A “sweet Lady” appeared, with a Child in one arm and a light in the other, to light her way and relieve her tiredness.
Antonietta Fava was a sweet little girl of 12 old from a small village in southern Italy called Casale di Carinola. A website dedicated to the town tells the story, and another regional website fills in some details.
The girl was the daughter of her father’s first marriage. As if it were a fairy tale, the stepmother treated her as a servant.
In addition to the chores at home and in the fields, the stepmother assigned her increasingly demanding jobs, such as washing clothes in a nearby stream in the dark of night.
The girl went obediently but was terrified of the dark, and wept constantly. To alleviate her suffering and ask for grace and patience, she prayed to an image of the Virgin Mary that someone had painted on stone there.
Then a “sweet Lady” appeared, as the girl later described her, with a Child in one arm and a light in the other. She kept Antonietta company, illuminating her way and relieving her tiredness with her presence.
When Antonietta reached the river, the sweet Lady said to her, “Wet and wring… Wet and wring, my daughter!” And with very little effort, all the clothes became as clean as new.
A church for the Sweet Lady
The Virgin Mary appeared to Antonietta regularly for some time, and was witnessed by some villagers who saw the girl walking with a glowing light through the dark forest.
Then one day, according to a book that describes the apparitions (the Zodiac of Mary, by Father Seraphino Montorio, 1715), the sweet Lady spoke to her and told her what she desired:
I long for a church in this place where my effigy now stands, so that I may be revered by those people with more decorum and thus have all the more reason to make them experience the effects of my sovereign protection.
The request of the sweet Lady was immediately accepted. The inhabitants of Casale, who had seen the little girl accompanied by the unknown woman and her light for several nights, did not doubt the story at all.
The townspeople excavated much of the surrounding rock and erected the shrine. The stone bearing the sacred image, weighing 880 pounds, was placed on the main altar of the church.
Abandonment of the shrine and the miracle of its revival
The shrine fell into neglect over the years, and the story of Antonietta became considered an old legend. The only thing that remained on the site was an old cemetery.
However, there were those who did not accept the abandonment of the place, including Fr. Gicando Giuseppe Struffi, parish priest of Casale di Carinola starting in 1942.
Those were difficult times and the immediate post-war period was marked by widespread unemployment and hunger. For this reason, the parish priest, taking care of the people’s various needs, began the restructuring of the sanctuary, giving work to many parents and trying to revive the townspeople’s faith and devotion.
Then a sort of miracle happened. Reconstruction work on the place led to the discovery of a key element of the traditional narration: the sacred image of Our Lady that little Antonietta Fava had prayed to before the apparition!
The find was met with great enthusiasm by the town, and together with the results of historical research it convinced them there was no longer any doubt: Mary had really appeared in that place.
The image was crowned with gold in 1960, and on the 50th anniversary of the coronation, Pope Benedict XVI gave the image his blessing.
The sanctuary of Santa Maria a Pisciariello or Santa Maria delle Grazie (Our Lady of Grace) has earned the nickname of “little Lourdes” over the years, recalling the later but more famous apparition in France.