On March 22, 1888, the day before the Feast of the Compassion of Our Blessed Lady, two peasant women were shepherding their sheep on the hills in Southern Italy near the village of Castelpetroso. Fabiana Cicchino (35-year old virgin) and Serafina Valentino (34-year old married woman) belonged to Pastine, a hamlet in the diocese of Bojano. One of their sheep had strayed onto a hill nearest Castelpetroso. Fabiana found the lost sheep in a ravine near some rocks. But a strange light was coming from a crack in the rocks. The rays of the bright light formed a clear image of Our Blessed Virgin on her knees with her eyes gazing toward heaven. Her arms were outstretched in an act of imploring and offering of her Son, full of wounds and lying dead beneath her. It was the image of the Pieta.
Mary appeared as Our Lady of Sorrows, wearing a deep red dress and a dark mantle. She was a very beautiful, fair-skinned, young woman with disheveled hair and bleeding from wounds received from seven swords. The Blessed Virgin never spoke. When Serafina caught up to Fabiana, she could not see anything. They returned home, crying, sobbing, trembling, and terrified. People naturally inquired as to the cause of their emotions. But very few believed them, and nobody paid much attention to their statements.
During the Solemnity of Easter on April 1, 1888, the same vision occurred again to these two women in the same location. This time, Serafina also witnessed the apparition. More people became curious after this encounter and began to believe that something was truly happening there. People began to go to the mountain and visit the spot of the alleged apparitions, some 2,600 feet above sea level. First, a child saw Mary; then an avowed heretic witnessed her also. Others affirmed that they saw Our Blessed Virgin bearing her dead Son in her arms.
Pilgrimages began, and within a few days, some four thousand persons visited the spot – which was double the number of those living there. Soon, this place which had been generally unknown, suddenly became the center of attraction to countless crowds from the neighboring countryside.
The apparitions were accompanied by another phenomenon; in May of 1888 the body of water at the foot of the mountain began bestowing miracles. Soon, believers from other countries came in masses to behold and experience the extraordinary events and the fountain of miracles. Angelo Verna, a six-year old mute boy, was given a drink of this water by his father and was completely healed by receiving the gift of speech.
News of the occurrences reached Msr. Francesco Macarone-Palmieri, Bishop of the diocese of Bojano. While in Rome on business, he updated Pope Leo XIII on the events near Castelpetroso. On the morning of September 26, 1888, the Bishop returned to the site and had the privilege of witnessing the vision of Mary as Our Lady of Sorrows – just as Fabiana and Serafina had described.
The Bishop of Bojano formed a committee in 1889 to begin collecting funds for a church to be built on the site of the apparitions. Pope Leo XIII blessed their work, imparting the Apostolic Blessing to the members of the committee and to all those who contributed to the fund. The cornerstone for a beautiful Gothic church was laid in May of 1890 in front of 30,000 faithful.
On December 6, 1973, Pope Paul VI proclaimed the Blessed and Sorrowful Virgin Mary as Patroness of the region – upon a request by the Bishop of Molise. Pope John Paul II visited the sanctuary as a pilgrim on March 19, 1995. A community of friars and sisters has been established since 1993 — called the Franciscans of the Immaculate.