Dear icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help
from Crete to the Roman Church of St. Matthew
I greet you warmly; God bless.
This is our second meeting on the history of the icon of the MBNP – thank you very much for your interest and kindness. For starters, let’s summarize this first episode.
Well; the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help by Andreas Ritzos is a complementary interpretation of the Bible that in the very coming of Christ to earth, in his childhood and adolescence, this most important goal of his coming, that is, the Redemption of man, is already included. To express this truth, as you may remember, he already used some symbols that existed on other icons. And that would be a short summary.
Today I would like to propose another episode entitled: “The path of the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help from Crete to the Roman Church of St. Matthew. ”
So, as you know, the Motherland of the icon of Perpetual Help is Crete. Until the mid-fourteenth century, Constantinople was undoubtedly the center of Byzantine culture. However, from that time on, the influence of Constantinople began to diminish, moreover, new centers began to develop in Greece, specifically in Crete, Bulgaria, Russia or Serbia. The turning point is the year 1453 – the fall of Constantinople. Crete became the largest territory of the Greek language and the Orthodox religion, free from the influence of Islam, and being influenced by the Venetians.
Ladies and Gentlemen, this is where the schools of icon writing relocate. A group of painters working in Crete was then called the Cretan school. The Icon of Perpetual Help was created, as we know, in the school of Andreas Ritzos. Even then, there was a custom of signing icons, so we know that there were other writers besides him. They were, among others: Wiktor of Crete, Emanuel Lambardos, Elijah Mascos, Emanuel Tzanfornaris these are, let’s face it, the most famous. I would like to say with all my strength that it is difficult to precisely present, let’s call it this Cretan fragment of the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
Yes, I know several books in Greek that mention this type of icon – but there is no one comprehensive study of the history of this painting. As far as I know, archives have been preserved in various archives of Greek Orthodox monasteries – and probably there are sources for this icon. But I must also say that Redemptorists have never conducted research in Crete.
Sources of the Orthodox Church indicate that the miraculous icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help was in the church that has the call: Kera Kardiotissa. Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s about this church. See how cute she is.
This church is located 70 km. from Heraklion, on the Lassithi Plateau. The Lassithi plateau, please note, there are mountains here, the terrain is more or less like ours in Nowy Sącz. When you are there on vacation in Heraklion, be sure to see this church.
It must be remembered that in addition to the Roman icon of Perpetual Help – today, in various churches of Greece and not only Greece, in general, there are other icons of the same type, also from the 15th, 16th, 17th centuries – and newer. But what is interesting, they all have very different names, for example, I met one passion icon of Perpetual Help – for us Perpetual Help, which in Greece, in that particular church, is called Our Lady of the Channel. It is simply a river canal, because, according to tradition, this icon was found in the canal. I would like to add that in Greece I have not met any icon in the Orthodox Church that would have the name of Perpetual Help.
Ladies and gentlemen, the question of how the icon from Crete ended up in the Roman Church of St. Matthew.
In the Orthodox Church and in the Catholic Church, we repeat the same story about a merchant who stole a miraculous icon in Crete from this church. There was a storm during the voyage, and the passengers were in danger of drowning. The merchant remembered that he had a miraculous icon, they began to pray and the storm stopped – they were all saved. He kept the icon in his house, but while dying, he told his friend about it, asking him to donate the icon to the church. However, this did not happen, because the friend’s wife kept the icon to herself. That is why the Mother of God dreamed their daughter, asking her to deliver the painting to the church. st. Matthew. And so it happened.
Ladies and Gentlemen, we know many interesting fairy tales, stories and legends, but the question remains: How does this relate to facts?
I was bothered by this question, what simply written sources say about it.
I would like you to see this entire board. I found almost sixty old prints, sixty different sources from the fifteenth, sixteenth, seventeenth centuries, some from the eighteenth century. Characteristically, they all contain very brief information about the church of St. Matthew and the icon, however, do contain. No one has yet found such a large number of sources. These are just some of these sources, presented just for the sake of curiosity. I would like to present to you a document from 1610; this is page 173 of this document, this is the book “Wonderful things of Rome.”
In the first part of this material, which is in Italian, we have a brief description of the church of St. Matthew. Here in this part we have the following text:
In 1480, on May 27, during the pontificate of Alexander VI, the church was ennobled and decorated with the image of the Virgin brought from the Orient, by miracles and graces made, it became a miraculous image in Rome.
End of quote. Ladies and gentlemen, I am not going to discuss sixty documents. However, let us ask ourselves one question: What conclusions arise after reading these sources?
The conclusions are very interesting and surprising indeed. The main conclusions are four:
The first conclusion, there is no doubt that the icon comes from Crete, all sources say about it.
The second conclusion, the icon of the Mother of God is wonderful.
Third conclusion, and here is the surprise. Ladies and gentlemen, out of almost sixty sources, only a few of them say, quote the story of the merchant I mentioned, who stole the icon; the rest of the sources say the icon was brought.
And the fourth conclusion, only a dozen sources – contains the name of the icon – Our Lady of Perpetual Help. And that’s a surprise. It can be said that this name of Perpetual Help was absolutely unknown.
And now the most important thing, ladies and gentlemen. Let us pay attention to this document. Ladies and Gentlemen, this is a book – rather a brochure – published by the Augustinian Fathers in Latin in 1731 under the title: “Roman Monasteries of the Augustinian Order”.
See this brochure. This is what the title page looks like, and this is the next page, where there is a description of “Monasterium św. Matthew “. In this chapter devoted to St. For Matthew, we initially have a short history of St. Matthew. In the middle of the text, we have surprising material. It says there: Alexander VI gave to this temple the image of the Blessed Mother of God, Mary from the island of Crete.
I emphasize and repeat: Alexander VI, of course, it is about the Pope. He gave to this temple the image of the Blessed Mother of God, Mary from the island of Crete. We have a clear answer as to how the icon from Crete ended up in the church of St. Matthew. I would like to add that this publication of Father Augustians is absolutely unknown. In no literature on this subject known to me, and I know a lot of scientific publications, there is no information about this source in Poland, nor in Poland. I will be very grateful if someone publishes information on this subject for copyright protection. So we have a clear answer. As we know, Pope Alexander VI was the shepherd of the Church who also strongly promoted art. Yes, we also know other not very glorious stories related to this person. And in this way, ladies and gentlemen, by simply donating the icon of Perpetual Help, she found herself in the Church of St. Matthew.
Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a large photo, graphics of the Church of St. Matthew in Rome. Its origins date back to the 5th century, it is a very old church. As you can see, it is related to beautiful traditions. This is a big church, this church didn’t stand somewhere on the outskirts of Rome – it was very close to the Basilica of Saint Mary Major. Here in more or less this area was Via Merulana; he was on Via Merulana. In that area, about 700 meters, maybe 600 meters, is the Basilica of St. Mary Major. Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the church that the Pope raised to the dignity of the Cardinal Church. This is not a random church.
Therefore, its name appears very often precisely in the context that it was a cardinal’s church. This name is very common in Latin or Italian.
Solemn introduction of the image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help to the Church of St. Matthew in Rome, took place on March 27, 1499. As you surely noticed, two dates are given. Earlier, I gave a different date. Unfortunately, it is in these sources. I think that this date should be adhered to on March 27, 1499.
After the city was taken over by Napoleon’s army in 1799, the church was destroyed. So in this church of St. Matthew, the image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help lived for 300 years.
Asking the question, what was this gift from Pope Alexander VI for Fr. Augustinians? I think he was a bother. You could say that the Holy Father most probably donated this icon to this church because it was a cardinal’s church.
The Augustians adopted the icon, but there was a problem. Yes, next to the altar there were plaques informing about the origin and name of this painting, but for the Augustians it was a real problem. Why? For many years the Augustians have worshiped the Mother of God in the title of Our Lady of Help and let us remember that the image of Our Lady of Help has absolutely nothing to do with the image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. In the 16th century, as I checked, the Augustinians had over 30 churches, monasteries dedicated to Our Lady of Help, they worshiped the Mother of God under this call, and also worshiped under the call of Our Lady of Graces, or Our Lady of Good Counsel. And suddenly a whole new picture appears. The Augustians never made any prayers to Our Lady of Perpetual Help. They have never published a book – indeed, not even a brochure about the icon from Crete.
Information about this icon sometimes appeared in guides or books on the churches of Rome – only there. I found this information there.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is absolutely impossible to say that in the Church of St. Matthew’s cult of Perpetual Help developed dynamically, as it happened later, when the Redemptorists took over the icon. I would also like to add that this painting was mentioned in several publications in Spanish, Dutch and German. But it can be said with all force that the Church of St. Matthew in Rome was absolutely not a center from which the cult of Our Lady of Perpetual Help developed. It wasn’t like that.
After the demolition of the church of St. Matthew, the Augustinians first transferred the painting to the church of St. Eusebius, and then to the chapel of the new house at the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Posterula, not to the church that was there, because the miraculous and Our Lady of Graces was already venerated in this church. So it was necessarily placed in a convent chapel. In a monastic chapel, i.e. inaccessible to lay people. And so the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help was forgotten.