Feast Day: April 25th
Our Lady of Good Counsel Alternate titles: Mother of Good Counsel, Our Lady of Shkodra, Our Lady of Good Services and St. Mary of Paradise M. Jean Frisk Image 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.
The image as it is known in the West is traced to the year 1467 to Genazzano, Italy, a small town ca. thirty miles southeast of Rome. It is presently located in a side chapel, built between 1621 and 1629, in the church of Our Lady of Good Counsel, whence the image derives its name. Measuring approximately 15-1/2 inches by 17-1/2 inches, the painting is a fresco executed on a thin layer of plaster or porcelain not much thicker than paper. One writer describes it as a fresco painted on a material resembling egg shell. It appears suspended in mid-air in its frame, with approximately an inch of space between it and the wall behind it.
The only support is on the lower edge where it "rests on a small base on one of its sides, i.e. from the center to the extreme right" (Joao S. Cla Dias, p. 42). The work itself probably originates as a 14th century Umbrian work. The Origin There are two strands to the story of Our Lady of Good Counsel. Most sources refer to the ancient intertwined holy legends of an Albanian image, Our Lady of Shkodra (Good Counsel) and the Italian image in Genazzano. The Albanian Catholic Bulletin Vol. 9, 1988, pp. 12-14 gives a beautiful brief account of the legend:
The holy legend of the ancient icon...was told from generation to generation and even recorded by Church commissions. Albanians nourished a particular devotion and love for the Virgin Mary, Zoja e Bekueme (The Blessed Lady). Numerous churches and chapels were erected in her honor throughout the nation. Shrines of Mary were placed on the Mountain slopes and lowland crossroads. These were decorated with flowers and tree greens as a sign of homage and devotion.
One of those churches dedicated to Zoja e Bekueme lies beneath the old Illyrian fortress of Shkodra. This church was a center of special devotion because of its beautiful painting of Our Lady. The icon hung on the wall over the main altar. Because of the "motherly expression and uplifting sweetness in her gaze," the Zoja e Bekueme was regarded by Albanians as "an angel come to life." The fame of this painting and stories of protection received by numerous petitioners drew large crowds to the church.
Particularly at the time when the Ottoman Turks were advancing in the 15th century, the church of Zoja e Bekueme became a source of consolation and encouragement. Her patronage was urgently sought following the death of the Albanian warrior Gjergi Kastrioti (Skanderbeg), in 1405. Skanderbeg had often prayed before the painting, seeking advice and strength for his army. Nonetheless, the Turks quickly conquered Albania. The last stronghold of Albanian resistance was Shkodra. The story continues: "One day during the siege of Shkodra two escaping Albanians stopped at the Church to pray to Zoja e Bekueme for their safe journey. While praying fervently, they suddenly noticed the painting moving away from the wall.... The two Albanians, Gjorgji and De Sclavis," followed the painting, as if it were a bright star, all the way to Rome, where the image disappeared. They heard rumors that a miraculous image had appeared in Genazzano. They ran to the nearby town and there discovered the painting of their beloved Zoja e Bekueme." The two "settled down and made Genazzano their home."
It is here that the second strand of the story begins.
When Pope Sixtus III (432-440) called for help in renovating Saint Mary Major, the people of Genazzano contributed generously. Property was given to the town area that had contributed the most. Eventually a church was built with the title Our Lady of Good Counsel.
Augustinians were entrusted with the church in 1356. Joan Carroll Cruz writes:
With the passage of time the church became decrepit and ill-kempt. During the year of the miracle, 1467, a local widow named Petruccia de Geneo felt herself called to spend her meager funds on needed repairs. Her friends and neighbors thought her plan presumptuous and declined to support her praiseworthy endeavor. After the widow had spent all her money on repairs, work had to be halted due to the increased cost of both materials and labor. When the people saw this, they scoffed and ridiculed her, laughingly calling the unfinished work "Petruccia's Folly." Her efforts were nevertheless rewarded in a marvelous manner.
On St. Mark's Day, April 25, 1467, the entire population of the city was participating in the yearly festival in honor of the day's patron. At about 4 o'clock in the afternoon the merrymakers began to hear the strains of exquisite music. Then, while they silently gazed at the sky for the source of the singing, they saw, in an otherwise clear sky, a mysterious cloud that descended until it obliterated an unfinished wall of the church. Before the thousands of awe-struck revelers, the cloud parted and dissipated, revealing a portrait of Our Lady and the Christ Child. This was resting on the top of the unfinished wall that was only a few feet high. It is said that the church bells of the city rang of their own accord, attracting people from outlying areas who hurried to investigate the untimely ringing. Petruccia, who had been praying in another area, rushed to the scene when she heard the bells and fell down in tears before the miraculous image. Miraculous Character The provincial of the Augustinian order, Ambrogio da Cori, recorded that:
All of Italy came to visit the blessed image; cities and towns came in pilgrimage. Many wonders occurred, many favors were granted... The very beautiful image of Mary appeared on the wall without human intervention.
So great was the number of healings that a notary was appointed to make a register of the more important cases. This record, which is still preserved, notes that from April 27 until August 14, 1467, 171 miracles occurred. In a thorough, detailed study, Joao S. Cla Dias writes, "...the fresco has unexplainably remained suspended in the air close to the wall of the chapel in the church of Our Lady of Good Counsel for over five hundred years." Cla Dias' work contains several documents about the miraculous character of the image itself, including the amazing fact that the painting is not mounted or attached at the back. There are also indications that the image appears to bear different expressions according to particular situations. There is a vast registry of miraculous happenings related to the image of Our Lady of Good Counsel and to its copies. Conversions, healings, and specially requested graces are among the numerous accounts of extraordinary occurances related in connection with the image. Devotion There is more to the story and its possible translation from Albania. The Christian population of Albania have kept the memory of Our Lady of Good Counsel alive for centuries. The Catholic population of the country celebrates not one, but two feastdays in honor of Our Lady of Good Counsel, April 26 for all Albania and the 3rd Sunday of October for the Scutari area. The people come from all over the country to gather by the thousands before the cathedral where Our Lady of Good Counsel once was. There is an ancient hymn with the refrain:
Mother of Good Counsel, return to us. On the path of peace lead us. Copies of the image are found in homes throughout Albania. During the time under Communist rule in this century, the image of Our Lady of Good Counsel was nevertheless to be found in the majority of Catholic homes. It is the Augustinian Order which has contributed to the worldwide spread of devotion to Our Lady of Good Counsel. Karl Kolb writes
During the time of the Counterreformation, the Augustinians decided to place the entire order under the protection of this Madonna, and to honor her wherever they were established. In Germany, for instance, 70,000 images were soon distributed. Today, copies of the image are found in Augustinian churches and cloisters. Many confraternities developed under her patronage. Pope Leo XIII added the invocation Mother of Good Counsel, pray for us, to the Litany of Loretto. (p. 861). Jesuit The Jesuits also have spread devotion to Our Lady of Good Counsel. Two images indicate how the picture and devotion were adapted elsewhere. The image at left with the painted frame shows missionaries and a small sailing vessel. The painting was taken to Brazil by Fr. Jose de Campos Lara in 1785. It received its place of honor in the Saint Louis Jesuit High School in Itu, and later in Sao Paulo. Jesuit The statue in the photograph at right was also venerated under the title Mother of Good Counsel and is located in the Imperial School of the Society of Jesus in Madrid, Spain. The picture we see is taken from an old photograph of the original wooden carving which was lost during bombing and sacking in the 1930s. [Crowned The image received its papal coronation on November 17, 1682. A canon of Saint Peter's chapter was sent to represent Pope Innocent XI. A report was written five days later describing the image as touching the wall only at the upper edge and not supported by other means. It is from this date on that the existence of the painting as such was considered miraculous, not only because of its arrival at Genazzano, but because it is for the most part suspended in the air. Eyewitnesses also testify to extraordinary phenomena regarding changing features of the image. Since that time, there has been many privileges granted to the shrine, papal visits and honors. An undated prayer card in our Marian Library tells us, "As can be seen from the register at the shrine [in Genazzano, Italy], Benedict XIV, Pius VIII, Pius IX, and Leo XIII are enrolled as members" of the organization then known as the Pious Union of Our Lady of Good Counsel. "It was Leo XIII who chose the motto for its members: Children, follow her counsels. Pope Pius XII placed his pontificate under the maternal care of Our Lady of Good Counsel." In 1777 the Sacred Congregation of Rites approved a Proper Office commemorating the history of the shrine. The Augustinians were granted the privilege of this office. In the newly revised Collection of Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary, (1988) there is also a special votive Mass in honor of The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Good Counsel. In the United States, there is a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Good Counsel in the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Our Lady of Good Counsel soon became a symbol of lay involvement and resposibility in Counterreformation times. It was the woman, Petruccia, who saw the need for the restoration of a church fallen to ruins. She gave her utmost for the restoration and beautification of the church, and according to the story, she also prayed for the church. Today, there are women's groups, such as the Christian Mothers here in America, who turn to the patronage of Our Lady of Good Counsel. Meditation Over the centuries, there are many prayers written in the spirit of the respective age, seeking advice from Mary on how to live a Christ-centered life. For our meditation, we have selected one of these prayers and include here the official prayers of the church for the votive Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Good Counsel. We encourage you to savor these prayers as we pray with the universal church for good counsel. A "Short Prayer to Mary Most Holy of Good Counsel to Implore Her Protection" from 1796
O Mary of Good Counsel, inflame the hearts of all who are devoted to you, so that all of them have shelter in you, O great Mother of God. O most worthy Lady, let everyone choose you as teacher and wise counselor of their souls, since you are, as Saint Augustine says, the counsel of the Apostles and counsel of all peoples. Amen. From the liturgy:
Lord, you know that our thoughts on earth are full of fear and uncertainty; through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, from whom your Son took flesh and blood, send us the Spirit of counsel to teach us how to know your will, and to guide us in all we do.
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Lord, we have shared in your mysteries on this memorial of Our Lady, Mother of Good Counsel.
Grant that we may learn what is pleasing to you, and receive salvation from your Son, whom you gave to us as our wonderful Counselor through the cooperation of his Blessed Mother. We ask this through Christ our Lord.