Patty Knap calls herself a “born again” Catholic. She planned to be a wife and mother of four or five kids with several girls, but as life played out, she’s a single mom with two young adult boys. She counsels at a crisis pregnancy center, teaches CCD, takes online classes with the Avila Institute, and loves the beach, dalmatians, and America’s national parks. She also saves recipes in a pile until it gets big and then throws them out.
The familiar image of the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help has a fascinating history.
No one knows who made it. Icons are never signed. It is believed to have been written in the thirteenth century in Crete. Two angels, Michael and Gabriel, are seen with the Mother of God, whose title is abbreviated in Greek letters, and Jesus. It was venerated on the Greek island where it hung above the main altar of a cathedral.
For many years a note hung a large piece of parchment affixed to a wooden tablet, by the icon in St. Matthew’s Church in Rome, the first shrine to have the picture.
Later this parchment was attached to the picture itself. The document, written in both Latin and Italian, gives a history of the picture, citing its arrival in Rome as 1499 and its solemn enthronement in the Augustinian Church of St. Matthew.
The original parchment is no longer in existence, but copies have been found in the Vatican Library. What follows is a condensed translation of the parchment:
A merchant of Crete, stole this picture of the Virgin, which had worked many miracles on that island. He boarded a ship and set out to sea.
When a great storm arose, the sailors began to despair for their safety. Though they knew nothing about the picture, they prayed fervently to God and to the Virgin. Their prayers were heard and they were saved from the storm.
A year later the merchant came to Rome, bringing the picture with him. There he was stricken with a malignant disease. Immediately, he called to his bedside a Roman friend and asked for help. The Roman took the merchant into his home and did all he could to help him, but the disease continued to grow worse.
Finally, the dying man called on his friend and, with tears in his eyes, begged him to fulfill his one last request.
When the Roman promised to do what he asked, the merchant told the entire story of how he had stolen the picture from the church where it had been famous for working so many miracles. He told the Roman where it could now be found and asked that the picture be put in some church, where it would be more appropriately worshiped by the people.
After the merchant’s death the picture was found among his belongings, as he said it would be. The wife of the Roman prevailed upon him not to take the merchant’s picture out of the house. Instead she placed it in her bedroom and kept the picture there.
The Blessed Virgin told the Roman, in a vision, not to keep the stolen picture, but to put it in some more honorable place. He neglected to do so.
Some time later the Virgin returned and advised him, as before, that he should not keep the picture in his house. He paid no attention to this request. The Virgin then appeared to the Roman’s six‑year‑old daughter and told her to warn her mother and her grandfather saying, “Our Lady of Perpetual Succor commands you to take her out of your house. . . .”
Finally [after further delays] the Virgin Mary appeared to the little girl for a second time, commanding her to tell her mother to place her picture between St. Mary Major and St. John Lateran, in the church dedicated to St. Matthew, the Apostle.
The mother did as she was told and sent for the Augustinian Fathers, who were in charge of that church. That very day the picture was moved to the Church of St. Matthew. . . In this manner the picture of the most Blessed Virgin was enshrined in the church of St. Matthew the Apostle on March 27, 1499.
Through the centuries the picture has been the source of many miracles and favors to those who have venerated it.
When St. Matthew’s was destroyed in 1789, the icon was rescued and hung in an obscure monastery chapel until the Redemptorists learned that the site of their new headquarters in Rome had once been the site of St. Matthew’s, the one-time home of a miraculous icon of Our Lady.
A Redemptorist priest who visited the monastery chapel as a young man informed his brothers where to find the image. The Redemptorists asked Pope Pius IX for permission to move the icon to their new church, San Alfonso, which was built on the location of the icon’s earlier home. The pope granted his permission and told the Redemptorists to “make her known throughout the world.”
The icon portrays sorrow. Mary’s expression is one of sorrow, while showing maternal affection. The angels in the upper corners of the picture carry the instruments of Christ’s Sorrowful Passion. Christ Himself manifests fright and sorrow as He turns away in fear from the instruments of torture. In His haste to find refuge in the arms of His Mother, His sandal has come loose and it seems to be falling from his foot. With her left arm she supports her Child. So closely does she hold him that it is impossible to separate Mother and Child in the picture. This points to the closeness between Jesus and Mary.
Many cathedrals, parishes, schools, hospitals, and organizations all over the world carry the name of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, also known as Our Mother of Perpetual Help. In South America and the Philippines She is known as Our Lady of Good Succor. Since 1866, the Redemptorists are the official caretakers of the original Our Lady of Perpetual Help icon and the primary promoters of the devotion.
The Symbolism in the Icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help
Our Lady of Perpetual Help, also known as Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, is a title given to the Blessed Virgin Mary by Pope Pius IX, associated with a celebrated Byzantine icon of the same name dating from the 15th century. This icon has been in Rome since 1499, and is currently in the church of Sant’Alfonso di Liguori all’Esquilino. The image has become very popular among Catholics in particular, and has been very much copied and reproduced.
Prayer to Our Mother of Perpetual Help
Mother of Perpetual Help, your very name inspires confidence. We come before your holy picture in praise and thanksgiving to God, seeking your intercession with Jesus, your son, for all the needs of our lives today. We celebrate your holy motherhood as we proclaim Jesus Christ our Lord and Redeemer.
You answered when called to be mother of our Lord. Obtain for us the grace to be alive to our baptismal call and especially to embrace the Gospel of life and to respect all life on earth.
You wondered as your Son grew in wisdom, knowledge and grace.
Intercede for us so that we may welcome the Word of God in our lives and be bearers of the good news to everyone.
You delighted as your Son healed the sick.
Intercede for our sick that they may receive good health and that they in their turn may be healers to others.
You enjoyed peace as your Son comforted the afflicted.
Intercede for all who suffer so that they may know that we carry their burdens with them and in this way we keep the law of Christ.
You rejoiced as your Son forgave sins.
Obtain for us the forgiveness of our sins and lead us to unbind others and set them free.
You suffered at the wounds your Son endured for our salvation.
Help us to bind up the broken-hearted and to give hope to the downtrodden.
You exulted in your Son’s resurrection.
Obtain for us the grace to persevere in His way all the days of our life and be granted a place in heaven.
You are the first of all the disciples and saints. We trust in your motherly love and care.
Obtain for us all the graces we need to fulfill God’s plan each day in our lives. Amen.