint Pius of Pietralcina. In fact, it looks not very new when the Second World War conflict this cave was chosen already by the Father Pius.
According to the Cagnanese tradition, the Archangel is passed to the cave of Cagnano after being escaped from Saint Mark, because the Saint hasn’t been well received, and before to go to Monte Sant’ Angelo he definitely fixed his abode.
The three locations mentioned from the Cagnanese oral tradition, they have a thorough historical truth, subtending the existence relations between the three locations. We remember in 969 the feud of Cagnano was conceded in benefit to Saint Michael Sanctuary in Monte Sant’Angelo; in the XI centaury, when the Normans replaced the Longobardi and the Byzantiums, Cagnano was up feuded by the monastery of San Giovanni de Lama (nowadays Saint Matthew in San Marco in Lamis territory), and in XII century Saint Matthew’s monastery Cagnano and other hamlets or feuds was included in honour of Monte Sant’Angelo. It thinks therefore, the news could be in a natural spreading even in Cagnano and the rest of the other Garganici towns, the cult of Archangel Saint Michael is well rooted and productized in a small town of Monte Sant’Angelo.
Probably in XI century the Saint Michael’s cave in Cagnano Varano has been already set to the micaelico cult, as it left to suppose the subpoena in a Chartula offertionis, signed in Devia in 1054. It knows for sure in 1678 the church of Saint Michael comes to remember the visited of the archbishop V.M. Orsini.
The legend wants that near the right wall of the Cagnano’s cave the Archangel has left trace of his horse and on the left wall may leave to recall the trace of his wings. It hands down moreover while he continued his voyage to Monte Sant’Angelo, he has stopped in a location well known the name of Fontana di San Michele (Saint Michael’s fountain), in where there is a water rising at the surroundings of the historical centre of Cagnano. The tradition wants the Saint tired and thirsty has searched the relief in the zone:
He kneed, he posed his hands on the floor to get close with the mouth as for searching the water, when suddenly the waters really gushed out from the rock fresh water and pure.
So it was born the spring water exactly “La Fontana di San Michele”, a fountain for centuries quenched the Cagnanese populations.
More ahead, pursuing his way to Monte Sant’Angelo, the Archangel went in a bush, where he succeeded another miracle; he transformed a puddle into a pond, denominated exactly: Piscina di San Michele (Saint Michael’s pond).
Here and there at the town, but even in the farm’s districts the shepherds placed the Saint Michael’s statue in order that he protected their flocks, persistently from the fears of the plague.
Every year the 8th of May and the 29th of September falls even today the anniversary of Saint Michael. The two dates are significant for the religious reason and for the economical and cultural reason. They were merged to the transhumance since from the ancient time was practised in the Gargano and from the epical of the Aragonese becoming compulsory. The 29th September the flocks came down from the mountain and earned the plain land for spending the chilled days in autumn and winter time, the 8th of May, the flocks climbed up through the mountain, to make sure to graze for a whole year. In these dates different towns merged for the economy of the agriculture-pastoral decided to initiate the cattle-fair including Cagnano Varano in the 8th until 10th of May to celebrate even the events of festivity of its patron Saints. Saint Michael for the will of the decurionate and the Saint Cataldo’s fraternity in the half of XIX century and become a co protector the Cagnano population together with Saint Cataldo.