The Apparition at Tre Fontane

Tre Fontane: 12 April 1947

The principal seer of Tre Fontane, Bruno Cornacchiola, was born on 9 May 1913, and thus he was 33 at the time of the apparition on 12 April 1947. He came from a poor background, and had received only rudimentary religious instruction. After military service, at the age of 23, he married Iolanda Lo Gatto, and to earn money decided to fight on the Nationalist side in the Spanish Civil War, although he was actually more inclined towards communism.

Once in Spain he came under the influence of a German Protestant, who managed to convince him that the papacy was the cause of all the world’s ills. Bruno at once conceived a hatred for the Church and vowed that he would kill the Pope; nor was this an idle threat—he bought a dagger in Spain especially for this purpose, carving on it the words: “Death to the Pope.”

His wife was not enthusiastic about his new Protestant beliefs and he began physically to abuse her. He also destroyed all the Catholic mementos and pictures around the house. Bruno then decided to join the Protestant Adventist church in Rome, and tried to persuade his wife: she agreed on one condition, that first he should make the Nine First Fridays devotion, and that, if at the end of this, he was still determined to become a Protestant, she would join him. Iolanda trusted that God would somehow convert her husband, but at the end of the nine months he was still set on joining the Adventists, and so she reluctantly followed suit.

From 1939 to 1947 he worked as a tram conductor in Rome, and by the latter date they had three children, two boys, Carlo, aged seven, and Gianfranco, aged four, and a girl, Isola, aged ten. Unfortunately, his physical abuse of his wife continued, causing much distress to both her and the children, while by now he was a convinced Communist, who still had plans to kill the Pope.

On the Saturday after Easter, 12 April 1947, he set off for the afternoon with his children—on the following day, Sunday, he was due to give an anti-Catholic, and indeed anti-Marian, talk, and he wanted a chance to plan out what he would say. Note that this Sunday is the date of the proposed feast of Divine Mercy, and thus the apparition to Bruno happened on its eve.

They took the bus to Tre Fontane, where the shop at the Trappist monastery was famed for its chocolate. Once there, while waiting for the shop to open at about four o’clock, after the siesta, he sat down in the shade to plan his talk, while the children played with a ball on some waste ground nearby.

At about three twenty he was disturbed by the children shouting for their lost ball, but as he helped with the search, the youngest, Gianfranco, promptly went missing himself. Bruno discovered him in a small cave or grotto, smiling, with hands joined as he knelt and repeated the words, “Beautiful Lady! Beautiful Lady!” Bruno could not make anything out, and so called first to Isola, and then to Carlo, who both came and saw the “Beautiful Lady.”

All three children were entranced, and oblivious of his shouts. He became frightened after he was unable to lift them, and called out angrily into the empty cave. Finally, in desperation, he cried out, “God help us!”

At this, Bruno saw two transparent hands which touched his face and wiped his eyes, causing him pain. Then, he saw a tiny light in the cave which grew more luminous, as he felt an interior sensation of great joy. Finally he saw a beautiful woman, with a motherly but sad expression, wearing a green mantle over a white dress, and with a rose-colored sash around her waist.In her hands she held an ash-gray book close to her breast, while at her feet he could see a crucifix which had been smashed, on top of a black cloth.

She called herself the “Virgin of the Revelation,” and spoke to Bruno slowly and rhythmically for about an hour and twenty minutes; he could remember every word afterwards, it was like a recording he could replay time and time again. But the children only saw her lips move and heard nothing.

Our Lady revealed herself thus: “I am she who is related to the Divine Trinity. I am the Virgin of Revelation. You have persecuted me, now is the time to stop! Come and be part of the Holy Fold which is the Celestial Court on earth. God’s promise is unchangeable and will remain so. The nine First Fridays in honor of the Sacred Heart, which your faithful wife persuaded you to observe before you walked down the road of lies, has saved you.”

She counseled him: “Live the divine doctrine. Practise Christianity. Live the Faith,” while also saying, “The Hail Marys that you pray with faith and love are like golden arrows that go straight to the heart of Jesus,” and, “Pray much and recite the Rosary for the conversion of sinners, of unbelievers and of all Christians.” She indicated future conversions and cures with these words: “I promise this special favour: With this sinful soil (the soil of the grotto) I shall perform great miracles for the conversion of unbelievers and of sinners.”

The grotto actually had a bad reputation as a place of immorality. She also spoke of future problems: “Science will deny God and will refuse His calls.” In particular, she spoke of her Assumption into heaven, outlining her life during her eighty minute talk: “My body could not and did not decay. I was assumed into Heaven by my Son and the angels.”

She gave him, too, a secret message for the Pope: “You must go to the Holy Father, the Pope, the Supreme Pastor of Christianity, and personally tell him my message. Bring it to his attention. I shall tell you how to recognize the one who will accompany you to see the Pope.”

Finally, it was over, and after smiling at Bruno and the children, Mary turned around, walked through the wall of the grotto and disappeared. Bruno was in a daze, although the children were excited as they all made their way to the Trappist Church to pray in thanksgiving.

Before going home they all went back to the cave, where they encountered a beautiful fragrance, all the more surprising because its floor was covered with filth. Bruno cleared a space and used his door key to scratch this message: “On 12th April 1947 the Virgin of Revelation appeared in this grotto to the Protestant Bruno Cornacchiola and his children and he was converted.”

Bruno told the children to say nothing, but this was a forlorn request and as soon as they got to their apartment block they told everyone they met. Arriving home they were greeted by Iolanda who could smell a beautiful perfume emanating from them, and after the children were in bed, Bruno told his wife all that had happened. He begged forgiveness on his knees for the way he had treated her.

Following Mary’s directions, Bruno eventually found a priest to advise him, so that he and Iolanda could rejoin the Church, as the story spread and the numbers of pilgrims grew, with articles on the apparition beginning to appear in the press. He and the children were even questioned separately, at length, by the police, but they were unable to find any significant differences in their accounts. Mary apparently appeared to Bruno on several other occasions at the grotto, but did not speak.

The local Church authorities also carried out an investigation, and the cult of the Virgin of Revelation was approved with unusual speed by the Vicariate of Rome. As the number of pilgrims grew the area around the grotto had to be altered to make it safer and more accessible. A special statue, representing Mary during the apparition, was blessed by Pope Pius XII on 5 October 1947, and then taken in procession, amidst huge crowds, from St Peter’s Square to Tre Fontane.

Just over two years later, on 9 December 1949, Bruno was part of a group invited to pray the rosary with Pius XII in his private chapel, as part of the beginning of the 1950 Holy Year celebrations. After the rosary, the Pope asked if anyone wanted to speak to him. Bruno immediately came forward and knelt at his feet and, with tears in his eyes, showed the dagger with which he had intended to kill him, and his Protestant Bible. He begged forgiveness, which Pius XII unhesitatingly gave.

In fact, according to one account, it seems that Pius XII had an awareness of what was going to happen for at least ten years, since, in 1937, while still a cardinal, he had a meeting with a holy woman who had apparently seen Mary in a vision at Tre Fontane. She related how the Virgin had told her that she would return to the grotto and convert a man who wanted to assassinate the Pope, and moreover, that he, Cardinal Pacelli, would himself be Pope. His reply was cautious, and in effect he said he would wait and see, but in 1939 Eugenio Pacelli duly became Pope Pius XII. Given all this, it is understandable that the cult of the apparitions at Tre Fontane was approved so rapidly.

The Franciscan Conventual Friars Minor were given custody of the grotto in July 1956, and asked to construct a chapel at the site, in addition to administering the shrine. Since then, a prayer to the Virgin of Revelation has been given an imprimatur by the Vicariate of Rome, and the cult was so well recognized that, during Vatican II, numerous prelates went to Tre Fontane to pray.

In 1987, on the fortieth anniversary of the apparition, Cardinal Poletti, the Cardinal Vicar of Rome, and thus the Pope’s official episcopal representative for the diocese, came to the shrine to celebrate Mass. However, a definitive judgement, either positive or negative in regard of Tre Fontane, has not been made.

This is probably due, at least in part, to the character of Bruno Cornacchiola; it seems that he went on to claim a total of 28 further apparitions by 1986, with messages which became increasingly apocalyptic in tone, including predictions of various evils which have not materialized. It also seems that he has not been completely truthful in his biography. This is like the tragic history of Mélanie at La Salette; her initial experience was trustworthy, but she allowed events to go to her head in later years.