Our lady of Perpetual Help
On the island of Crete a miraculous icon of the Virgin Mary was worshipped around 1496. It was painted by an unknown artist at the end of the thirteenth century according to an ancient tradition and Byzantine style, probably inspired by artworks of St. Luke.
The history of the venerable picture starts for us at the 1496 with a most serious crime: Hoping to sell it for a good price a merchant stole it and carried over the sea hidden between other wares. The next year he arrived in Rome and suddenly became very sick. He was invited to visit his friend, also merchant by trade. Feeling the nearness of death he confessed the shameful theft and asked his friend to deliver the icon to a church, where it would receive a proper worship. The Roman friend promised him he will do as he wishes.
Shortly after the merchant died. His friend was about to do what he had promised, but his wife convinced him to keep the icon at home. Virgin Mary appeared to him asking to bring it to a church, but he didn’t obeyed. The Virgin Mary appeared two more times warning he will die if he continues to disobey. But his wife was opposing again and he was listening her more than the Queen of Angels. In a fourth appearance the Virgin declared:
I warned you, I threatened you, you didn’t obey! Now you will leave this house and then I will find a more worthy one.
Soon after the appearance he died and was buried. Now the Blessed Virgin appeared to his six years old daughter saying:
Warn your mother that the icon of Virgin Mary of Perpetual Help was the reason of his death. If they don’t obey, you all will die.
The widow took the warning very seriously, because she had a very similar vision to that of the child. However, one of her neighbors convinced her to keep the painting in the house. The same moment she was struck by a terrible disease, but immediately regretted her evil deeds, prayed for mercy to Virgin Mary and was healed after touching the miraculous icon. The Blessed Virgin appeared once again to the girl and told her the picture have to be brought to the Church of St.Matthew, located on via Merulana, between the basilicas of Santa Maria Maggiore and San Giovanni.
One of the most visited churches in Rome
The widow, the daughter and their neighbor hurried to tell this news to Augustinian Fathers who administrated that church. The news immediately spread throughout the city. On the day miraculous icon was brought to the church on March 27, 1499, it was carried by a huge procession followed by countless members of the clergy and crowd of faithful.
For three centuries the sacred image was venerated in the church of St. Matthew. Crowds of faithful soon flooded it and soon it became one of most visited churches in Rome. Many miracles happened by the intercession of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
Abandoned in a chapel, forgotten by almost everyone.
Not everything was so even, however, between the Blessed Mother and her children. In 1798 the troops of Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Rome. Pope Pius VI was sent in exile and 30 churches, including that of St. Matthew, were destroyed on the grounds of strengthening the defense of the city. Many precious relics and sacred icons were lost without a trace. But the miraculous icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help was saved at the last moment by a priest who took it to the Church of St. Eusebius and later to the private chapel of Augustinian friars in the convent of Santa Maria in Posterula.
In the swirl of political events and wars of the early decades of the 19th century, the memory of the ineffable goodness with which the Mother of Perpetual Help welcomed all those who resorted to her, almost completely faded. Thus, Her sacred image ended up forgotten for more than half a century in a secondary chapel in Rome. Forgotten by almost everyone, without any special devotion, without any decoration or even candle-light to show Her any adoration.
"Look, that she is known throughout the world".
Almost forgotten by all… but not by Friar Agostino Orsetti, the former friar in the Church of St. Matthew. In his heart did not diminished the fervor, his mind didn’t forgot the countless miracles that happened by the help of incomparable Mother of all those in need. Around 1850, old and almost blind he befriended a young altar boy named Michael Marchi, who attended the chapel of Santa Maria in Posterula and told him the story of the icon:
“Do not forget my son that the image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help is in our chapel. It is very miraculous! Don’t forget it, you understand?!”
Many years later, when Michael Marchi became a priest in the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer he remembered those words.
Augustinian Brother died in 1853 and didn’t saw the fulfillment of his dream that Our Lady of Perpetual Help would be once again available for public veneration. On the surface it could seem like the efforts and sincere prayers of this zealous Augustinian had been fruitless. But it only appeared so, because the young altar boy, later Don Michele Marchi didn’t forget it!
In the mid-nineteenth century the Pope Pius IX invited the Congregation of Most Holy Redeemer to establish their main center. This way, without any knowledge of the history of the place they bought a land in Merulana….Exactly on the spot where the Church of St. Matthew had existed. Soon you will see that the Mother of Perpetual Help Herself was calling them to the Eternal City by the voice of the Pope.
Fathers of Congregation built a convent and the Church of St. Alphonsus there. One of them, studying the history of the place where they had settled, realized that the Church of St. Alphonsus was built exactly in the place where in the past the Church of St. Matthew has been standing, which had been venerated for centuries for the miraculous painting of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. And he told his brothers about his auspicious discovery. Among the priests there was also Don Michael Marchi. He told others what the old Augustinian Friar of the convent of Santa Maria in Posterula had told him about the miraculous icon.
This is how the hand of Blessed Virgin secretly organized everything. She inspired the hearts of missionaries to make the icon of sacred Madonna public again. They urged the leader of the Congregation, Father Nicholas Mauron to make a request directly to the Pope for this purpose. In an audience to Pius IX Nicholas Mauron told him the story of the painting and submitted an appeal to return the icon to the place that Our Lady of Perpetual Help had chosen herself in 1499.
The Pope listened very carefully and wrote by his own hand a note, dated by December 11, 1865:
“It is our wish that the icon of the Blessed Virgin, to what this petition refers, be placed again in the church of Redeemer, between the churches of St. John (Lateran) and Santa Maria Maggiore, and please make a new frame for it.”
Afterwards the Holy Father gave to the Congregation of redeemer, in the person of their Super Intendant a mission to spread devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help:
“Look after, that She is known throughout the world!”
“O Mary, please finish what you have started!”
After the Pope gave his consent to bring the miraculous icon of Our Lady to its new home, it was done. A huge procession of around 20 thousand faithful followed, when the icon, decorated by flowers, was brought to the church of St. Alphonsus.
The Mother of Perpetual Help manifested Her satisfaction on the same day performing a few miracles. Through the open window of her home a distressed mother was praying with her dying son in hands as the procession with icon was passing by: “Dear Mother, heal my son or take it to the Heaven!” – And immediately the child was cured.
A little further on the road another mother was praying that her daughter was healed, who were struck by full paralysis. Immediately the girl regained strength in her legs, but only enough to walk. The next day mother and daughter went to the Church of St. Alphonsus and pleaded: “O Mary, please finish what you have started!” The girl went out from there completely cured.
Thus began a new phase in the history of the miraculous painting of Our lady of Perpetual Help. Still today, it welcomes maternally its sons and daughters in the Shrine of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Thanks to the fathers on Congregation of Redeemer, many more churches around the world were erected for Her honor.
The artwork filled with deep meaning.
The miraculous icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help is 53 cm in height and 41.5 cm wide. It is a painting in Byzantine style, with a wooden bottom and golden colour, much used by artists in the ancient Roman Empire, when it was often used to portray great personalities. The gold here is a symbol of the glory of the Queen of Heaven.
It’s more than just a portrait of Mary; the painting actually depicts a scene.
The countenance of Virgin Mary is full of affection and adoration of the Divine Child she is holding in hands. Her eyes, however, are not directed towards him, but to us, her adopted children. But Jesus is not looking to his mother or us; it seems he want to reach two angels with musical instruments of the Passion with his sight: On the left there is St. Michael wearing a green cloak, holding an urn filled with the gall that the soldiers offered to Jesus on the cross, the lance that pierced his side, and the reed with the sponge.. On the right there is St. Gabriel in a lilac dress, holding the cross and nails that pierced hands and feet of the Redeemer. Another feature is very expressive sandal hanging off from the right foot of the Child Jesus, threatening to fall down. It symbolizes the state of soul in in a state of mortal sin: it is united to Jesus by a thread, the devotion to Our Lady.
Under the blue mantle, Mary wears a red tunic. In the beginnings of Christianity, the virgins were distinguished by the color blue, a symbol of purity and mothers for the color red, a sign of charity. This color combination defines Mary as a Virgin and a Mother. We can note also the green color in the lining of her coat. The composition of these three colors was an exclusive feature of royalty. Thus, the royal dignity of the Queen of the Angels and Saints is well represented in her clothes.
Above her head with Greek letters are written initials of the phrase “Mother of God”, above the head of the Child Jesus are initials of “Jesus Christ” and also initials above the heads of Archangels Michael and Gabriel.