Our Mother of Perpetual Help
Each year our special devotion to the Blessed Mother under the title of 'Perpetual Help' has been featured here. For many Catholics of a certain age this image of Mary is a very familiar one but often its history and the reason for its special significance to the Redemptorist family remains a mystery. The story provided here should fill in many gaps. It has been provided by the Perpetual Help Center, Bronx, New York.
Painted in tempera on hard nutwood, 21 inches by 17 inches the original picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Help is one of many copies of the famed Hodeguitria of St. Luke (the picture of Our Lady, reputedly painted by St. Luke, venerated for centuries at Constantinople as a miraculous icon, destroyed by the Turks in 1453). Although one of many copies, is it the one copy singled out by the Blessed Mother herself as the means of special favors. Today it is enshrined above the high altar in the Redemptorist Church of San Alfonso in Rome, Italy. How it got there is a long story.
At the close of the 15th century, a merchant stole the picture from its shrine on the island of Crete. He miraculously survived a tumultuous sea voyage and finally brought the icon to Rome. There, before he died, he gave it to a Roman friend, begging him to have it placed in a worthy church. The friend did not do so.
Our Lady then appeared, urging the Roman to comply with the request, threatening him even with death. At his wife's word, however, the man chose to ignore the apparition. He died shortly afterward. Not to be refused, Our Lady appeared to the little daughter of the family, "Go to your mother and grandfather," she commanded, "and say to them: 'Holy Mary of Perpetual Help warns you to take her from your house; else all of you shall soon die.' " The girl relayed the message to her mother. Panic-stricken, the woman promised to obey.
Our Lady then told the little girl just where the picture should be placed: in the church "between the basilica of St. Mary Major and that of St. John Lateran." In solemn procession, on March 27, 1499, the icon was carried to that church, the church of St. Matthew the Apostle. The dame day a miracle occurred; a man's arm, crippled beyond use, was completely restored.
For 300 years, the picture hung over the main altar in the church of St. Matthew the Apostle, loved by all, renowned far and wide for miracles. Then came June, 1798. Napoleon entered Rome. The church of St. Matthew was leveled to the ground. The picture disappeared. For 64 years it remained hidden, almost forgotten until one day at recreation, in the Redemptorist house in Rome, one of the Fathers mentioned having read, in an old book, that their present church, San Alfonso, was built on the ruins of St. Matthew's, where once was enshrined a miraculous picture: Our Lady of Perpetual Help. The named startled Father Michael Marchi. He recalled, as a boy, having served Mass in the oratory of the Irish Augustinians at Santa Maria in Posterula. There he had seen the picture because an old Brother had pointed it out to him.
Some months later, in February, Father Francis Blosi, S.J., preached on "the lost Madonna of Perpetual Help," told how it was Our Lady's wish that the picture be enshrined in the church "between the basilicas of St. Mary Major and St. John Lateran." Word got back to the Redemptorists. Word got back to the Redemptorists. The Superior General was informed. But he waited three more years. He wanted to be certain.
Finally, on December 11, 1865, the whole matter was presented to Pope Pius IX. On January 19, 1866, the miraculous picture was brought once more to the site of its former glory, the church between the two basilicas, now that of San Alfonso. With this move the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, the Redemptorists, were charged with the mission to promote devotion to the Blessed Mother under the title of Our Lady of Perpetual Help whose image is venerated it the icon. Three months later, it was solemnly enshrined. And on June 23, 1867, it was crowned by an elaborate jeweled tiara affixed to the original icon.