By Sr. Faustina Olson
The Shrine of the Madonna of Mount Berico, Vicenza Italy, is one of the most renowned pilgrimage sites of Marian devotion in Europe, greeting millions of visitors each year. The Shrine is an oasis of peace and tranquility with breathtaking views of greenery, mountains and waterways. Since 1428, the Madonna has lovingly stood on top of the hill offering solace to sojourners who are seeking her comfort.
Vicenza, named for the victory in 157 B.C. when the Romans drove out the Celtic tribes from the area, is situated in northeast Italy at the base of the Vicentine Alps, between Milan to the west and Venice to the east. The rich soil and abundant pastures make ideal conditions for the numerous horses, cattle and sheep that populate the land. To the west, Vicenza is not far from Padua (famous for St. Anthony of Padua) and was once under its governance for protection purposes. Vicenza is also blessed to possess a relic of the Holy Thorn, a gift from King Louis IX of France in 1261 to the bishop of Vicenza, the Blessed Bartolomeo da Breganze. It is located in the splendid Dominican church of Santa Corona built in the 1261 to honor the Holy Thorn. To the north are the Swiss Alps, bordering Switzerland and Austria, displaying some of the most resplendent views on earth. There are thriving forests with valuable lumber and abundant chestnut trees, whose fruit is known as the “flour of the poor”, and many farms to sell the chestnuts to augment their income.