First an introduction to Our Icon which shows the Blessed Virgin protecting Jesus with her arms around him. Her solemn face isn’t looking directly at him, but at us.
Our Icon contains four holy figures. The Blessed Virgin Mary (center), The Christ Child wearing green and two Archangels left to right, Michael and Gabriel.
Devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help is a tradition deep in the Catholic faith throughout the world. Prayers of intercession are often asked of the Blessed Virgin. Our Lady has several names in various languages such as Perpetuo Succursu, Nuestra Señora del Perpetuo Soccoro and Mother of Perpetual Soccour.
The earliest documented history of the Our Lady of Perpetual Help icon is sometime in 1495. People in Crete venerated Our Lady because numerous prayer requests have been granted to those who are devoted to her. There has been speculation on how a merchant from the island was able to acquire the icon. Regardless of how he was able to do so, he brought the painting to Rome and fell ill soon after. His dying request to a Roman friend was to have the painting hung in a church as soon as possible. The merchant’s friend didn’t fulfill his promise until the Virgin appeared in his dream. She instructed him to accomplish the last will of his deceased friend. She appeared to him in two subsequent dreams to persuade him to do so. The Virgin also emerged in his young daughter’s dream, telling her that the Blessed Mother wants to be placed in a church to be shown for veneration. The image was enshrined at the Church of St. Matthew the Apostle on March 27, 1499. Faithful devotees flocked to the church for the next 300 years.
When French troops invaded Rome in 1798, it destroyed about 30 churches including the Church of St. Matthew. The Augustinian priests in charge of the church were able to hide the image. The painting was first placed in the Church of St. Eusebius and was transferred later to the Church of St. Mary of Posterula. It stayed there for almost 40 years and has been neglected.
While the Redemptorists were building a church in Rome in 1853, they found out that the site of the new church was near where once had stood a church where the Our Lady of Perpetual Help painting used to be. A young priest, who was a former altar boy at St. Mary of Posterula, remembered the painting’s history and its location. The Redemptorists appealed to Pope Pius IX that the image be returned to the Blessed Virgin’s chosen site. The painting was relocated to the Church of St. Alphonsus on April 26, 1866.