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 1866.
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.