La Madre del Buen consejo
Our Lady of Good Counsel, Genazzano
by Bro. Francis M. Kalvelage, FI
ABOVE THE MAIN entrance of the church of the Madonna del Buon Consiglio in the, little, picturesque town of Genazzano there is a Latin inscription; translated it reads:
“In the year of the Incarnation, 1467, on the feast of St. Mark, at the hour of Vespers, the image of the Mother of God, which you venerate.... appeared from on high.”
How this fragile, eggshell thin portrait of the Madonna and Child Jesus appeared from out of a clear sky in a mysterious cloud and landed unsupported on the wall of an unfinished church is but another example of how God, through His Mother, likes to confound the “wisdom of the learned.” How can its flight be explained apart from the miraculous? The Translation by angels of the Holy House of Nazareth to Loreto, Italy, may be questioned by skeptics because of a lack of contemporary documentation, but such cannot be said of the astounding arrival of this sacred icon in Genazzano, Italy.
It was witnessed by the entire population of the town who were attending a festival honoring St. Mark on April 25. As if to draw further attention to its arrival all the church bells of the town rang out of their own accord drawing still more witnesses from the surrounding areas. All this was thoroughly documented at the time. The fragile Madonna of Good Counsel image, transported across the Adriatic Sea from Albania to Genazzano, Italy is a historic fact. As scripture has it, “Nothing is impossible with God”—and transporting a house is no more of a problem to God than a small image of Our Lady.
Centuries before the miraculous translation of the image of Our Lady of Good Counsel, the town of Genazzano was noted for its devotion to Our Lady. In the 5th century, the people of Genazzano were singled out by the papacy for their generous contributions to the restoration of the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome. In gratitude, Pope Sixtus III (432-440) donated a piece of land to that area of Genazzano where the people were particularly generous. They built a church on the property naming it Our Lady of the Snows after the famous basilica in Rome.
In 1356, the Augustinians took over the care of the Church. However, in the space of several centuries the church became badly in need of renovation. It seems no one was particularly interested in finding a restoration of the decrepit Church, with the exception of a pious widow, Petruccia de Geneo. Of moderate means, she was willing to at least start the renovation. But it wasn’t long before she used up all her funds and no one was interested in helping her. Rather, people poked fun at her for not having the sufficient funds to complete the unfinished church which they called “Petruccia’s Folly.” However, Petruccia’s great trust in the power of Mary was rewarded when at about 4 o’clock in the afternoon of April 25th in a cloudless sky, a mysterious cloud appeared, accompanied by beautiful strains of heavenly music. It descended on a low unfinished wall of the church before thousands of awestruck spectators. As it parted and dissolved, it revealed a portrait of Our Lady and the Child Jesus. Petruccia who had been praying in another part of town, on hearing the bells rushed to the scene, saw the image of Our Lady and fell on her knees in tears.
Our Lady immediately focused additional attention on the miraculous image by a shower of favors and graces. A notary was appointed to register the more notable healings and graces.
They numbered 171 from April 27 to August 14, 1467. Due to the popularity of the shrine and the numerous miracles, Pope Paul II initiated an investigation. He had two bishops appointed to thoroughly study the case, one from France the other from Dalmatia. A few days later, while this investigation was being conducted, two men from Albania arrived in Genazzano from Rome, attracted by the reports of a miraculous image arriving there. They immediately recognized the picture as the icon venerated in their hometown of Scutari, Albania, under the title of Our Lady of Good Counsel. They reported that they had seen the image detach itself from the wall of their church and followed it to Rome where it vanished from view. The two Albanians were overjoyed to see the venerated image safe in Genazzano. The Turks who had overrun their country had no love for sacred images and they were fearful that the picture would eventually be destroyed. They and a number of other Albanians, refugees from the Turks, took up residence in Genazzano just to be near “their” beloved Madonna.
The Father Provincial of the Augustinians needed no further proof He wrote, “All of Italy came to visit the blessed image; cities and towns came in pilgrimage. Many wonders occurred, many favors were received... The very beautiful image of Mary appeared on the wall without human intervention.” Further investigation in Scutari confirmed the absence of the image from the wall of the church and from a spot of exactly the same dimensions as the picture.
Needless to say “Petruccia’s Folly” was vindicated and her strong unwavering faith rewarded. Not only was the church she sacrificed so much for restored but it became an international shrine to the Mother of God where Our Lady of Good Counsel has distributed countless graces to her needy children over the centuries. A large monastery was erected adjacent to the shrine church to house the Augustinian Fathers who are still the custodians. Petruccia was given the honor of being buried in the chapel of the Madonna.
Pope Urban VIII, who at first was incredulous of the Genazzano legend, was eventually so convinced of its authenticity that in 1630, he made a pilgrimage there to pray for the lifting of a plague which was scourging Italy. In 1777, the Sacred Congregation of Rites added its token of recognition by approving a proper Office, commemorating the history of the shrine, to be used by the Augustinian Order.
The portrait is a touching rendition of the tender love of Jesus for His Mother Mary. His face is pressed against her cheek while His right arm is hugging her neck. His left hand is hanging onto the neckline of her dress as if not to let her go. Interesting to relate, the Madonna’s face appears sad when viewed from an angle, but in a frontal view she appears smiling. It has also been noted that the cheeks of the Virgin seem to change from red to pink and that the color of the portrait acquires various tones in different periods of the year, though it is protected by glass against humidity, and is unaffected by hot or cold weather.
The English author, Gillette, in his two volume set of books on the “Famous Shrines of Our Lady” gives us these remarkable facts, “It was found that the painting was executed not upon wood, or canvas, or metal, but upon a thin layer of plaster of porcelain texture and thickness—the thickness of an eggshell. This no human skill could have detached whole and uncracked from another wall, much less have transported it and placed it in its new location. This wafer-like sheet of plaster was standing upright and with no support of any kind except the narrow ledge it rested upon.”
For well over five hundred years, this extraordinary phenomenon has remained unchanged, defying the law of gravity. Although it is now enshrined behind glass in a marvelous golden framework, and adorned with many precious stones, at no place is this fragile painting supported or touched except at the base. The Commission found it possible to pass a thread in the front of the Icon around the top, down the back from top to bottom, proving there is no visible support. During the Second World War a bomb fell through the sanctuary roof demolishing the high altar and causing terrible damage. The sacred picture
was untouched, though only a few yards away. So Our Lady of Good Counsel continues to reign among her beloved of Genazzano and all who would seek her help and counsel which she, the Seat of Wisdom, is so desirous to share with her children.
The Original Site of Our Lady of Good Counsel
One might ask, as a postscript, whatever happened to the original church in Scutari, Albania? As was expected, it was demolished by the Turks. Since they are Moslems, they have the misconception that veneration of images such as those of Jesus, Mary and the saints is idolatry.
The famous Albanian leader, George Scanderkeg, a devout Catholic who loved Our Lady very much and would pray at night before her image in the small chapel near the fortress of Scutari was able to keep the Turks at bay. He defeated them a number of times with much smaller forces but he could not get badly needed help from other Christian countries. When he died of a fever in 1468, Albania soon fell to the invaders. Not only did thousands of Albanians who were staunch Catholics flee to southern Italy but Our Lady of Good Counsel was forced into exile as well.
It wasn’t until 1895 that the people of Scutari were able to rebuild a chapel in the same location as the first one.
When the Communists took over Albania in the 20th century and boasted that they were the first truly atheistic country in the world, they wasted no time in persecuting Catholics and destroying the second chapel as well. Let us hope that another image of Our Lady of Good Counsel and a third shrine to her will again grace the land of Albania and her people who have suffered so long and so much.
(Del libro Altares marianos de Italia. De la Academia Mariana)