The island of Sardinia, part of Italy, is home to one of the country's oldest shrines: Our Lady of Bonaria (also known as Our Lady of Fresh Winds). The date of the miracle is quite specific: March 25, 1370. It was on this day that a great storm threatened to swamp a merchant ship sailing from Spain to Italy. In an effort to save the ship the crew jettisoned all of the cargo, saving a large crate for last. When finally the crate was cast overboard the storm suddenly stopped just as soon as the crate hit the water. The captain of the ship then tried to recover the crate but was never able to do so.
The crate finally ended up on the shore of Bonaria, where local villagers were unable to lift it or to open it to see the contents. They called upon the Mercedarian Friars, who had an abbey on the hill. This order, Our Lady of Mercy, was founded in 1218 and had been successful in freeing many Christian slaves from the Moors.
They were able to lift the crate and open it without any difficulty. Inside was a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary holding the baby Jesus in her left hand and a lighted candle in her right hand.
Devotion to Our Lady of Bonaria spread, especially among seafarers. In fact the Conquistadores, many of them from Sardinia, had such devotion that they named the capital of Argentina Buenos Aires.
The name Bonario, which literally translated means "good air", comes from the fact that the town of Cagliari was built near a swamp which had a fairly obnoxious odor. The abbey, built above the town, had much cleaner air and hence the name.
As you can see from the photo of the procession above the statue is almost life-size, measuring a little over 5 feet tall.
Many Popes have visited here including, most recently Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI in 2008, when he bestowed the "Golden Rose" upon the Basilca. Pope Francis, who is from Buenos Aires, Argentina will be paid a visit here on September 22, 2013.
Cagliari, where the shrine is located, is the capital city of Sardinia. There is an airport here for those flying in. You can also arrive by ferry from many cities in Italy. We recommend the ferry if you are coming from mainland Italy. It takes about 5 hours on one of the faster ferries or a little over 8 hours on the overnight ferries which can help you save on hotel expenses. And ferry trips are fun--you will meet other travelers and can share experiences. The ferries have cafeterias on board as well.
Photos courtesy Fr. Joseph Eddy, Order of Mercy