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Statuary Mary - Our Lady of Perpetual Help

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Mary - Our Lady of Perpetual Help

Our Lady of Perpetual Help, also known as Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, is a title given to the Blessed Virgin Mary by Pope Pius IX, associated with a celebrated Byzantine icon of the same name dating from the 15th century.

The icon has been in Rome since 1499, and is currently in the church of Sant'Alfonso di Liguori all'Esquilino. In the Eastern Orthodox Church this iconography is known as the Virgin of the Passion or Theotokos of the Passion.

Due to the Redemptorist Priests who had been appointed as missionaries of this icon, the image has become very popular among Roman Catholics in particular, and has been very much copied and reproduced. Modern reproductions are sometimes displayed in homes, business establishments, and public transportation. The Redemptorist priests are the only religious order currently entrusted by the Holy See to protect and propagate a Marian religious work of art.

The icon has merited two Papal endorsements, one from Pope Pius IX who entrusted the icon to the Redemptorist in December 1865, and another from Blessed Pope John Paul II, who presented an icon to a Muslim cleric in May 2001 during his first-ever visit to the Umayyad Mosque.

A feast in honour of the icon was celebrated on 27 June and "novena" prayers are customarily held on Wednesdays. Today, the feast day of the Our Lady of Perpetual Help is celebrated on June 27 of the year, with novenas held every Wednesday of the weeks of the year.

Description

The original wooden icon suspended in the altar measures 17" 21" inches and is painted on hard nut wood with a gold leaf background. The image depicts 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. On the left side is the Saint Archangel Michael, carrying the lance and sponge of the crucifixion of Jesus. On the right is the Saint Archangel Gabriel 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 to the school which has produced this icon. The Byzantine depictions of the Blessed Virgin Mary in art has three stars, one star each on the shoulder and one on the forehead. This type of icon is called Hodegetria composition, where Saint Mary is also pointing to her Son, known as a Theotokos of the Passion.

The Greek inscriptions read 'MP-ΘΥ (Μήτηρ Θεού, Mother of God); OAM (Archangel Michael); OAΓ (Archangel Gabriel); and Iς-Xς ( Ἰησοῦς Χριστός, Jesus Christ ), respectively. The icon is painted with a gold background on a walnut panel which was probably painted in the islands of Crete, which at the time was then ruled by the Republic of Venice. The Cretan School was the source of the many icons imported into Europe from the late Middle Ages through the Renaissance. The icon was cleaned and restored once in 1866 and again in the year 1940.

Some Roman Catholics believe the icon to be a true copy of the painting that according to legend was painted from the life 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 Blessed Virgin Mary both in the Latins and Orthodox communities. The icon is unique and renowned due to 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.

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 from Crete who was sailing to Rome. The merchant sailed and hid the icon while traveling at sea, until a storm hit hard and the sailors prayed with the icon for help. When the merchant arrived in Rome he fell ill, and as he was dying wish he asked a second merchant to place the icon in a church where it could serve for veneration. Initially, the merchant was reluctant in giving away the icon and took four instances until the second merchant confided to his wife about the icon. Upon seeing the beautiful icon, the woman refused to give it to the church but instead hung it in their home. Later on, the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to the merchant's daughter, grandmother and neighbor, who implored that the icon be turned over to a parish. The Virgin Mary allegedly appeared to the little girl that the icon ought to be placed between the basilicas of St. Mary Major and St. John Lateran. The wife gave the icon to the Augustinian Friars. On March 27, 1499, the icon was transferred to the church of San Matteo where it remained for 300 years.

Transfer

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 land they had purchased was actually the church and monastery of Saint Matthew, the site which was the alleged choice of the Virgin to enshrine the icon.

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.

Restoration of the icon

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 into 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 previous overpainting, resulting in a combination of "oriental and occidental" features of the image.

Present caretaker

The Superior General of the Redemptorists, Father Nicholas Mauron, brought the urgent matter to the attention of Pope Pius IX, who later decided the icon should certainly be exposed to public veneration and given an official Marian title. The current site chosen by Pope Pius IX was the Church of St. Alphonse, standing as it did on the site where it had formerly been venerated. In 1866, Pope Pius IX wrote a short memorandum ordering 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. 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 June 23, 1867, the image was canonically crowned by the Dean of the Vatican Chapter in a solemn and official recognition of the Marian icon under that title. On April 21, 1866, the Redemptorist Superior General gave one of the first copies of the icon to Pope Pius XI. 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.

Pope Pius IX very words of instructions to the Redemptorists were:

11 December 1865

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.

Pope Pius IX

Religious veneration

Our Lady of Perpetual Help has been venerated, having been popularized among many cultures and under several titles in different languages such as Nuestra Senora del Perpetuo Socorro, Notre-Dame du Perpetuel Secours, Mater de Perpetuo Succursu, Ina ng Laging Saklolo, and Mother of Perpetual Succour. In addition to this, Our Lady of Perpetual Help has been the national patron saint of Haiti.

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. In June 1922, the first American novena service dedicated to the icon was recited in Saint Alphonsus "The Rock" church in St. Louis, Missouri, United States.

Republic of the Philippines

Among Roman Catholics in the Philippines and various Filipino communities worldwide, Our Lady of Perpetual Help is widely venerated. Pope John Paul II held mass at the National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in the Philippines where the devotion is very popular and many Catholic churches hold a Rosary, Benediction, Novena and Eucharistic Mass honoring Mary every Wednesday using a replica of the icon, which is also widely displayed in houses, buses and public transport in the Philippines. Devotions to the icon have spread from the Philippines to the United States. The Perpetual Help Novena uses the same Wednesday novena booklet initially published by the Redemptorist Fathers from Ireland who introduced the icon to the Philippines in the early 20th century. Many Roman Catholic parishes with Filipino communities abroad have also adopted the same tradition of the solemn Wednesday novena.

National Patroness of Haiti

According to Roman Catholic Bishop Guy Sansaricq, former Haitian president Elie 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 Blessed 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 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 Kebreau.

The text in this box was generated from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the CC-BY-SA.

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