Our Mother of Good Counsel Image
By Ann Howe, Ph.D.
The painting of Our Mother of Good Counsel is an Eleousa, (The Mother of Tenderness). The Christ Child nestles close to his mother. The image is a half figure.
The Christ Child rests on Mary’s left arm, her head bends toward him, their cheeks touch tenderly. The left hand of the child gently grasps the rim of her dress, indicating the intimacy of nursing.
On April 26th the Church venerates the Blessed Virgin under the title of Our Mother of Good Counsel. Sometimes referred to as the Madonna of the Popes, this devotion to Our Lady reaches back over five hundred years to a small village in Italy. The Augustinians in 1356 were asked to undertake the renovation of an church dating from the fifth century named St. Mary of Good Counsel Church in Genazzano, Italy.
The ancient edifice had fallen into significant disrepair and even with the efforts of the good friars the work had proceeded slowly until the dedication and devotion of a lay woman in the community by the name Petruccia committed her meager income and her life to helping the friars rebuild the church.
Petruccia was apparently regarded as having taken on an impossible task since even the walls of the church were in ruins. Then a miracle is said to have occurred. An image of Our Lady holding the Child Jesus in her arms like a nursing babe appeared miraculously and rested itself on a small shelf. As if to confirm the miracle the painting did not even rest against the wall and had only a minimal support from the small shelf. Thus the devotion of the icon began in Italy. There is a further part to the legend which begins in Albania. In that country there existed a deep devotion to Mary.
Faced with invaders and other outside threats the people of Albania had turned to Mary. In the town of Scutan there had been an icon of Mary with the Infant Jesus resting in her arms. Legend has it that in the same year that the image appeared in Genazzano the icon from Scutan disappeared being lifted miraculously out of the church and carried away in a cloud. Two men of the village are said to have traveled into Italy in the hopes of discovering where their beloved image had been taken. It is said that having heard the rumors of a painting of the Madonna appearing in Genazzano they traveled there and confirmed that this was in fact their beloved icon.
The devotion to Our Mother of Good Counsel was particularly encouraged by Pope Leo XIII who had the title included in the Litany of Loretto. As recently as 1959 Pope John XXIII visited the Church of Our Mother of Good Counsel in Genazzano. Devotion to Mary under this title is today promoted especially by the Augustinians. Our Mother of Good Counsel is considered a patroness for lay movements in the Church since her image appeared in response to the prayers of a devout laywoman seeking to help build a church and rebuild her own community of faith.