150 years of the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour

By Father Timothy J Buckley

"Make her known" was Pope Pius IX's command to the Redemptorists when he entrusted the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour into their care on 26 April 1866. The story of the icon is a long and colourful one, much of it embellished with dramatic legends associated with how this typically beautiful eastern icon of the Madonna and Child left the island of Crete and eventually ended up being venerated in the Augustinian church in Rome.

Part of the tradition is that Mary had made it clear that she wished her image to be situated between the great basilicas of St John Lateran (the Pope's Cathedral) and St Mary Major, her own basilica. For the best part of 300 years from the year 1500, it was famous for the many miracles and graces granted to those who made the pilgrimage to the church of St Matthew on the Via Merulana, but when the church became the victim of the Napoleonic forces in 1798 and the Augustinians fled, the icon disappeared from the scene.

When interest in the icon was renewed in the middle of the 19th century, a young Redemptorist who, as a boy had been an altar server for the Augustinians and knew all about the history of the icon now in their private chapel, was able to guide his confrères to it and quickly everything fell into place. The Redemptorists had a new church on the site of the old church of St Matthew and it was agreed that Mary's wishes should be honoured and the icon restored to the place where she wished it to be venerated.
Over the past 150 years the Redemptorists have been faithful to the edict of Blessed Pius IX and now it is almost certainly the most widely known and reproduced image of Mary across the world. The Redemptorists at Bishop Eton in Liverpool are proud to possess the first copy to leave Rome after the icon was entrusted to them in 1866 and while they have another copy in the Lady chapel of the church, this treasured copy is on display on special occasions and this year will be enshrined in the church for the Novena prior to the feast on Monday 27 June.
Globally, the Redemptorists are making a special effort to mark this Jubilee Year. On 26 April, pilgrims attended the celebrations in the church of St Alphonsus on the Via Merulana, including a party of over 60 from the Redemptorist parishes in London, Birmingham and Liverpool. There in the evening we were able to join in a procession from St Mary Major to the shrine with Cardinal Vincent Nichols, who by a happy coincidence was given the Redemptorist church as his titular church in Rome. A son of Liverpool, he has acknowledged that there is something providential about all this, since the icon had an honoured place in his family home in Crosby as it does today in his office in Westminster.
You may have read that the Redemptorists in Ireland are taking the icon around all their cathedrals and in our country there are celebrations planned, including a Mass in our mother church, St Mary's, Clapham in London, where again Cardinal Nichols will be in attendance. Archbishop Malcolm McMahon will bring the Novena in Bishop Eton to a close on the evening of Monday 27 June and the Redemptorist Bishop of Hallam, Ralph Heskett, will open the Novena in St Mary's, Woolton at the 5.30pm Mass on Saturday 18 June. Our Archbishop Emeritus, Patrick Kelly, has also promised to take part and we hope everyone throughout Liverpool and beyond will know they are invited and welcome. From the arrival of the Redemptorists in the city in 1851, Bishop Eton has long been a centre of pilgrimage and devotion and we are delighted that in this Holy Year of Mercy, all our Redemptorist churches have received a special indult from the Holy See and become places of pilgrimage because of the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Succour. During the nine days there will be a full programme of Masses and services, including special opportunities for children.