Our Lady of Perpetual Help

— Reverend Matthew R. Mauriello

The original picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Help is painted on a wood panel and is about seventeen by twenty-one inches. It is Byzantine in style and similar to many portraits of Our Lady with the infant Jesus found throughout Russia and the East. The manner of portraying Mary is called the Hodegetria, where Mary's hand points to her Son.

On either side are the Archangels Gabriel and Michael bearing the instruments of the Passion. The artist depicts the anguish of Christ as He looks upon the cross and His left sandal is falling off His foot as if He hurriedly ran back to the arms of His mother for her help and protection.

Mary's face is turned , not toward her Son, but to those who gaze upon the picture. The sufferings that await her Son are vividly portrayed and she looks at the viewer as a reminder of the great suffering that Christ had to endure to achieve the salvation of the world.

This miraculous picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Help was brought from Crete to Rome by a merchant around the year 1495. According to legend, he stole it from a church in Crete. Thereafter, he became mortally ill and before his death he asked a friend that the painting be placed in a church as a form of restitution.

Although the friend had promised to do so, his wife asked that the image remain in their home. Subsequently, Our Lady appeared to the youngest daughter of the family and asked that the image be brought to the Church of St. Matthew, "between the Basilicas of St. Mary Major and St.John Lateran," where it could be venerated by the faithful. To this young child, Our Lady also revealed herself as " Holy Mary of Perpetual Help."

On March 27, 1499, the picture was solemnly enthroned on the high altar in the Church of St. Matthew, under the protection of the Augustinian Fathers. It was venerated there for almost three centuries until 1798, until the French army seized Rome, took Pope Pius VI (1774-1799) into captivity and leveled thirty churches in Rome, including St. Matthew's. The image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help was removed from the church before its destruction and kept in a private chapel of the Augustinians at St. Mary in Posterula, near the Tiber River.

In the year 1863, Fr. Francis Blosi, S.J. was preaching in the Church of the Gesu in Rome and related the history of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, with the hope that the image could be located and be placed in veneration for the faithful once gain. A member of the Redemptorist Order, Fr. Michael Marchi, had served Mass in the private Augustinian Chapel when he was a child and knew the whereabouts of the image.

When Pope Pius IX (1846-1878) heard the story, he decreed that the miraculous image be given to the Redemptorists to be venerated in their church of Saint Alfonso on the Via Merulana , located between the Basilicas of St. Mary Major and St. John Lateran. The Redemptorists had purchased this land in 1855 to build their Motherhouse and Church, which included the site on which St. Matthew's Church had stood.

The picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Help was exposed for public veneration above the high altar of the Church of Saint Alfonso on April 26, 1866 where it remains to this day. The holy image was solemnly crowned on June 23, 1867. Although it is not celebrated in the universal calendar of the church, the Redemptorist Order observes the Feast of our Lady of Perpetual Help each year on June 27.

The above article appeared in the Fairfield County Catholic January 1996. Reprinted with permission of the author and publisher.

Image shown:
Our Lady of Perpetual Help

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