Perhaps you read about this:  The original image of the Miraculous Virgin, or “Our Lady of Miracles,” is being displayed in St. Peter’s Basilica until January 1.

Image of Our Lady of Miracles placed in St. Peter’s (Screen shot – Zenit)

According to Zenit, Pope Francis greeted pilgrims from the Roman church of Sant’Andrea delle Fratte, where the image is housed, at his Wednesday General Audience this week. Zenit reports:

The display marks the conversion 175 years ago of Alphonsus Ratisbonne in 1842, after Mary appeared to him in a side altar of that church.

Ratisbonne (1812-1884) was a Jewish banker who had contempt for the Catholic Church and the clergy. He resented the fact that his brother Theodore had converted and been ordained a priest. Alphonsus’ own conversion had a great impact at the time, influenced as he was by rationalism, and the rejection of spiritual realities. He was ordained a Jesuit priest in 1847.

Vespers will be prayed on Friday afternoon, December 30, and a Te Deum on Saturday, December 31, presided over by Pope Francis before Mary’s picture, which will be enthroned in the Altar of the Confession. On Sunday, January 1, the image will be present at the New Year’s Mass celebrated by the Holy Father. Later the picture will be returned to the church where it is regularly displayed.

“Interesting!” I thought; so I turned to the Internet to see what else I could learn about the beautiful image. And to my surprise, I found Our Lady of Miracles–but she didn’t look at all like this one!


By ph Lorenzo Gigante tratte dal sito www.trapaninostra.it [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This Our Lady of Miracles (or Madonna of Miracles) is the patron saint of the town of Alcamo, in Sicily.

On June 21, 1547, some women from Alcamo were washing their laundry in a stream north of the town when they saw the Madonna and Child. There was a rush of wind, which sent a pile of pebbles flying through the air, striking the women.  The pebbles didn’t hurt, though; instead, the women experienced a sense of wellbeing and recovered their health. One among them, a woman who was blind and deaf, recovered her full senses.

When the women told their husbands what had happened, the men of the town thought it was a joke. Believing that someone might be hiding in the bushes and tossing stones, the men went to the stream to search–but found no one.

Then the local authorities began a search–and poking around down near the grove, they found a “cuba” or trough, the remains of a mill that had been forgotten. Inside they discovered a fresco dating to the 13th century, a painting of Our Lady with the Child Jesus.

A bas relief in the chapel commemorates the finding of the image of Our Lady of Miracles. By ph Lorenzo Gigante tratte dal sito www.trapaninostra.it [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

At first the townspeople named the painting “Madonna Fons Misericordiae” (Our Lady, Source of Mercy). People began praying before the rediscovered image; and soon, there were several miracles. In 1583, the fresco was renamed Our Lady of Miracles. Mary, in her role as Our Lady of Miracles, became the patron saint of Alcamo and the nearby towns of Calatafimi and Salemi.

Alcamo’s governor Don Fernando Vega ordered the construction of the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Miracles, to house the image. Governor Vega is buried in a white marble sarcopaghus in the sanctuary.

And to show how much the Italians love a celebration:  Each year on June 19-21, and for several weeks beforehand, the people of Alcamo celebrate, honoring the image of Our Lady of Miracles with a number of events.

Festivities begin with the “pealing of church bells” and the burst of crackers, as a band weaves through the streets.  Mass is celebrated in the Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta, the “mother church,” with all local confraternities and lay groups participating. Preceded by the band, the mayor and all civil and religious authorities, accompanied by townsfolk in period costumes as well as a men’s group called Sa Giorgio’s Knights, descend to the Sanctuary of the Madonna of Miracles for Vespers and a Eucharistic Blessing.

The festivities continue: There will be dancing and music, a “Market Fair,” and street entertainers called “madonnari.” The statue of Our Lady of Miracles, adorned with a crown and hairpin embellished by precious stones, is again processed through the town and returned to the mother church. And at about midnight, after the statue has been returned to the church, there are fireworks in Piazza Bagolino.