The first apparition, known as the bull episode, is dated 490; it is the most astonishing and tells the story of a rich lord who went in search of a bull of his herds, lost in the Gargano area; at last he found it on the top of the mountain kneeling down at the opening of a cave. Filled with anger, he shot an arrow against the rebellious animal, but instead of hitting the bull the arrow unaccountably wounded the foot of the wealthy man.
Upset by the event, he went to see the Bishop who, after listening to the account of the extraordinary adventure, ordered three days of prayers and penance. As the third day ended, the Archangel Michael appeared to the Bishop and spoke to him: “I am the Archangel Michael and I am always in the presence of God. The cavern is sacred to me, I have chosen it; I myself am its watchful custodian… There where the rock opens wide the sins of men can be forgiven… What is asked here in prayer will be granted. Therefore, go to the mountain and dedicate the grotto to the Christian religion”.
The second apparition, known as the victory episode, is linked to a memorable victory of the town of Siponto against the enemy troops; the complete victory, foretold by the Archangel during His apparition to the holy Bishop Lawrence Maiorano, took place on May 8th and the Longobards attributed it to the intercession and help of the Archangel.
The third apparition, also called the Dedication episode, is linked to the beginning of the cult on the Gargano when all the Apulian bishops went in procession to the holy grotto and they found that a primitive altar had already been erected, as announced by the Archangel to Lawrence Maiorano; moreover, according to the legend, they found St. Michael’s footprint in the rock.
Gargano is one of the most advanced eastward land of Italy and so, thanks to its geographical position and the fame acquired for these apparitions, the Byzantines held it under their dominion together with some other regions of the Adriatic coast.
During this period the Sanctuary structure was very different from the current one.
Pilgrims arrived at the shrine from the Carbonara valley through a portico and a gallery that gave on to the irregular and deep cavern.
Then, in this period, according to the oriental liturgy, St. Michael was venerated as the one who presents the souls of dead to the divine throne and as a healer of illnesses (Apollo was a healer god) rather than as a great warrior.
It was very famous the so-called “drop”: a miraculous water that dripped from the rock of the cavern and, according to the tales, healed every kind of diseases.