Sanctuary inaugurated on August 14, 1870.
The chosen place would have been the scene of prodigious events in the early years of 1820. In the same building there was a source of living water and it is said that those who watered it, asking for help to Holy Virgin found healing from diseases.
Emblematic is the story that saw protagonist Maria Baj, a young shepherd who is said to have witnessed numerous apparitions of the Virgin Mary.
The place soon became a destination of pilgrimage among the faithful and it was decided to raise the sanctuary.
This Sanctuary was inaugurated and opened for worship on August 14, 1870, following prodigious events that occurred, particularly in the years 1821-22-23, on the place where the sacred edifice rises.
Near the ancient bastions of Villanova, a source of living water appeared in the concave breast of a small valley; and those who, troubled by illness, drank with faith of that water, invoking the help of the Blessed Virgin, they were soon healed.
According to popular tradition, in the same place, a young girl named Maria Bai, who used to lead the cattle to pasture, arrived at the place, prostrated herself in prayer and alternated fervent orations with the work of his hands. During that time, it was repeatedly rejoiced by apparitions of the Holy Virgin, who expressed the wish that a chapel be erected near the fountain.
Later built a pylon, or little chapel, which still exists today, an extraordinary number of people, rushed to visit the place, chosen by Our Lady, to dispense its graces more widely. The many healings and graces received, drinking the water of the fountain with faith, did not take long to spread to neighboring countries.
It was a beautiful and moving show to see, for years, every day, an extraordinary competition of pilgrims, to visit the miraculous place, so that the hotels, the cafes, the houses, were full of strangers, so that they could not contain the people who came to implore the graces of Our Lady.
Therefore, the desire to build a Sanctuary, to be dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, was very intense. The honor of raising the desired temple was reserved for the pious priest Don Luigi Crovella. These were calamitous times, also due to the succession of local factions of the Municipality administration.
And so many were the difficulties that presented themselves to this erection, that even the most zealous, to whom his thought was communicated, confirmed that they felt faint with the fulfillment of his desire. But Don Crovella persevered, and strong of the ascendancy over the population, he insisted on translating fervent hopes into reality.
In the meantime he ennobled his mission with an exemplary priesthood, offering a continuous example of edifying piety and study of the science of God. He thus prepared the ways "keeping watch, praying, being in faith, working virilely, and doing everything in charity".
The real men who built something destined to last more than the day of their life, have always had a transcendental vision of the world, precisely because they judged with an eye that went beyond the moment.
On the project of the architect Talucchi of Turin, he laid the foundations of the Sanctuary in 1866, and four years later, that is August 14, 1870, was opened to worship by His Exc. Mgr. Savio, Bishop of Asti, among the immense crowd rushed to propitiate new graces, in the temple, from the piety of the villanovesi, inaugurated in honor of the Virgin Mary.
Don Crovella who, from his life, made an apostolate for the Sanctuary that illustrates Villanova, exulted. The mirror of his disinterest, the severity of his existence, have woven around his name, fame of a just man, who has honored the native country in life, and continues to exercise on the souls, the influence of goodness, supported by hope. His mortal remains, after more than fifty years, from the Cemetery was transported to the Sanctuary founded by him on May 3, 1936, near the source of the ancient bastions. Remembering Don Crovella, is an act of exquisite Christian gratitude.
The populations are still looking, moved, this place, full of so many dear memories, and in the temple of Our Lady, meditate compacts, with how much faith a crowd of believers hail in these fortunate outlines, to implore the outpouring of the divine graces.
Everything here reminds us that the Church is not a group of stones, but a living edifice, of which Jesus Christ is a cornerstone, and members of the faithful, who, by his grace, become like living stones, formed by faith, strengthened by hope , united by charity, just the thought of St. Agostino. The building, artistically, reveals the forms of the style called Empire or Neoclassic, that is, return to the beauties of Roman antiquity.
Even the decorative element accompanies the constructive element. The arches are round, ie with the semicircular arch. The interior decorations make the building more graceful and all-round grace and simplicity. The beautiful dome, surmounted by a statue of the Holy Virgin, seems to invite the thought to detach itself from the low things, and represents the vows of all the faithful who are in agreement with God.
Two side altars are dedicated one to St. Giuseppe, other to S. Luigi Gonzaga. Many improvements were recently made to the Sanctuary, by the current rector Don Carlo Torta, aided effectively by the population.
Important embellishment are the beautiful colored glazes, drawn to figures of saints and sacred stories, repeating to the eye what the priests say to the ear, and so, for the senses and the imagination, reaching the heart and the 'intellect. The devout functions, are followed by the people of Villanova, who often goes to the Shrine, maximum on Sundays, where the soul is more in contact with God.
The sacred images, the beautiful simulacrum of the Holy Virgin and Child, the numerous ex vows, and the tomb of the founder of the Sanctuary, asleep in the hope of the resurrection, all infuses an austere piety together and consoling.
And it is invoked by all, the Blessed Virgin of Graces, so that it may prosper, our families and our campaigns, and interpose its mediation with God, so that it may command the clouds that will appropriately rain the fertilizing rains; commands to the sun that, with the activity of its rays, ripen the fruits of our fields; commands to hail that do not damage our farms, and away from our homes and our homeland, infirmities and discord.
• Who was Maria Baj?
The researches around this girl have not yet yielded the desired results. In the registry documents existing in the municipal archive of Villanova examined so far have been found some little girls named Maria Bai, or Baj, born in the early 1800s or at the end of 1700.
However, no one would have been 18 in 1803 (year in which the tradition would have occurred apparitions of the Virgin to the eighteen-year-old shepherdess).
According to tradition, the girl apparently lived on the corner between the streets of San Paolo and Francesco I. She would often go to pasture in the valley of the fountain, with a few cows.
These apparitions are therefore not (at least for now) documented except by traditions handed down orally.
The fact then (documented) that the devotion to the Virgin in the valley and the graces obtained were precedents, certainly at least since the end of 1700, raises other historical doubts.