Interesting History of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Icon

Our Lady of Perpetual Help (or of Perpetual Succour) is a Byzantine icon from the late middle ages and has resided in Rome since the late 1400s. The Eastern Catholics call it “Holy Theotokos of the Passion.”

The image depicts the Blessed Virgin Mary wearing a blue mantle and veil. On the left side is the Archangel Michael, carrying the lance and sponge of the crucifixion of Jesus. On the right is the Archangel Gabriel carrying the cross and nails. The Christchild rests in her arms and looks intently at the cross.

Tradition states that the icon memorializes an occasion in which the young Christ awoke from a dream in which He saw the instruments of His passion. Mary comforted Him, but remained solemn since she knew that that the dream was a portent of her Son’s future passion. The icon brilliantly captures both the reality of the incarnation and the reality of the crucifixion of Christ in one single image that mystically links the events to Mary – who was present for each.

The icon was brought to Rome by a pious merchant, who desired that the picture should be exposed in a church for public veneration. It was exposed in the church of San Matteo, Via Merulana, between St. Mary Major and St. John Lateran.

The rascally French invaded Rome in 1812 and destroyed the church – and the icon disappeared.

In 1865, the icon was rediscovered to the joy of many. Pope Pius IX as a boy had prayed before the icon in the church of San Matteo before it was lost during the French invasion. Pius IX took great interest when the icon was finally rediscovered – since he had been especially devoted to it. He subsequently approved a liturgical feast in commemoration of the icon. The Redemptorists especially revered the image for its profound spiritual meaning.

Today it is one of the most popular images of Our Lady and it is one of the few images that is universally revered in every rite of the Catholic Church – East to West.

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  • DHnt

    Can you tell me what the sandal hanging from the foot of Jesus means??Thx : )

  • Ben

    I think it just implies that when he jumped into his Mother’s arms, his sandle fell off.

  • Francine

    I was told that Jesus was out playing when two angels appeared to Him carrying the items of His future Passion.  They scared Him and He ran home to His Mother, breaking His sandal en route.  Mary is looking at us, not at the angels. 

  • John

    When my mother told me the story behind the icon, she said that the Child Jesus saw the angels while playing and ran to her.  The sandal cam undone while he ran.

  • David

    the loosening of the sandal was a sign in the East of the acceptance of a contract. Jesus sees the Cross and signifies his acceptance.

  • Mr. M. Savage

    Compared to ancient Greek, Roman or Renaissance art, one might be forgiven for thinking this portrait is inferior work.

    Yet, once studied and pondered upon, one realises this is art ‘par excellance’, for it is void of the sensual, libertine flavours of the former styles and includes that impossible reality, the interior realm or the soul.

    Though it expresses aspects of the heart – Our Lady’s saddness at what Her Son is to go through, and Our Lord’s Joy in seeing the means of salvation, it also enlightens our intellect – profundity and gravity pervade.

    Unlike much ancient and modern art it does not centre round man; it centres round the Devine: Command from the Father; acceptance from the Son; invocation to pray/imitate from the Mother of the Devine.

  • former Navy pilot

    Very interesting post.  My family and I are making a pilgrimage to Rome later this month and we now plan on stopping in to the Chiesa Sant’Alfonso, which I understand is conveniently located midway between Santa Maria Maggiore and San Giovanni in Laterano, and venerating this remarkable icon.  Thanks for posting and I’m sure our pilgrimage will be the more rewarding for it.

  • Brad

    Sandal: John the Baptist’s quote, i.e. Christ is so superior, even the greatest of us could not touch the lace.

    That being said, look at how Christ is comforted and held by Mary in her lap, now, and at the pieta.  What does that tell us about her?  Major, major hyperdulia.

    I love how Mary always looks at us in art, with head cocked a little bit and meeting our eyes as if to say “I know what will occur…I consent” in the most plaintive way.  Of course, Simeon had already told her about the impending sword.

    Ave, Mater Dolorosa!

  • Brad

    Sandal: John the Baptist’s quote, i.e. Christ is so superior, even the greatest of us could not touch the lace.

    That being said, look at how Christ is comforted and held by Mary in her lap, now, and at the pieta.  What does that tell us about her?  Major, major hyperdulia.

    I love how Mary always looks at us in art, with head cocked a little bit and meeting our eyes as if to say “I know what will occur…I consent” in the most plaintive way.  Of course, Simeon had already told her about the impending sword.

    Ave, Mater Dolorosa!

  • Brad

    Sandal: John the Baptist’s quote, i.e. Christ is so superior, even the greatest of us could not touch the lace.

    That being said, look at how Christ is comforted and held by Mary in her lap, now, and at the pieta.  What does that tell us about her?  Major, major hyperdulia.

    I love how Mary always looks at us in art, with head cocked a little bit and meeting our eyes as if to say “I know what will occur…I consent” in the most plaintive way.  Of course, Simeon had already told her about the impending sword.

    Ave, Mater Dolorosa!