The original miraculous picture, painted on wood by an Eastern artist,
is at least 500 years old. An inscription associated with the first
shrine related how it had been stolen from Crete by a merchant who
brought it to Rome at the close of the 15th century. Falling ill and
close to death, he begged a friend to see that the picture was given to
some church where it would be fittingly honoured. The friend, however,
failed to keep the promise. According to a well-documented tradition,
only after Our Lady had repeatedly spoken to his six year old daughter
was the dying man’s wish fulfilled.
Calling herself “Holy Mary of Perpetual Help” in the visions, Mary
told the little girl that she wished her picture be given to the church
of St. Matthew, which stood between the two great basilicas of St. Mary
Major and St. John Lateran, in Rome.
ln this church of St Matthew, served by the Augustinian monks, the
picture found a home where it was venerated for 200 years (1499-1798).
Soon it became famous for favours granted to those who prayed
before it. ln 1798, the armies of the French Revolution occupied Rome
and some thirty churches were destroyed, including the Church of St.
Matthew. At this time, the church was in the care of lrish Augustinians,
exiled by the penal laws of England, who transferred the picture to a
neighbouring monastery in Rome. Later, they placed it in their “house
chapel” at Santa Maria in Posterula where it remained in obscurity until
Meanwhile, a new church was built by the Redemptorists almost on the
very site of the old St. Matthew’s Church. Through God’s providence the
picture of Our Lady was discovered and learning of its history, the
Redemptorists appealed to Pope Pius lX to re-install the picture to
their church. The Pope agreed and entrusted its guardianship to the
Redemptorist Congregation. On that occasion, in 1866, he commissioned
them to spread everywhere devotion to the picture, by saying: “Make Her
known throughout the world.”
On 26 April 1866, the miraculous icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help
was brought in solemn procession to the Church of Sant’Alfonso. That
was the beginning of so many thanksgivings, not only in Rome, but
throughout the whole world, where the Redemptorists never cease to
preach the goodness and inspiration of Our Mother of Perpetual Help.
Till the present day, the miraculous icon of Our Mother of Perpetual
Help stands at the centre of the Shrine Church of St. Alphonsus Liguori,
the ‘headquarters’ of the Redemptorists in Rome.
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