Our Lady of Perpetual Help
|Our Mother of Perpetual Help|
|Location||Esquiline Hill, Rome, Italy|
|Type||Icon of Cretan School, Theotokos|
|Holy See approval||Pope Pius IX|
|Shrine||Saint Alphonsus di Liguouri Shrine|
|Patronage||• Redemptorist Order|
• Almoradi, Spain
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of the Catholic Church
Virgo by Josef Moroder-Lusenberg
Our Lady of Perpetual Help (also known as Our Lady of Perpetual Succour)[Note 1] is a Roman Catholic title of the Blessed Virgin Mary as represented in a celebrated 15th-century Byzantine icon also associated with the same Marian apparition.
The icon originated from the Keras Kardiotissas Monastery and has been in Rome since 1499. Today it is permanently enshrined in the Church of Saint Alphonsus, where the official Novena to Our Mother of Perpetual Help text is prayed weekly.
On 23 June 1867, Pope Pius IX granted the image its Canonical Coronation along with its present title. The Redemptorist priests are the only religious order currently entrusted by the Holy See to protect and propagate a Marian religious work of art. In the Eastern Orthodox Church iconography, the image is known as the ”Virgin Theotokos of the Passion” due to the instruments of the Passion of Jesus Christ present on the image.
The feast day of the image is celebrated on June 27, with novena devotions held every Wednesday. Under Pope Pius XII's Pontificate, the image was designated as the national Patroness of the Republic of Haiti and Almoradi, Spain. In addition, Pope John Paul II issued a canonical coronation for a similar image in Jaworzno, Poland in 16 June 1999.
Due to the propagation of the Redemptorist Priests since 1865, the image has become very popular among Roman Catholics. Modern reproductions are oftentimes displayed in residential homes, commercial establishments, and public transportation.
The original wooden icon is suspended on the altar, measures 17" × 21" inches and is written on hard nut wood with a gold leaf background. The image depicts the following symbols:
- The Blessed Virgin Mary — wearing a dress of dark red, representing the Passion of Jesus, with a blue mantle, representing her perpetual virginity, and cloaked veil, which represents her pure modesty.
- The subject shows Mary looking towards the faithful, while pointing at her son, Jesus Christ who is frightened by the instruments of crucifixion and is depicted with a fallen sandal.
- The left side is Saint Michael Archangel — carrying the lance and sponge of the crucifixion of Jesus.
- On the right side is Saint Gabriel Archangel carrying a 3-bar cross used by Popes at the time and nails.
- The Virgin Mary has a star on her forehead signifying her role as Star of the Sea while the cross on the side has been claimed as referring to the Greek monastery which produced the icon.
Byzantine depictions of the Blessed Virgin Mary in art have three stars, one star each on the shoulder and one on the forehead. This type of icon is called Hodegetria, where Mary is pointing to her Son, known as a Theotokos of the Passion.
Mary has long slender nose, thin lips, and smoothly arched eyebrows, evidence of being made by a Greek artist. The veil and her face itself are rounded, indicating holiness. The size of the mother is also out of proportion to her son, a deliberate intent by the artist Mary as larger than life.
The Greek inscriptions read MP-ΘΥ (Μήτηρ Θεοῦ, Mother of God), ΟΑΜ (Ὁ Ἀρχάγγελος Μιχαήλ, Michael the Archangel), ΟΑΓ (Ὁ Ἀρχάγγελος Γαβριήλ, Gabriel the Archangel) and IC-XC (Ἰησοῦς Χριστός, Jesus Christ), respectively.
The icon has a gold background on a walnut panel, believed to be from Crete.  The Cretan School was the source of the many icons imported into Europe from the late Middle Ages through the Renaissance. The gold background represents the Kingdom of God. The round halo surrounding the Virgin Mary's head is styled called Estofado, which is an artistic effect created by making dented holes into the icon to reflect light from the gold background. The icon was cleaned and restored once in 1866 and again in the year 1940.
Popular legends claim that the icon to be a true copy of a painting that according to legend was painted by Saint Luke using the meal table of the Holy Family in Nazareth, and in Eastern Orthodox tradition was often identified with the Hodegetria icon, and consider it to be a miraculous imprint of the Virgin Mary both in the Latin and Orthodox communities. This belief is common in many Hodegetria icons who have similar claims of Lucan legends.
Origin and discovery
The earliest written account of the image comes from a Latin and Italian plaque placed in the church of San Matteo in Via Merulana where it was first venerated by the public in 1499. The writer of the icon is unknown, but according to a parchment attached to the painting that accompanied the icon, it was stolen by a merchant sailing to Rome from the island of Crete. (The Keras Kardiotissas Monastery is regarded as the monastery from which the icon was stolen.)
The image remained in the private possession of a Roman merchant and his family until March 27, 1499, when the icon was transferred to the church of San Matteo where it remained for 300 years. The picture was then popularly called the Madonna di San Matteo.
In 1798, French troops under Louis-Alexandre Berthier occupied Rome as part of the French Revolutionary Wars, establishing the short-lived Roman Republic and taking Pope Pius VI prisoner. Among the several churches demolished during the French occupation was San Matteo in Via Merulana, which housed the icon. The Augustinian friars who rescued the icon first took it to the nearby Church of St. Eusebius, then later set it up on a side altar in the Church of Santa Maria in Posterula.
In January 1855, the Redemptorist priests purchased Villa Caserta in Rome along the Via Merulana and converted it into their headquarters. Without realizing it, the property they had purchased was once the church and monastery of Saint Matthew, the site which the Virgin reportedly chose as the icon's shrine.
Decades later, Pope Pius IX invited the Redemptorist Fathers to set up a Marian house of veneration in Rome, in response to which the Redemptorists built the Church of St. Alphonsus Liguori at that location. The Redemptorists were thus established on the Via Merulana, not knowing that it had once been the site of the Church of San Matteo and shrine of the once-famous icon.
Pope Pius IX sent a letter dated 11 December 1865 to Father General Mauron, C.Ss.R., ordered that the image be once again publicly venerated in Via Merulana, the new church of Saint Alphonsus. The same Pontiff directed the Augustinian friars to surrender the icon to the Redemptorist priests, on condition that the Redemptorists must supply the Augustinians with another picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Help or a good copy of the icon in exchange as a gesture of goodwill. Pope Pius IX instructions to the Redemptorists were:
The Cardinal Prefect of Propaganda will call the Superior of the community of Sancta Maria in Posterula and will tell him that it is Our desire that the image of Most Holy Mary, referred to in this petition, be again placed between Saint John and St. Mary Major; the Redemptorists shall replace it with another adequate picture.
Upon its official transfer, Pope Pius IX finally gave his Apostolic Blessing and titled the icon Mater de Perpetuo Succursu (Mother of Perpetual Help). On 23 June 1867, the image was given a Canonical Coronation by the Dean of the Vatican Chapter in a solemn and official recognition of the Marian icon under that title.
On 21 April 1866, the Redemptorist Superior General gave one of the first copies of the icon to Pope Pius IX. This copy is preserved in the chapel of the Redemptorists' Generalate in Rome. The original icon remains under the care of the Redemptorist Fathers at the Church of St. Alphonsus with the latest restoration of the icon having taken place in 1990.
In 1866, the icon underwent restoration by the Polish painter Leopold Nowotny (1822-1870).
In 1990, the icon was taken down from its altar for new photography and image restoration commissioned by the General Government of Redemptorists. The Redemptorist Order entered into contract with the Technical Department at the Vatican Museum to restore the icon and prevent further fungal damage to the icon. The restoration process involved X-ray, infra-red scanning, technical analysis of the paint and ultra-violet testing along with a Carbon-14-test which placed the icon between the year 1325-1480. Artistic analysis of the icon revealed that the facial structure of the icon was altered due to previous overpainting, resulting in a combination of "oriental and occidental" features of the image.
Our Lady of Perpetual Help has been venerated across many cultures and thus bears several titles in different languages, such as "Mother of Perpetual Succour", Mutter von immerwährenden Hilfe, Nuestra Señora del Perpetuo Socorro, Notre-Dame du Perpétuel Secours, Mater del Perpetuo Succursu, and Ina ng Laging Saklolo.
United States of America
In 1878, the Basilica and Shrine of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Boston, Massachusetts obtained a certified copy of the icon being the first in the United States. Between 1927 and 1935, the first American novena service dedicated to the icon was recited in Saint Alphonsus "The Rock" church in St. Louis, Missouri and various other Redemptorist stations around the United States.
Our Lady of Perpetual Help is widely venerated by Filipino Catholics and Overseas Filipino communities. A German copy of the icon is venerated in the National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Baclaran, Parañaque City, Metro Manila – the country's centre of devotion to the icon. Pope John Paul II once said Mass at the shrine as cardinal, and later prayed before the icon during his first pastoral visit to the country in February 1981.
Almost all Catholic churches and chapels in the Philippines have a replica of the icon, often enshrined in a side altar. Copies of the icon can also be found in countless houses, businesses, and even public utility vehicles.
Every Wednesday, many congregations hold services where they publicly recite the rosary and the icon's associated novena, along with a priest delivering Benediction and celebrating a votive Mass in its honour. Devotees today still use the same Novena booklet first published by Irish Redemptorists, who introduced the icon and its devotion to the Philippines in the early 1900s. The Filipino Diaspora continue keeping the Wednesday Novena, holding novena services in their respective parishes overseas.
In Saint John the Baptist Parish, Garcia Hernandez, Bohol, the feast of the image is held on April 27 instead of the usual liturgical date. The 48 sub-chapels in the parish participate in the annual feast, while every 27th month has each chapel's respective congregations holding a procession of the icon. This form of the devotion began in 1923 when two missionary priests, a Dutchman named Thomas and a German named Jorge, brought the icon to the town. The original icon can still be seen in a chapel of the parish; its reverse bears a Latin inscription attesting to its dedication.
The town of Almoradi, Spain invokes the patronage of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. In 1918, the son of Marquis of Rioflorido, Jose Carlos fell ill with pleurisy. His mother, the noble lady Desamparado Fontes fed him a silk fabric cloth touched to the icon of Perpetual Help in Rome which resulted in an instantaneous healing later claimed to be miraculous. As a token of thanksgiving, the lady Fontes officially donated funds to begin the Confraternity of Almoradi. On 29 May 1919, Our Lady of Perpetual Help was officially enthroned in Saint Andrew's Parish as the official patroness of the town. In 1945, Pope Pius XII confirmed this patronage by a pontifical decree. On its 50th anniversary in 1969, a public coronation of this image was held and the crowns were made by Santero artist Jose David by the town mayor and its authorities.
In addition to this, Our Lady of Perpetual Help is the designated the national patron saint of Haiti. According to Roman Catholic Bishop Guy Sansaricq, former Haitian president Élie Lescot and his cabinet petitioned the Holy See to make Our Mother of Perpetual Help the national Patroness of Haiti in 1942. Many Haitians credit the Virgin Mary under this title in performing miracles to prevent a cholera and smallpox outbreak which ravaged the country in 1882. The Holy See approved the request for patronage under the Pontificate of Pope Pius XII. The Our Lady of Perpetual Help is also present in numerous Haitian public stamps used by the Haitian postal office. In January 2010, Pope Benedict XVI invoked Our Lady of Perpetual Help for Haiti's earthquake relief through Archbishop Louis Kébreau.
Our Lady of Perpetual Help is also the patroness of the Diocese of Salina, Kansas in the United States, of the Diocese of Middlesbrough in England, and of the Catholic Diocese of Issele-Uku in Nigeria.
Notable Parishes named in honor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help
- Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help (Brooklyn, New York)
- Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help (Oklahoma City)
- Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help and St. Alphonsus in the neighbourhood of Bella Vista, Montevideo, Uruguay
- Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help and St Eugene in the zone of La Cruz de Carrasco, Montevideo, Uruguay
- Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Tarnobrzeg in Serbinów, Poland
- Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help (Boston, Massachusetts)
- Church of Saint Mary of Perpetual Help in Chicago, Illinois
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