Santa Maria, California, is the site of a set of apparitions of the Virgin Mary to Barbara Matthias that began on March 24, 1990. Santa Maria, a town on California's central coast, had been the site since 1970 of several active charismatic prayer groups. Within the groups, charismatic gifts, especially spiritual healing and prophecy, had been common. Several members of the groups periodically received locutions, direct communications via telepathy, from Jesus. In the 1980s these groups had become a center of Marian piety and many had received with enthusiasm the news of the apparitions that were occurring at Medjugorje, in Yugoslavia (Bosnia). Eventually, a prayer group centered on the Medjugorje events would arise.
In 1987, a young couple, Charlie and Carol Nole, attended a Holy Spirit seminar, a class to introduce the idea of the range of charismatic spiritual gifts (as mentioned in the Bible in 1 Corinthians 12) to new members of the charismatic prayer groups. The following year, on March 24, 1988, Carol began receiving locutions from the Virgin Mary. She was subsequently told to place a cross on a hill north of Santa Maria and given instructions as to its size and exact location. The project to place a cross on the hill was tied to the message of peace from the visionaries in Medjugorje and Santa Maria was designated a "City of Peace." In September the prayer group that the Noles attended was finally informed of the messages that Carol had been receiving and plans were made to publish them. A booklet, "A Cross Will Be Built…," was released in March of 1989. A movement grew up around the crusade to place a cross on the designated hill, but was blocked as the site was on private land and the owner had indicated his unwillingness to cooperate with the project. Groups began to gather on the highway right away near the hill, and their daily prayer meetings became a matter of media interest. Media coverage attracted visitors from across California, among them Barbara Matthias.
Matthias reported that the Virgin had appeared to her as Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, a popular image in Roman Catholic circles since the apparitions at Lourdes. After the first few apparitions, Mary began to appear daily, usually in the later afternoon. Matthias would enter a trance-like state and stay in that state for several hours, on occasion approaching six hours. Crowds gathered in the afternoon and often stayed late into the evening. Many reported various unusual phenomena, including a dancing sun, the well-known miracle that so many had seen the day of the last apparitions at Fatima. However, no general miracles such as those that occurred at Fatima were reported. The attention to the apparitions completely overwhelmed the movement to erect the cross on the still-inaccessible hill.
On March 29, 1990, Mgr. John H. Rohde, Matthias' spiritual director, expressed some doubts about the apparitions. As a result, the public apparitions ceased in May of 1990, but Matthias continued to receive daily apparitions privately. In 1991, a request was made for an investigation of Matthias by the Diocese of Monterey. An agreement to proceed was reached in June of 1991. In October of 1991 she went to Berkeley, California, and underwent the first of a series of tests that would be conducted over the period of a year. These ruled out a number of alternative explanations for her apparitions, and Mgr. Rohde announced that all of his questions had been favorably resolved.
While the diocese has yet to rule on the apparitions to Matthias, in 1993 a book was published that recounted the history of the apparitions, summarized the testings, and offered the opinions of various people, including Fr. René Laurentin, the famous French Mariologist. While public apparitions have not resumed, a group of people in Santa Maria now circulate the messages received and are attempting to implement the admonitions contained therein, much of which is directed to the Catholic community of the region.
Castro, J. Ridley. Mary's Plan: The Madonna Comes to Santa Maria. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Queenship Publishing, 1993.
SANTA MARIA. The Santa Maria, the flagship of Christopher Columbus, headed the fleet of three vessels that reached the New World on 12 October 1492. Two months later, on Christmas Eve, it ran aground off the coast of Hispaniola, in the present-day Dominican Republic. From the ship's wreckage Columbus had a fort erected at La Navidad before he left for Spain. He found the fort destroyed and its garrison murdered when he returned in November 1493. Although the colony established there faltered and Columbus soon lost the favor of his patron, Queen Isabella of Castile, the voyage of the Santa Maria inaugurated European imperialism in the New World.
Pastor, Xavier. The Ships of Christopher Columbus: Santa Maria, Niña, Pinta. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press; London: Conway Maritime Press, 1992.
Wilford, John N. The Mysterious History of Columbus: An Exploration of the Man, the Myth, the Legacy. New York: Knopf, 1991.
Francis BorgiaSteck/a. r.
See alsoExpeditions and Explorations: Spanish .