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THE STORY BEHIND THE ICON OF OUR MOTHER OF PERPETUAL HELP

ABSTRACT

The purpose of this research is to look at the story behind Our Mother of Perpetual Helps Icon. This
research focuses mainly about the miraculous story behind the icon also its history and symbolism. The
research is composed of different parts for it to be completed. The first part tackles about the physical
characteristics of the icon. Next is the symbolism of each part of the icon for the readers to be able to fully
understand the icon. Lastly, are the history and the story about Mary Mother of Perpetual Help.

OUR MOTHER OF PERPETUAL HELPS ICON

According to Catholiccompany.com, that the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help was painted
on wood about 20" in height (54 x 41.5 centimeters) and depicts the Virgin Mary, under the title Mother
of God, holding the Child Jesus. This picture was painted in the Byzantine style of the Eastern Church.
The purpose of this style of art is not to show a beautiful scene or person but to convey a beautiful
spiritual message (olphparish.org). Byzantine types of paintings are characterized by the rich use of color
and figures which seem flat and stiff. The figures also tend to appear to be floating, and to have large

THE STORY BEHIND THE ICON OF OUR MOTHER OF PERPETUAL HELP

eyes. Backgrounds tend to be solidly golden or toned. Early Byzantine art is often called "Early Christian
art." (artlex.com).

The icon of our Mother of perpetual Help consists of many symbolisms from the clothing to the
gaze of Mary. Let us start first with the Clothing; Mary was dressed in dark blue robes and a red tunic and
it was said that colors such as dark blue and red were colors of royalty and only the empress could wear
those colors (olphparish.org) however according to gachaska.org, red was a color worn by virgins during
the time of Christ while dark blue was a color worn by mothers in Palestine. Next is Jesus clothing, he
was wearing the clothes of royalty. Only an Emperor could wear the green tunic, red sash, and gold
brocade portrayed in the picture. Also notice the sandal about to fall from Jesus foot, it indicates about
Jesus passion and death. After the clothing let us now proceed to the figures found in the background.
The gold background symbolizes heaven during the middle ages or medieval ages (5th to 15th century).
Notice also the Greek letterings (please refer to figure A). The star (eight pointed) on Marys forehead
symbolizes that she is the star that leads us to Jesus. There is also a cross located to the left of the eight
pointed star to indicate the crucifix (ornamental purposes). Archangel Gabriel is also present in the
background (right part) carrying the cross and four nails and Archangel Michael (left side) St. Michael
holds an urn filled with the gall that the soldiers offered to Jesus on the cross, the lance that pierced his
side, and the reed with the sponge. The archangels carried those things instead of instruments of praise
because they carry the instruments that Christ will encounter during his Passion. Lastly we look at their
body gestures and facial features. Marys mouth was drawn small to symbolize her few words and her
deep contemplation also based on my understanding, I think that her mouth was drawn small as a sign of
Mary being demure. We also notice on the icon Mary and Jesus gaze. Jesus seems to be looking at
something; He may be carried by Mary it seems that His attention is towards something that we dont see

THE STORY BEHIND THE ICON OF OUR MOTHER OF PERPETUAL HELP

-in the Icon at all. Maybe it implies that


Jesus saw his sufferings in the future, the reason
why he ran to his mother and took refuge. Mary
was looking straight towards us; she wasnt
looking somewhere or to someone else but her
gaze was intended directly to us. This implies
that we are just like her Son, in times of fear and
doubts we can freely run to her and take refuge.

Before proceeding to the story behind the


Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, let us
know first the history of this icon. It was said
that there are many shrines of Our Lady of Perpetual Help throughout the world. Each shrine has an
authentic copy of the original Icon of OLPH, which is in the Church of S. Alfonso in Rome.

The icon of OLPH came from the island of Crete in the Mediterranean Sea. Who painted it and when it
was painted has never been clearly established. It was brought by a Cretan merchant to Rome, Italy, in
1498. In 1499 it was formally placed in the Church of St. Matthew. It was known as a miraculous icon.
As it was being moved to the Church in 1499, a man with a paralyzed arm was cured. It remained in St.
Matthews until 1798, about 300 years. The Napoleonic armies had overrun Italy. In 1798, General
Massena ordered St. Matthews and a number of other churches in Rome to be destroyed. The Icon was
taken by the Augustinian Order who looked after St. Matthew, and was kept hidden for the next 68 years.

THE STORY BEHIND THE ICON OF OUR MOTHER OF PERPETUAL HELP

In 1866 Pope Pius IX ordered that the Icon be given to Redemptorists (Congregation of the Most
Holy Redeemer) and placed in their Church at S. Alfonso. He encouraged them to make Mary under the
title

of

Our

Lady

of

Perpetual

Help

(OLPH)

known

throughout

the

whole

world

(stpatrickstoronto.wordpress.com).

This is the story behind the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. Historically, the story of
Perpetual Help is a story of people: an unknown artist who painted the picture on the island of Crete, a
merchant who for some reason brought the picture to Rome in 1499, a friend of the merchant to whom he
gave the picture and whose wife had visions of Mary, telling her she wanted the picture enshrined for
public veneration in a little Roman church (of St. Matthew) between the two great basilicas of St. Mary
Major and St. John Lateran.

The next people in the story were the men of the religious community of St. Augustine at St.
Matthews who received the picture with joy and soon found that it aroused great devotion among the
faithful. There were many liturgies, impressive conversions, even miracles, so much so that the picture
came to be called the miraculous image of Perpetual Help.

Francois Massena. Besides carrying off the pope into exile, they ordered the destruction of some
thirty churches. Among these was St. Matthews, The Augustinians moved to other monasteries and the
miraculous picture went with them into obscurity. In time, the memory of the glorious days was all but
forgotten.

Two new people enter the story. An old Augustinian Brother named Augustino Orsetti had a
favorite altar boy, named Michael Marchi, who came to serve Mass at the monastery of Our Lady in

THE STORY BEHIND THE ICON OF OUR MOTHER OF PERPETUAL HELP

Posterula. There, the brother, who had once been at St. Matthews, often pointed to a picture in the
sacristy and told Michael that it was the famous Madonna, made homeless by the army of Napoleon.

Michael remembered. He grew up, became a priest in the community of the Redemptorists (the
next people of the story), who had just bought property in Rome (1855) and built a church in honor of
their recently canonized founder, St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori.

In tracing the history of their property, the Redemptorists soon came upon the startling discovery
that they had taken the place of old St. Matthews and their church was now the little church between the
two great basilicas?-the very spot chosen by Mary of Perpetual Help.

After a year of prayer, Father Nicholas Mauron, Rememptorist Superior General, petitioned Pope
Pius IX for permission to have the miraculous picture enshrined in their church of Sant Alfonso. The
Holy Father was so pleased that he wrote the directive there and then to the Augustinians to arrange for
the transfer of the picture from St. Marys in Posterula to Sant Alfonso.

Later, when the picture had been duly enshrined, the Pope came to pray before it. It is said that it
brought tears to his eyes. He said How beautiful she is; make her known.
Taking the popes wish as a command, the Redemptortists began shortly thereafter to preach on
the history and meaning of the picture. In an amazingly short time, devotion to Mary under her title of
Perpetual Help spread into northern Europe and in America (By Father John V. McGuire C.SS.R.
Perpetual Help World Magazine Summer, 1997.)

THE STORY BEHIND THE ICON OF OUR MOTHER OF PERPETUAL HELP

REFERENCES

Father John V. McGuire C.SS.R. The Story of Our Mother of Perpetual Help (Perpetual Help World
Magazine Summer, 1997)

The Icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help (http://gachaska.org/our-lady-of-perpetual-help/)

The icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help represents the Christian mystery of Redemption.
(https://www.catholiccompany.com/content/our-lady-perpetual-help-icon-meaning.cfm)

The Icon Message (http://www.olphparish.org/icon)

The History of the Icon (https://stpatrickstoronto.wordpress.com/ph/story-of-the-icon/)

Byzantine Art (http://www.artlex.com/ArtLex/b/byzantine.html)

THE STORY BEHIND THE ICON OF OUR MOTHER OF PERPETUAL HELP

The Story Behind the Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help

Ma. Angelica L. Diolata

University of Perpetual Help System Dalta Las Pias Campus