This is the story of an eggshell-thin fresco of Our Lady which flew all the way from Albania…
One day, centuries ago, it descended on ancient Genazzano,
a charming town on a hill thirty miles south of Rome.
Because of its proximity to Rome, the city was chosen by many patricians and imperial courtiers as a site for their country villas. The vast gardens surrounding these villas often served as the stage for perverse feasts, pagan games and heathen rituals in honour of the gods to whom the Romans attributed the fertility of their fields.
One of these celebrations was held every April 25 in honour of the goddess Flora or Venus. For this event, people of all social classes—freemen and slaves, patricians and plebeians—gathered together for a great feast. This practice gradually dissolved and the temples fell into ruins as the life-giving breath of Christianity regenerated the peoples of Europe.
In the third century, an order was given to build a shrine dedicated to the Mother of God under the tender invocation of Mother of Good Counsel on the ruins of the Roman temples.
As the years went by, the city became more populous and the shrine grew in fame. During the Middle Ages, the Franciscans and the Augustinians founded monasteries nearby. With the passing of years, the primitive temple erected in honour of the Mother of Good Counsel began to show signs of disrepair. Moreover, as the shrine was small, the faithful built larger and richer churches for their solemn functions.
In 1356, about a century before the appearance of the miraculous painting that would introduce Genazzano into the annals of marvels in the Church, Prince Pietro Giordan Colonna, whose family had acquired lordship of the city, assigned the most ancient church of the city and its parish to the care of the Hermits of St. Augustine.
The faithful would thereby have the necessary pastoral assistance, and repairs could be made on the old church.
Although the prayers of the faithful intensified, financial difficulties prevented the necessary and urgent restoration of the ancient temple. But the Mother who gives wise counsel in every circumstance and attentively provides for the necessities of men chose a Third Order Augustinian, Petruccia de Nocera, to carry out a supernatural prodigy that would bring about the much-desired restoration.
Petruccia had been left a modest fortune following the death of her husband in 1436. Living alone, she dedicated most of her time to prayer and services in the church of the Mother of Good Counsel. It grieved her to see the deplorable state of the sacred premises, and she prayed fervently that they would be restored.
Finally, she resolved to take the initiative. After obtaining permission from the friars, she donated her goods to initiate the restoration in the hope that others would help complete it once it was commenced.
A plan was drawn up for the building of a magnificent church. However, once that arduous undertaking had begun, Petruccia, who was already eighty years old, found that her generous offering was scarcely enough to complete the first phase of the new construction. To make matters worse, no one came forth to help.