Our Lady of Perpetual Help
An Icon of East and West
Here Our Lady is portrayed as the mother of Jesus and our mother. In the painting, while holding Jesus, her gaze is fixed on you. Jesus himself, though a child, wears the majesty of a gold garment, showing his supreme dignity. Yet, though he is indeed the Word of God, this child has run to his mother for help.What has frightened the divine child so much that in his hurry to seek her protection one of his sandals has become loose? As he holds his mother's hand we see what has frightened him. He has seen the symbols of his future passion, the cross and nails, carried by the angels. He understands that great suffering lies ahead. We see that he is frightened but we also see an understanding and acceptance of his mission.
Mary's gaze connects us with the picture. Though we are indeed the cause of Christ’s sufferings, he is a brother who loves us and gives his life for us. As brothers and sisters of Jesus, we too are Mary’s children and she is our Mother, a Mother of Perpetual Help to whom we too run in our need. Through Mary we are brought close to Jesus, who is both our Lord and savior.
The History of the Painting
This icon of Our Lady and the Child Jesus was painted for a Byzantine Church possibly in Crete sometime around 1400. Around 1499 it was brought to Rome. Placed in the church of the Irish Augustinians in Rome it became object of great devotion for the people of the city, and received its present title, "Mother of Perpetual Help". The church was destroyed in the early 19th century and the Augustinians moved to their present location. Later in the century the Redemtorists build a new church on the place where the old church stood. They acquired the Icon for their new church and spread devotion to the picture throughout the world.
Recently the painting has been restored by the Vatican Museum. The restoration work revealed that while indeed it was originally an Eastern Icon, it had been repainted at some period and the face of Our Lady and Jesus are the work of an Italian artist probably of the late 17th century. This explains why the picture differs from the traditional icon but is a harmony of the Eastern icon style and Western painting.