The image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help is an icon, painted on wood, and came into existence around the thirteenth century. Actually, the image is also known as “Our Lady of Perpetual Succour.” The icon portrays our Blessed Mother Mary, beneath the title “Mother of God,” holding the Child Jesus. The Archangels Michael and Gabriel, hovering at the upper corners, hold the instruments of the Passion. The intent of the artist was to portray the Child Jesus pondering the vision of His future Passion. The sorrow He feels is shown by the loss of one of His sandals. However, the image also means the triumph of Christ over sin and death, symbolized by the golden background and the manner in which the angels hold the instruments, i.e. like trophies gathered up from Calvary on Easter morning.
In a very wonderful way, the Child Jesus grips the hand of the Blessed Mother. He seeks relief from His mother, as He sees the instruments of His passion. The position of Mary’s hands– both holding the Child Jesus and presenting Him to us– explains the reality of our Lord’s incarnation, that He is true God who became also true man. In iconography, Mary here is displayed as the Hodighitria, the one who guides us to the Redeemer. She also is our Help, who intercedes on our behalf with her Son. The star painted on Mary’s veil, centered on her forehead, shows her role in the plan of salvation as both the Mother of God and our Mother
In line with the well-known tradition, 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 very bad storm appear, bothering 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 kept for public profound reverence. His friend, who retained the image, received further guidance: in a dream to his little daughter, the Blessed Mother appeared and uttered 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, subsequently, was kept at the Church of St. Matthew, and became known as “The Madonna of Saint Matthew.” Pilgrims came to the church for the next three hundred years, and great graces were imparted upon the faithful.
After Napoleon’s troops destroyed the Church of St. Matthew in 1812, the image was moved to the Church of St. Mary in Posterula and remained there for nearly forty years. There, the image was disregarded.
Through divine direction, the forgotten image was rediscovered. In 1866, Blessed Pope Pius IX gave the image to the Redemptorists, who had just built the Church of St. Alphonsus, down the street from St. Mary Major. As a boy, the Holy Father had interceded before the image in the Church of St. Matthew. He ordered the public display and profound reverence of the image, and set the date for the feast of Our Lady of Perpetual Help as the Sunday before the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. In 1867, when the image was being carried in a somber procession through the streets, a young child was cured, the first of many recorded miracles ascribed to Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
Up till date, the Church of St. Alphonsus exhibit the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help and accept pilgrims for intercession. May each of us never stops to invoke the prayers and intercession of Our Blessed Mother in time of need.