|Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome
|Santuario de San Miguel del Milagro, Nativitas, Tlaxcala, Mexico
The Prince of the Heavenly Host was sent to miraculously end two horrific plagues on the same date, April 25th, centuries apart. These are the amazing stories behind the Castle of the Angels in Rome and St. Michael’s Well in Tlaxcala, Mexico.
In the year 590, when Saint Gregory the Great was elected pope, Rome and all of Italy was in the midst of a deadly plague. In fact, Pope St. Gregory was elected because his predecessor, Pope Pelagius, had himself died of the epidemic on February 7th, 590. On April 25th, of that year, the holy pope, St. Gregory, requested a public procession through the streets of Rome to beg for an end to the epidemic. An icon of Our Lady that was painted by Saint Luke the Evangelist was carried at the head of the prayerful entourage.
As the procession wound along the Tiber River, the Litany of Saints was intoned. At the conclusion of the litany, Saint Gregory’s gaze was drawn upwards and he suddenly saw the heavens open. Saint Michael the Archangel, along with numerous other Angels, descended above the crowd and a heavenly perfume seemingly filled the air. The angels began singing the “Regina Cœli” to the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was seated on a throne above St. Michael and the Angels.
|St. Michael sheathing his sword atop the Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome
Completely overwhelmed by the incredible sight, Saint Gregory concluded the angelic chorus by singing out the closing lines of the Regina Cœli: “Ora pro nobis Deum, alleluia! Gaude et lætare, Virgo Maria, alleluia! Quia surrexit Dominus vere, alleluia.” (Pray for us to God, alleluia! Rejoice and be glad, O Virgin Mary, alleluia! For the Lord has truly risen, alleluia!).
At the conclusion of the vision, the great pope witnessed Saint Michael sheathing his sword, and to the great joy of all the inhabitants, the horrific plague came to an end. The beautiful Church called Castel Sant’Angelo stands at the site where Saint Michael and his fellow angels had appeared on that day along with the Blessed Virgin Mary.
From then on, April 25th, the date of the apparition marking the end of the plague, has become the date for the annual procession that would come to be known throughout the Catholic world as the “Greater Litanies”, since it was St. Michael along with the Angels who joined in reciting the Litanies on that day. Nowadays the “Greater Litanies” processions are sometimes called “St. Mark’s processions” because the date also coincides with the feast of St. Mark.
More than a millennium after ending the plague in Rome, and exactly 100 years after Our Lady’s apparitions to St. Juan Diego on Tepeyac Hill (Our Lady of Guadalupe, 1531), we come to the year 1631, with another Mexican apparition, which like the Romans, finds the native people of Nativitas, Tlaxcala, Mexico also ravaged by a merciless plague. The illness, called “cocolixtli” by the locals, was a horrible form of smallpox that was devastating the people with immense sufferings and numerous deaths. As had been done on April 25th, throughout the Catholic world since the time of Pope St. Gregory, the people of Tlaxcala took part in the procession of the Greater Litanies, praying for an end to the plague that was mercilessly afflicting them. It was once again at a time of great suffering that God chose to send Saint Michael to mitigate the plague.
On this occasion, instead of appearing to a saintly Pope, the great Archangel was sent by God to manifest himself to a lowly native Indian named Diego Lázaro de San Francisco (sometimes called Diego de San Lázaro), who was only seventeen years old at the time. Towards the conclusion of the Greater Litanies procession, Diego Lázaro suddenly saw Saint Michael in a vision, and the great Archangel spoke to him in his own native language (Náhuatl) stating:
“You are to know that I am Saint Michael the Archangel, and I have come to tell you that it is the will of God and mine that you tell the inhabitants of this place, and everywhere abroad, that near a valley between two mountain ridges you will find a miraculous spring of water that will cure the people of their ills. You will find it beneath a great boulder. Do not doubt what I have told you and do not neglect what I have sent you to do.”
As soon as St. Michael disappeared, Diego Lázaro was initially filled with holy joy. Astounded by the heavenly vision, he immediately asked others in the procession if they too had seen Saint Michael. The puzzled looks and replies of those around him made it clear he was the only one who had seen the Prince of the heavenly host. Confused, Diego Lázaro thought perhaps he imagined the whole encounter, and he decided not to tell anyone about his experience.
|St. Michael appearing to Diego Lázaro
After a few days, the great archangel appeared to Diego Lázaro once again, and this time he was very displeased. He thundered:
“Why did you doubt what I have told you? Because you have not done as I requested, you too will be stricken with the plague that is devastating your people.”
Immediately Diego became severely ill with the cocolixtli. He remained in this grave state for about a week, until the Archangel’s next appearance. During this time, thinking that his life was coming to an end, his family called for a priest, and he received the Sacrament of the sick.
Just when those around Diego were convinced that he was passing from this life, St. Michael intervened once again. This time, everyone present saw a dazzling light, which scared them tremendously, causing them all to flee from the hut. Describing afterwards what had happened, Diego states that St. Michael took him by the hand:
“Saint Michael transported me to the place he had told me about before. With Saint Michael going before me through the night, everything was illuminated as the great prince passed, as if it were midday. Rocks and branches split apart as he passed, clearing a path for us. As we reached a certain spot, I saw Saint Michael holding a golden staff topped with a cross.
‘From the place I touch with this staff you will see flowing the miraculous spring I told you about during the procession. Make it clear to everyone that the illness you have suffered is a fruit of your disobedience.’
“Having said this, there was suddenly a great whirlwind of deafening screams, wailing and moaning, as if a great crowd were being driven from the place. I shook with fear. It seemed to me that the entire mountain ridge would tumble down on top of me during the turmoil.
‘Do not fear; these are the sounds made by the demons, thine enemies, because they know the great benefits that through my intercession the faithful will receive in this place from Our Lord. Many, seeing the marvels worked here, will convert and do penance for their sins, and all will give thanks to God for His mercies. Those who approach this spring with lively faith and sorrow for their faults will, with the water from this spring, obtain relief in their sufferings and needs, and those at the point of death will find a comfort in these waters.’
“Having said this, I then saw a brilliant light descend from heaven, piercing the ground at the site of the spring. Saint Michael continued,
‘This light that you have seen descend from heaven is the virtue that God in His Divine Providence gives in this spring for the health and relief of the sick and needy. Make this known at once to everyone. That they may believe your testimony, I promise to work a great prodigy through you.’
With that, Saint Michael disappeared, and I found myself here in this hut once again, completely cured.”
Apparition of St. Michael the Archangel to Diego Lázaro, Santuario de San Miguel del Milagro, Nativitas, Tlaxcala, Mexico
Diego’s family and friends were of course astounded by not only the great flash of light that drove them in fear out of the hut, but his story afterwards, and most of all his sudden cure. Keeping in mind St. Michael’s command to spread the devotion, Diego went at once to the local superior of the Franciscans, Friar Hernando García Rendón, Guardian of the convent of Natívitas. Seeing the obvious sincerity and firm resolve of the 17 year old, the priest listened attentively as Diego Lázaro recounted the story, yet he was unsure what to make of it. He decided to send Diego to the Governor of Tlaxcala, Don Gregório de Nazienzen, who was known for his learning.
Diego recounted to the governor the entire story of Saint Michael’s appearance to him. Sadly, Don Gregório concluded that the tale was false and he commanded Diego to return home at once, warning that he did not want to hear any more about apparitions, and threatening to punish him if he did. Diego returned home as he was told, deeply disappointed but undaunted in his mission to spread word of the miraculous spring water.
Diego then met with his family and a few friends and he led them to the place where Saint Michael had revealed the spring. As they approached, they saw a great boulder blocking the spot. Together the men tried to move the boulder, but it would not budge. It was at this moment that Diego remembered Saint Michael’s words: “I promise to work a great prodigy through you.”
Asking everyone to stand back, he said a prayer for Saint Michael’s assistance. While they were trying in vain, a young man of beautiful aspect arrived and told them that he could help; when he applied his hands, the large rock was easily moved, and rolled down into the ravine with a great noise. At this instant the young man disappeared. The spring that was beneath gushed forth with crystalline water. Seeing him move the boulder and then the water coming forth, no one there doubted the truth of Diego’s words, and word quickly began to spread throughout the countryside of the miraculous spring.
Soon afterwards, a young girl stricken with the dreaded smallpox saw a vision of Saint Michael in a dream, instructing her to drink some of the miraculous water. A relative brought her the water and she was restored to health. Hearing this, Diego asked her to give testimony to the governor, however she refused fearing harsh treatment from the skeptical leader. In a neighboring village, another miracle followed soon after, again a young lady cured of the same dreaded disease by the miraculous water. Again, Diego failed to convince this woman to speak to the governor.
Months went by and Diego felt understandably discouraged in his efforts to convince the governor. On November 13th, St. Michael once more appeared to him and said,
“Why do you act cowardly, and are negligent in what, two times now, I have commanded you? Do you want to be punished once again for your disobedience? Arise, and have diligence in making known what I have commanded to you.”
Diego at once went to the spring and filled a jug with water. This time bypassing the hostile governor, he went to the Bishop of Puebla, Don Gutierre Bernardo Quiroz. The kind Bishop listened attentively to the remarkable story of the apparition and its aftermath up to this point. Calling to mind how the Heavenly Father often had revealed the mysteries of his kingdom to simple people, he came to the conclusion that the young Indian man before him was sincere. He promised that he would make an investigation, ordering that the holy water be distributed among the sick in the area. All those who drank it afterwards greatly improved, or completely recovered their health. The news of these cures were immediately reported to the Bishop, and were spread amongst the people in Puebla, Tlaxcala and other regions, and people began to arrive at “St. Michael’s well” from many places.
There have been three official investigations into the apparition of Saint Michael to Diego Lázaro. The first was made the year following the events by order of Bishop Gutierre Bernardo Quiroz. He sent Professor, Father Alonso Herrera, to personally obtain precise information from a number of the witnesses. He gave a firm approval of the accounts, and upon fulfilling his assignment, the canon remained completely convinced of the authenticity of the apparitions, even celebrating a high Mass for the devotees in a nearby Church on October 29, 1632. Based on the numerous testimonies and verified miracles, Bishop Don Quiróz gave ecclesiastical approbation, and ordered the first chapel to be built.
Eleven years later, Bishop Don Juan de Palafox ordered the second investigation with the following decree:
“After having visited the site and made our inquiries, it would appear that the marvels that God has worked by means of the Archangel have credence. We commission the Licentiate, Gabriel Pérez de Alvarado, priest of Natívitas, to investigate these claims. Given in Puebla, on Dec. 1, 1643.”
There were ten witnesses chosen, seven Spaniards and three Indians. Among the latter were numbered Andrés Pérez, who was Diego’s cousin, and his maternal grandmother, Isabel Castillán Xuchitl, The interrogation was concluded in January of 1644.
The third investigation was made by a Canon of the Cathedral of Puebla in 1675, further confirming the Church’s approval.
Since 1631, pilgrims from all over the world have come to visit the site and the Church of the miracle which is appropriately entitled “San Miguel del Milagro”, and to partake of the miraculous water from the spring. The visionary, Diego de San Lázaro, died at age 20, just 3 years after the apparitions. He totally consecrated the last three years of his short life to the service of the holy Prince, Saint Michael, and to the sick who came to the miraculous spring. He was caretaker of the first small chapel built at the site of the apparitions, and he soon became an infirmarian to the sick who came there on pilgrimage. He was diligent in caring for the sick; he washed them with the water and clay from the fountain, and he encouraged them with his fervent words. His own life was austere and penitential. He spent long hours in prayer and his virtues became another firm testimony of the veracity of the apparition. Today his holy remains are entombed behind the church’s high altar.
Processions continue to this day, but it is especially on April 25th, the day Saint Michael first appeared during a procession, and on September 29th, the Feast of the Archangels, St. Gabriel, St. Raphael and St. Michael, that the faithful come in great numbers to the shrine. Just as Saint Michael promised, not only was the plague at that time ended, but numerous conversions and healings have taken place there over the centuries.
—St. Michael the Archangel, pray for us!
The above was based on extractions and a compilation from:
“San Miguel del Milagro: The Apparition of Saint Michael in Mexico”, Crusade Magazine, Jan-Feb 2015
Saint Michael’s Well —The Apparitions of Saint Michael to the Indian Diego Lázaro.
http://www.mysticsofthechurch.com/2016/02/the-miraculous-apparitions-of-st.html, with the kind permission of Glenn Dallaire