The miraculous picture is painted like an icon. Two angels designated as Sts. Michael and Gabriel are seen beside the Virgins head, carrying in their veiled hands the instruments of Christs Passion, the Cross, the spear, and the sponge. The picture was probably painted by a Greek artist of the thirteenth or fourteenth century. Some scholars think that the picture may be modeled after an ancient icon called the Hodegetria, which means the guide or leader of the way.
The History of Our Lady of Perpetual Help
While we may not know the exact origins of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, we do know the next of the storyfrom the original picture itself. A parchment attached to the painting tells the story of how the painting got to Rome.
According to this record, a merchant from the island of Crete heard stories of many miracles that occurred around a fabulous painting on the island. Wanting this power for himself, he stole the painting and packed it away with his other wares. His travels led him, and the stolen painting, to Rome, where he suddenly fell ill. As he lay dying, he told the whole story of the stolen painting to his friend, a Roman, who was caring for him during his illness. His last request was that the Roman take the painting and have it placed in a church where it would help many people.
The Romans wife, however, put the painting in her bedroom. Mary made her opinion of this situation known by appearing to the Roman in a series of visions. Each time, she asked him to stop hoarding the painting and start sharing it with others. And each time, the Roman ignored her.
After being rejected by the adults, Mary visited their six-year old daughter. The daughter announced that Mary had commanded that the painting be placed in a church between St. Mary Major and St. John Laterana church called St. Matthews. At last, the Roman obeyed, and the painting was placed in the care of the Augustinians on March 27, 1499.
It's hard to understand why Mary would choose such a place to be honored. St. Matthews was a small church in a barren place far from the center of the city. Yet the rich and the poor, the powerful and the lowly alike, traveled the rough stone path to the church to seek comfort from Our Lady of Perpetual Helpand to learn from her humility.
One man, however, was not impressed. In 1798, Napoleons general ordered the destruction of thirty churches when the French invaded Rome. St. Matthews was one of them. After the soldiers left, those who loved Mary searched the ruins but could find no trace of the painting. There seemed to be no doubt that their beloved painting had perished with the church.
Almost half a century later and miles away, an altar boy named Michael listened to a sacristans tales of the past. The sacristan, named Augustine Orsetti, pointed to a painting of Mary in the chapel and said, See that painting, Michael? It is oldvery old. It used to hang in St. Matthews Church, where many people came to pray to the Mother of God. The painting, he said, had been rescued at the last minute, hidden from the marauding general in a humble cart, and transported secretly to this chapel. Remember that, the sacristan told him. Michael Marchi remembered.
Years later, Father Michael Marchi, by then a Redemptorist, was in Rome. In 1853, Pope Pius IX commanded the Redemptorists to establish their world headquarters in Rome.
After much searching and prayer, the Redemptorists bought a huge estate. When they inspected their new property, they found a house, barns, stables, gardensand the ruins of the old church. Inquiring into the history of the church, the Redemptorists learned that its name was St. Matthews, and that it once had housed a miraculous painting, a painting that had been lost.
Even as they ruefully shook their heads at the loss of such a treasure, Father Michael stunned his associates by telling them that not only did the painting exist, but he knew where it was.
After three years of prayer, the Redemptorists decided to ask that the painting be brought back to Rome. When they told Pope Pius that it was Marys own wish that she be enshrined between St. Mary Major and St. John Lateranwhere the Church of St. Alphonsus now stoodthe pope immediately commanded the return of the painting. Flowers and banners greeted Our Lady of Perpetual Help on April 26, 1886, and miracles attended her processionincluding the cure of a four-year-old boy suffering from a brain illness. After 75 years, Our Lady of Perpetual Help had finally returned home.
But Pope Pius IX did not give the painting to the Redemptorists as a gift. He gave it to them as a mission. He told them, Make Our Mother of Perpetual Help known throughout the world. The Redemptorists embraced this command wholeheartedly by distributing reproductions of her picture and talking about her in missions and homilies around the world.
Their efforts yielded impressive results. By the turn of the century, 1.8 million Spaniards belonged to the Archconfraternity of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, ten thousand shrines and altars were dedicated to her in France, and devotions in her honor were observed in several thousand churches all over America. These services, or novenas, of Our Mother of Perpetual Help drew thousands of people. Churches in St. Louis, New Orleans, Detroit, Chicago, and Boston had to hold eight to ten services a day to accommodate everyone who wanted to honor Mary, and in New York, the service was even broadcast over the radio.
Novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Help
See at your feet, O Mother of Perpetual Help, a poor sinner who has recourse to you and confides in you. O Mother of Mercy, have pity on me! I hear you called the refuge and the hope of sinners; be my refuge and my hope.
Help me, for the love of Jesus Christ; stretch forth your hand to a poor fallen sinner. I devote myself to your devotion and ask that you remember my needs (here make your request).
I bless and thank Almighty God, who in His mercy has given me the grace to seek eternal salvation in your holy name.
Mother of Perpetual Help, grant that we may be delivered through the help of your intercession, from the slavery of all our sins.