Where the Sanctuary now stands, there was once a small roadside chapel* with an image of the Madonna and Child, frescoed by painter Pier Francesco Fiorentino in the period 1475 – 1499. This very miraculous Virgin Mary, depicted in the maternal gesture of suckling her Child, is still today the subject of deep veneration and devotion.
Legend has it that one April (or May) day in 1668, Bartolomea Ghini, a deaf-and-dumb shepherdess, while she was taking her sheep out to graze, suddenly felt a deep sadness because of her poverty and burst into tears.
Suddenly a beautiful Lady appeared before her and asked why she was crying. Bartolomea miraculously started to speak and confided in her that she had nothing to eat and that her family was very poor. The Lady reassured her, telling her not to worry and to go home, where she would find plenty of bread, oil and wine.
At that point, Bartolomea realised she had spoken and ran home calling out to her parents. They too were incredulous to hear their daughter speak and to find the pantry filled with plenty of bread, wine and oil. So the entire family and the villagers went with Bartolomea to the place where she had seen the beautiful Lady, an inaccessible forest. With scythes and brush hooks they cut through the brambles and plants until they found a small chapel with very ruined walls.
Sebastiano, Bartolomea’s father, after making his way through the blackthorn with a brush hook, saw a sacred shrine that had a painted image of the Virgin Mary suckling the Child inside: with the tip of the brush hook he tried to forcefully remove a sturdy shoot of ivy because it was covering the painting. All of a sudden, he heard a voice shout “Ouch!” and Bartolomea told her father to be careful because he had hurt the Virgin Mary. In fact, the ivy had put barbs right over the Virgin’s mouth: still today, the face of the Virgin Mary depicted in the fresco appears scratched right under her nose.
Within a few months of the miraculous apparition, construction of the church was begun and finished after 2 years. The Virgin Mary continued to bestow her good graces so much that the walls of the new church were soon covered with votive offerings: paintings on paper, wooden tablets, others carved in alabaster representing the anatomical parts of the faithful who had received the miracle (hands, eyes, legs, bosoms, etc.), sewn and embroidered in the most diverse forms, in silver, or simple wooden crutches that were hung on the walls of the sanctuary.
On 8 September 1923, the sacred building was elevated to the dignity of “Diocesan Sanctuary” with the title “Mother of Divine Providence”.
On the night between 13 and 14 July 1944, during World War II, eight German soldiers, in order to block the advance of American troops, decided to mine the arch below the shrine. The damage was significant: only the facade and the century-old wall of the old chapel with the painted image of the Blessed Virgin were left standing in the explosion.
The church was rebuilt trying to follow the forms of the original 17th-century building, and reconsecrated on 20 October 1949. The sacred image was placed inside a golden metal halo that is still visible today.
On 8 September each year, the day of the Nativity of the Virgin, a great feast is still held in Pancole, and many devotees and faithful come to pay homage to the “Mother of Divine Providence”, continuing to ask for good graces for themselves and their loved ones.