The shrine to Our Lady of Perpetual Succour at Bishop Eton parish in Childwall has been made an official place of pilgrimage for the months leading up to June 2016.
The Redemptorist priests and brothers at Bishop Eton owe this rare privilege to the fact that in 1866 the original copy of the miraculous icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Succour was enshrined in the Redemptorist Church of St Alphonsus in Rome upon the invitation of Pope Pius IX. The Pontiff duly instructed the Redemptorists to "make her known", and soon afterwards the first copy of the icon to leave Rome arrived at Bishop Eton. Ever since then, Bishop Eton has been a popular place of devotion with a Novena service held at its shrine every Wednesday evening.
With April 2016 set to mark the 150th anniversary of the installation of the original icon – which shows the Blessed Virgin Mary carrying the Child Jesus – in the church of St Alphonsus, Pope Francis has granted a "Jubilee Year with the associated Plenary Indulgence to be gained in the church of St Alphonsus in Rome and in the individual churches of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeeemer by the Christian faithful who make a pilgrimage to the icon of Blessed Virgin Mary of Perpetual Help".
All of which makes Bishop Eton – formally known as the church of Our Lady of the Annunciation – a pilgrimage church until the summer.
This year of divine grace officially runs from 27 June 2015 to the same date – the shrine's titular feast day – in 2016; in the words of the Church's Apostolic Penitentiary, "in order that the treasure of divine grace may be opened more fully to the Christian faithful who take part in these celebrations and pilgrimages".
Aptly, the award will coincide with the Jubilee Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis, which started on 8 December.
Bishop Eton's direct connection with the sacred Byzantine image began a month after the commencement of public veneration at St Alphonsus in 1866. An English Redemptorist based in Childwall, Father Francis Hall, made a remarkable recovery from illness following prayers to Our Lady of Perpetual Succour – prompting the Redemptorists in Rome to send one of the first two copies of the original to Liverpool. This is now kept in the community oratory and is displayed on special occasions. The other copy went to Pope Pius IX. The image in Bishop Eton's permanent shrine today is a later copy.
It is believed that the miraculous icon was produced in Cyprus in the 1400s but stolen by a visiting Italian merchant. From 1499 until 1798 it was venerated at the church of San Matteo in Via Merulana after Our Lady had appeared and requested that it be placed between the basilicas of St Mary Major and St John Lateran.
Though the perfectly positioned San Matteo was subsequently demolished during the French occupation in 1798, the Redemptorists acquired virtually the same site on Via Merulana some 57 years later to set up their headquarters and, later, a house of Marian veneration – the church of St Alphonsus. Pope Pius IX then intervened in late 1865, directing the hitherto guardians of the image, the Augustinian friars, to allow the Redemptorists to publicly venerate Our Lady of Perpetual Succuour on Via Merulana.
Consequently, the Redemptorists have been both custodians and missionaries of the icon for almost 150 years.
The Novena Devotions at Bishop Eton take place each Wednesday at 7.30pm. The parish address is: Woolton Road, Liverpool L16 8NQ.