As a convert to Catholicism, I began my education on the Church’s Marian doctrines and miracles. On Tuesday of this week, I attended a special Mass and devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help. At the devotion was a beautiful icon of Mary and Jesus. In studying it, I could see how Our Lady in this picture was filled with symbolism and special meaning.
The icon shows Jesus, as a child, fleeing into the protective arms of Mary. Archangels Michael and Gabriel are showing Jesus the instruments of crucifixion. The Greek letters on the icon spell out the first letters of the names, Mary and Jesus.
First on Crete:
The icon was originally on the island of Crete. During the 15th Century, a merchant who had heard about miracles associated with the icon, stole it. He traveled to Rome and became very ill. He then ordered that the icon be placed in a church, hoping that this act would guarantee his healing. But the friend responsible for the icon took it to his own home, and it was hung in his bedroom.
While the icon was hanging on the man’s bedroom wall, Mary appeared to the man several times and told him to place the icon in a church. But the man refused. Next Mary appeared to the man’s daughter and requested that the icon be enshrined in a church between the two very large churches of St. Mary Major and St. John Lateran. The daughter communicated this to her father and he relented, and so the icon was enshrined in 1499 in St. Matthew’s, the church that lies between the two larger churches.
The church with the icon became a favorite place of pilgrims for 300 years. Then Napoleon’s army destroyed the church in 1798. The image was lost for the next 60 years.
Rescued by the Redemptorists:
In 1855, the Order of Redemptorists Priests built their church in honor of their founder, St. Alphonsus Liguori, on the spot where St. Matthew’s had once stood. As it was, the icon had been safely relocated to an Augustinian monastery near Rome. As a boy, a young Redemptorist had heard about the miraculous image being previously enshrined at the location where the new church had been build. The Pope was petitioned, and the image was returned to the spot where the Virgin had requested.
The Pope commissioned the Redemptorist order to spread devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help throughout the world. Today, replicas of the image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help grace the altars of countless churches throughout the world.
Soon after the image of the Virgin was returned to the Church of St. Alphonsus in Rome, copies of the image were commissioned. One of these early paintings was sent to Redemptorists at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Boston, Mass. They enthroned the image above the main altar of their church on Pentecost Sunday of 1871.
Within two days of placing the commissioned image in the Boston church, miracles were reported. A child with an incurable would was brought to the image and was healed. A woman was healed of palsy. So many people began praying at the image that a bigger basilica had to be built. This new basilica was built in 1978 and still stands today.
Since that time, literally hundreds of cures have been attributed to Our Lady’s miraculous image enshrined in the basilica. On both sides of the church’s altar, where the image is enshrined, crutches left behind by the people who were healed leave a beautiful testimony of the healing love experienced there.