Although the month of Mary, October, is coming to a close the help of Mary, Our Blessed Mother, continues. The traditions surrounding Our Lady of Perpetual Help maintains this belief. According to most Marian sources, According to popular tradition as published by the Keras Kardiotissas Monastery, the icon was painted by Saint Lazarus Zographos and was known as the Panagia Kardiotissa (Παναγ?ας Καρδι?τισσας), due to the depiction of the Mother of God holding the Christ Child to her heart. Historian Stergios Spanakis had argued that the miraculous icon was the reason for the founding of the monastery. Eventually, a merchant acquired the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help from the island of Crete and had it shipped to Rome towards the end of the fifteenth century. During the voyage, a terrible storm arose, threatening the lives of all on the ship. The passengers and crew prayed to our Blessed Mother, and were saved. Once in Rome, the merchant, dying, ordered that the image should be displayed for public veneration. His friend, who retained the image, received further instructions in a dream to his little daughter. The Blessed Mother appeared to her as she slept and expressed the desire for the image to be venerated in a Church between the Basilicas of St. Mary Major and St. John Lateran in Rome. The image, consequently, was housed at the Church of St. Matthew, and became known as “The Madonna of Saint Matthew.” Pilgrims flocked to the church for the next three hundred years, and great graces were bestowed upon the faithful.
After Napoleon’s troops destroyed the Church of St. Matthew in 1812, the image was transferred to the Church of St. Mary in Posterula, and remained there for nearly forty years. There, the image was neglected and forgotten.
By divine providence, the forgotten image was rediscovered. The story of this rediscovery is impressive in its simplicity. Over the course of several years, an Augustinian monk took pains to point the icon out to a young altar boy named Michael. The monk impressed on the young lad the importance and beauty of the image, even though he himself did not know of its origins. Michael never forgot the words of his mentor. When he later became a Redemptorist Father, he told his fellow priests about Our Lady of Perpetual Help. One thing led to another and in 1865 the Superior General of the Redemptorist order wrote to the Holy Father, asking permission to “adopt” the image.
Blessed Pope Pius IX sent a letter dated 11 December 1865 to Father General Mauron, C.Ss.R., ordered that the image be once again publicly venerated in Via Merulana, the new church of Saint Alphonsus. The same Pontiff directed the Augustinian friars to surrender the icon to the Redemptorist priests, on the condition that the Redemptorists must supply the Augustinians with another picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Help or a good copy of the icon in exchange as a gesture of goodwill. Upon its official transfer, Pope Pius IX finally gave his Apostolic Blessing and titled the icon Mater de Perpetuo Succursu (Mother of Perpetual Help). When the image was being carried in a solemn procession through the streets, a young child was cured, the first of many recorded miracles attributed to Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
Our Lady of Perpetual Help is the most widely known icon in the world.
It is a Byzantine icon that is painted on wood and measures about 20" tall. It depicts the Blessed Mother, under the title of “Mother of God,” holding the child Jesus. The image belongs to a class of icons known as kardiotissa, from the Greek word kardia, meaning “heart.” This type of icon portrays mercy, compassion, and tenderness because the Blessed Mother holds the child Jesus close to her heart. By her God-given nature, a mother will always try to help her children, if there is any way that she possibly can. When we truly think of the Mother of God as our mother, we turn to her for help very often. It’s enormously hopeful and deeply comforting to know that her help for us is unending. The precious icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help is a physical reminder of that eternal truth.
For this reason alone, this image belongs in every Christian home. Knowing the symbolism embedded in the image will bring comfort and strength to those who take the time to turn to this unfailing Mother in their struggles. In the image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, baby Jesus is frightened and flees into her arms. Seeing God himself seek comfort from His Holy Mother reminds us to do the same. This image inspires us to run to Mary for help, just as Christ did, in all the trials we face.
Looking at this image, some have attested that we can hear Our Lady saying, “Yes, the life of a Christian will be very hard. But I will stay with you. You won’t have to do it alone.” And indeed she remains by our side, offering steady support and consolation, perpetually.
Mary is present and attentive to our needs throughout the year. But, as Popes from the past have said, it is October that our devotion to Our Loving Mother should be at its most intense. Her feast day is June 27.