A little town of Điluva has been famous since 16th century for the devotions on the Blessed Virgin Mary’s birthday on September 8. But the particularity of the place is the appearance of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the beginning of the 17th century. As far as it is known, it was the earliest appearance of Our Lady in Europe and both the first and the only time in the history of Christianity that she appeared and talked to a non-Catholic – Calvinist. The place of the appearance is the most important object of piety in Điluva.
Điluva is situated in a beautiful central part of Lithuania. In 1998 the town had only 1300 inhabitants but during the devotion days it becomes a settlement of many thousands.
Điluva started to become famous when the local landlord Gedgaudas built there a church and brought a miraculous picture of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
In the 16th century Calvinism took root in the area. Until there was an old Catholic church however, devotions in Điluva used to attract pilgrims even from the neighboring Prussia, where Protestantism was already a state religion. This provoked dissatisfaction from the part of the pastors. The Catholic church was destroyed. Since 1591 the town belonged to the local Calvinists and only in 1622 Catholics were allowed to build a small wooden church in the place of their old church. Since the 17th century people started going to the Điluva Church festivals in processions.
The government of the Tsarist Russia wanted to build an Orthodox church in front of the Catholic one but the priest bought the whole square and erected a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, brought from Saint Petersburg.
During Soviet times the government made all kinds of difficulties for pilgrims to participate in the devotions: policemen used stop and fine drivers without any real reason and block even the smallest roads. A soviet monument replaced the statue of Mary in the town square. Processions at that time were strictly prohibited and their organizers and participators punished and fired from their jobs, nevertheless pilgrims still went to Điluva. Friends of the Eucharist (the members of an underground Catholic association) were especially active in organizing the processions even though KGB cars accompanied people on the road.
On September 8, 1991 Cardinal Vincentas Sladkevičius and the Chairman of the Parliament Vytautas Landsbergis entrusted Lithuania to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The act of entrustment is kept in Điluva.
On September 7, 1993 the Pope John Paul II visited Điluva and prayed in the chapel of the Appearance.
Today devotions in Điluva last for a week or even longer (usually on September 8-15) and are one of the most important religious and cultural events in Lithuania.
The appearance of the Blessed Virgin Mary
The appearance occurred around 1608. While grazing their flock on church lands, shepherd boys noticed a woman standing on a big stone with a baby in her arms. She was radiant with inexpressible beauty. The woman was sad and tears ran down her cheeks dropping on the stone. Scared by such an unusual sight the shepherds ran to call a Calvinist catechist. The latter came with the teacher and asked the woman: “Why are you weeping, beautiful lady?” She answered: “I am weeping because once, at this place, my Son was worshiped, while now they plough and sow here”. Both Calvinists who talked to the Blessed Virgin Mary were historical people. They did not believe the appearance though. But the news spread quickly. One old farmer who was nearly blind remembered that there used to be a Catholic church in the place where the Lady with the Son appeared. He was taken to the stone where he regained his sight and showed the place where the trunk with the documents of the old church had been dug. Not only documents were found but also the painting of Mary. The action was brought and eventually Catholics restored their property and built the church.
The church of Điluva
The church of Điluva today – Basilica of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary – is the fourth church on that spot, built in 1760-1775.
In 1975 Pope Paul VI granted to the church the honorary title of basilica minor.
The painting of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Điluva
The miraculous picture is 1.38 meters in width and 2.28 meters in height. According to the legend the picture was brought from Rome by a landowner Gedgaudas in 1457. In the middle of the 16th century the last rector of a Catholic church dug the painting together with the documents of the church hiding them from the Calvinists. The picture could be paid homage again only after 1622, when the Swedes left after their military invasion and a Catholic church was rebuilt.
In 1674 goldsmith Hoffman made a gilded silver garment for the picture from the many votive plaques that people had brought.
On September 8, 1786 with the permission of the Pope Pius VI, the picture was crowned.
On the ordinary days the miraculous picture is covered by the other one that depicts the appearance of Our Lady. This picture was painted by Rutkowski from Czćstochowa (Poland) in 1920.
The cult of Our Lady of Điluva has spread through Lithuanian communities in North and South America as well as other parts of the world, where many churches and chapels are decorated with her statutes, pictures and engravings. These can be found in Chicago, Elisabeth, New York, Marquette Park (USA), Altoettingen (Germany), Absam (Austria), Rosario (Argentina), Montevideo (Uruguay). The most prominent shrine is the large Điluva chapel installed within the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception at Washington, DC.
The Chapel of the Appearance
The foundation of the Chapel of the Appearance was laid in 1912 on the occasion of the 300 years anniversary of the appearance. It reminds a white obelisk and is the most impressive building in Điluva. The legendary stone on which the Blessed Virgin Mary stood is mounted in the foundation inside the chapel.