I live in a small town about 30 miles south east of Rome. Very close to my small town is another small town by the name of Genazzano.
Because the people of Genazzano donated a large part of its revenues to Pope Sixtus III for the rebuilding of the basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome which had sustained considerable damage during the earthquake of 1348, they were rewarded, as a gesture of appreciation, with a small church dedicated to Our Lady of Good Counsel.
In 1356 the church was entrusted to the care of the Augustinians, who had been in Genazzano since 1278. With the passage of time the church fell into disrepair. In 1467, an Augustinian tertiary named Petruccia, widow of Giovanni da Nocera, pledged to assist the order in the restoration of the little church. After spending all her funds on this endeavour the restoration was halted due to the increased cost of both materials and labour. She was subsequently ridiculed by the parishioners who had considered her plans presumptuous.
Her efforts were, nevertheless, rewarded in a marvelous manner.
On St. Mark’s day, 25th April 1467, while the entire population participated in a public festival, a cloud descended from an otherwise clear sky and obscured the unfinished church. Before thousands of witnesses the cloud dissipated, revealing a painting of Our Lady and the Christ Child, a portrait that had not been there moments before. News of the mysterious image spread rapidly. 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 favours granted …’ He likewise recorded that ‘the very beautiful image of Mary appeared on the wall without human intervention’.
The widow who humbly set in motion the restoration of the church that was to occasion such wonders lived to see the church restored and a splendid monastery erected.
A few weeks later, amazing information was secured from two refugees who arrived in Genazzano from Albania – a country that was then being terrorized by the Turks. The men testified before a papal delegation that they had seen the very same image in a church in the Albanian town of Scutari only a few weeks before. The commission of inquiry established that a portrait of the Madonna that had been venerated in the church at Scutari was indeed missing. Where the picture had previously been located, there remained an empty space the exact size of the portrait.
Measuring 40 by 45 cms, the painting is a fresco executed on a thin layer of porcelain no thicker than an eggshell. It has been ascertained that the removal of such a fragile material from a wall could not have been successfully accomplished by human hands.
A curiosity exists in that the face of the Madonna in this picture appears sad when viewed from an angle but she appears to smile and look at the spectator who stands before her. It is also a recognized fact that the colour acquires various tones in different periods of the year although the painting is now protected by a sheet of glass. During World War II a bomb fell on the church, crashed through the roof and exploded on the floor of the sanctuary. The main altar and several others, as well as walls and pillars were literally obliterated. The fragile image was entirely unaffected.
At the beginning of the year 1800 Our Lady of Good Counsel was proclaimed Patron Saint of Albania.