Icon Intrigue (Part 1 of 2)

The Icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help has had a very interesting history, full of adventure and mystery.

The story reads like a modern-day thriller, from a merchant in Crete in the 1400s who stole the Icon from a local church, to its eventual placement in the Church of Saint Alphonsus in Rome, where it is venerated today.

Inbetween we have the merchant’s deathbed confession and extraction of a promise from a friend to return the Icon to Crete, the friend’s death before this could take place, the Virgin Mary appearing to the six-year-old daughter of the friend, instructing her where the Icon should be placed (in the Church of St. Matthew the Apostle), and the destruction of that church in Rome during the Napoleonic Wars.

The exiled Irish Augustinians had already entered the picture by that time, and the Icon was transferred by them to the Church of St. Mary in Posterula, where it was placed in a private chapel and virtually forgotten, because Our Lady of Grace was already being specially venerated in that parish.  Save for one aging Augustinian, Brother Orsetti, who passed on the information about the Icon to a young altar boy named Michael Marchi, the Icon’s fate might have been much different.  Michael Marchi’s recollections of the Icon were pitiful:  “…there was no devotion to it, no decorations, not even a lamp to acknowledge its presence…it remained covered with dust and practically abandoned.”

Thankfully, through Michael Marchi, the whereabouts of the Icon was made known to the Redemptorists who received it gratefully from the Irish Augustinians, and eventually it made its way to its current location, where it is venerated by hundreds of thousands of pilgrims every year.

Now why am I telling you all of this, apart from the fact that it’s a thrilling bit of Catholic/icon history?  It’s because this story came back vividly to mind during some recent email correspondence I had concerning another mysterious icon, which we’ll find out more about in Part 2…

[Information for this post was taken from the book in my sidebar:  Our Lady of Perpetual Help.  The Icon, Favors and Shrines]


4 Responses

  1. Just found your website tonight, was searching for material on OLPH as the annual novena is on here in Limerick (www.novena.ie). Just wanted to say it’s a lovely site.

  2. Fergus, thank you very much, and for the info you left. I just visited the site at Mount St. Alphonsus in Limerick and saw the beautiful altar and icon of Our Lady on the live webcam. It’s so wonderful that you have the novena there. I will go back there and visit more later this evening.

    We have been very lucky also to have learned about the novena at Clonard Monastery in West Belfast, through our blogger friend Veritas of “Poetry, Prayer and Praise” blog.

  3. Hi Gabrielle

    The webcams run through our service on http://www.churchservices.tv. We keep a schedule of all the upcoming events including all the Novenas from the other Churches on the service.

  4. Hello, Dave. I’m happy your comment got through, because my blog is set up not to allow comments with links (I had to do that because I was receiving some extremely bad links from spammers), but I guess it doesn’t always work (happily in this case)! I didn’t have enough time this evening to go back and look at the Mount St. Alphonsus site from Fergus’ comment as I had planned, so I will be looking at both that and yours tomorrow. God bless!

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