Skip to Content
Search Icon

Brass Rubbings

Metaphor for the Apocalypse

On a hilltop church.


Monte Berico stands near the northern edge of the Po River Valley in the province of Veneto, Italy, not far from the foothills of the Dolomites. At four hundred and fourteen feet tall, it rises gently out of the floodplains to the north and east. On clear days, a bystander at the summit can see all the way to Padova, twenty miles away. The hill also offers a commanding view of the town of Vicenza from a lookout on its northeastern side at the Piazzale della Vittoria, a large square dedicated to the Italian victory in the First World War.

The centerpiece of the hill is the Basilica di Santa Maria di Monte Berico, one of the holiest places in Italy. The church stands on the site of the apparition of the Blessed Virgin to Vincenza Pasini, a local peasant woman, in 1426. At this time, Vicenza had suffered for decades from outbreaks of the Black Death. Hearing the prayers of the townsfolk for deliverance, the Virgin appeared to Pasini and commanded her to tell her fellow citizens to build a church atop Monte Berico. Though she was well known for her piety, Pasini could not convince the authorities to do as the Virgin requested. The plague reappeared the next year, killing thousands of people in Vicenza and in the surrounding villages.

Miraculously, the Virgin re-appeared to Pasini in 1428, promising to spare the town if the people heeded her command to build a church atop Monte Berico. This time, the townsfolk listened to Pasini. The basilica was consecrated in 1435. A spring gushed forth out of the ground under the basilica during construction—a sign of God’s mercy towards the city. The Blessed Virgin kept her promise to Pasini. The plague never again reappeared in Vicenza, alone out of all the cities in Italy.

Monte Berico remains a holy site to this day. Many Italians attend daily masses there. The church bells are rung daily in thanksgiving for the deliverance of Vicenza half a millennium ago. Every year on September 8, the city observes a public holiday on the Feast of Our Lady of Monte Berico. Thousands of faithful Catholics march in procession up the hill to give thanks to God for his deliverance of Vicenza from the Black Death.

In recent times, Monte Berico has been the site of an altogether different pilgrimage: the appearance of American paratroopers for physical training. The echo of footsteps on the street leading up to the church is a constant feature of the pre-dawn gloom in Vicenza. The town now hosts the largest American military garrison in Italy. Ten thousand soldiers, most of them members of the 173rd Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), are stationed at two small bases: Caserma Del Din to the north of the city, and Caserma Carlo Ederle to the south and east, where they live and work in the shadow of a town older than the United States by many hundreds of years.

To continue reading, subscribe to The Lamp.

Get unlimited access to our complete archive when you subscribe.

Already a Subscriber?

Jacob Minyard is a graduate student and freelance writer. A native of California, he served in the U.S. Army from 2017 to 2022.