Our Lady of Good Counsel

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The church that enshrines the original fresco of Our Lady of Good Counsel is located in the small town of Genazzano about 30 miles southeast of Rome in the Diocese of Palestrina. According to the still current legend, this church stood unfinished and roofless when, on April 25, 1467, the image of the Madonna was miraculously transported there from its former home in Scutari, Albania. Coming to rest precariously on a narrow stone ledge in the wall inside the church, the legend continues, the picture has remained in that position to the present day.

Careful investigations undertaken between 1957 and 1959 for the purpose of restoration have revealed something of the true origin of the fresco. The image of the Madonnaabout 12 inches wide and 17 inches high that the viewer sees encased in its elaborate glass, metal, and marble framework, is part of a larger fresco that once covered a portion of the wall now hidden by the baroque shrine altar. Art experts consulted during the restoration suggest that the fresco, and therefore the Madonna as well, is the work of the early 15th-century artist, Gentile da Fabriano. On the site of the present church once stood a small chapel within which Gentile painted his fresco around the time of Martin V (141731). At some subsequent date, but before 1467, the fresco, so it is surmised on the basis of the evidence, was covered over with plaster, and on the wall was hung a terra cotta Madonna, which was known as Our Lady of Good Counsel.

In 1467 the augustinians (in whose custody the shrine still remains) undertook to build a church on the site, enclosing within the structure the wall on which the then covered fresco was painted. This work was sponsored by a widow named Petruccia, who exhausted her means on the project and was unable to continue the construction. At that point the image of the Madonna appeared and was taken to be a token of divine favor. The unexpected appearance was perhaps brought about by the construction work in this way: when the stone ledge referred to above was being inserted into the wall, the plaster covering cracked and separated from the wall, revealing the fresco beneath. The image was immediately hailed as the Madonna of Paradise, an allusion to its apparently heavenly origin; but soon it came to be known by the former title of the shrine, Madonna of Good Counsel. One striking aspect of the fresco, which has lent a certain credence to the legends surrounding it, is that the upper portion of the image is separated from the wall and leans slightly forward. The fresco, nothing more than a thin layer of plaster, has survived for centuries in this precarious state, even through the aerial bombardment of Genazzano during World War II. Because of this condition, the restoration undertaken in 1957 was a delicate task.

The unfinished church was completed soon after the event of April 1467 and became the center of continuous pilgrimage. The numerous cures recorded as having occurred since then have caused the Madonna to be called miraculous. Many honors have been granted to the shrine by the Holy See, especially in more recent times. The initial approval of the devotion to Our Lady of Good Counsel was apparently given by Paul II. Although the record of his approval is not extant, there is abundant evidence of recognition by later popes: Sixtus IV, Alexander VI, Pius V, Gregory XIII, and Urban VIII. In 1682 Innocent XI approved the placing of a golden crown over the image, and in 1753 Benedict XIV established the Pious Union of Our Lady of Good Counsel, a spiritual society to which many indulgences were attached. Pius VI granted to the Augustinian Order, in 1779, a proper Mass and Office for the feast day. Pius IX had a personal devotion to the Mother of God under this title; he made a pilgrimage to Genazzano in 1864.

More than any other pope, Leo XIII was deeply attached to this devotion, which had associations with his childhood in Carpineto, a town not far from Genazzano. He instituted the white scapular of Good Counsel, inserted the title Mother of Good Counsel into the Litany of Loreto, declared the shrine a minor basilica, and installed a copy of the image over the altar in the Pauline chapel in the Vatican. Pius XII dedicated his reign to the Madonna of Good Counsel, and John XXIII made a visit to her shrine on Aug. 25, 1959. The present church, which replaced the former one about 1628, has been renovated in recent years, and elaborate mosaics have been added to the facade. A noteworthy 19th-century pastor of this church, Bl. Stefano Bellesini, is buried beneath the main altar. The feast day of Our Lady of Good Counsel is celebrated on April 26.

Bibliography: Acta ordinis e. S. Augustini: Commentarium officiale (1961) 2533. a. f. addeo, "Apparitionis imaginis B.V.M. a Bono Consilio documenta," Analecta augustiniana 20 (1946) 3140. g. malizia, "Il santuario del Buon Consiglio a Genazzano," Lunario Romano 21 (1992).

[a. j. ennis]

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Our Lady of Good Counsel

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