The picture of Our Mother of Good Counsel is familiar to all who frequent
the churches of the Augustinian friars. With them and their people it has
a place of special honor. The original, the miraculous picture, has been
in the reverent keeping of the members of the Order of Saint Augustine for
over four hundred years. The church that enshrines the original fresco of
Our Mother of Good Counsel is located in the small town of Genazzano, Italy.
has it that this church stood unfinished and roofless when, on 25 April
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.
The name, however, is much older than the picture. “Saint Mary
of Good Counsel” was the name given to a beautiful little church erected
in the fifth century on the ruins of a temple of Venus in ancient Latium.
But time took its toll on the church. It was almost a ruin in 1356, when
the Augustinian friars were charged with its care and restoration. The task
might have been hopeless if Mary herself had not come with her heavenly
image in 1467. She seemed determined to confirm and perpetuate her favorite
title, “Mother of Good Counsel.”
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 Madonna about 12 inches wide and 17 inches high that the
viewer today sees encased in an 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, including the image of the Madonna, is the work
of the early fifteenth century artist Gentile da Fabriano. He probably painted
his fresco on the wall around the time of Martin V (1417-1431). At some
subsequent date 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 terracotta image of the Madonna which was known as Our Mother of Good
In 1467 the Augustinian friars began rebuilding the 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 in
this way: when the stone ledge was being inserted into the wall, the plaster
covering cracked and separated from the wall, revealing the fresco beneath.
The image was initially 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.
The unfinished church was completed soon after this occurrence and became
the center of continuous pilgrimage. A place was also built for the Augustinian
friars, who to this day still minister to the spiritual wants of the thousands
that come to venerate the picture of the Mother of Good Counsel. The story
of the picture spread far and wide; many came to pray at this shrine. The
numerous cures recorded as having occurred since then have caused the picture
of the Madonna to be called miraculous.
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 so that much of the fresco is just a thin sheet
of plaster. Yet the image of Our Lady of Good Counsel has survived for centuries
in this precarious state, through the rebuilding of the main walls of the
church, through a number of earthquakes, and even through the aerial bombardment
of Genazzano during World War II. Because of this condition, the restoration
undertaken in 1957 was a delicate task.
There arose a legend that the picture had come from Albania, many miles
across the Adriatic Sea. Among the first pilgrims who came to Genazzano
were two men with a very remarkable story to tell. While praying at a shrine
of Our Lady in the Albanian town of Scutari they saw the picture which they
were venerating remove itself from the wall of the church. They watched
in amazement as it rose into the air. High in the sky it was wrapped in
a cloud and vanished from their sight in the direction of the Adriatic and
They tried to follow the image. They searched everywhere for it, in all
the famous shrines and churches of Rome and other cities. Finally they heard
rumors of a new picture at Genazzano. They hurried there and at last found
the object of their quest, their own beloved holy picture. At Scutari it
had been loved and revered for many centuries; then the ardor of the people
toward it had cooled.
In their very early endeavors the good friars were ably assisted in their
efforts by the gracious aid of a holy widow, Petruccia di Nocera. Since
her husband’s death, this saintly woman, a tertiary of the Order of
Saint Augustine, had devoted herself to the service of the little church,
and great was her distress over the neglected condition in which the sanctuary
of Our Mother of Good Counsel was permitted to remain. To restore it was
the ambition of her life, and so strongly was she drawn to the undertaking
that she felt inspired to sacrifice her home and moderate income to further
this cause. While others might have felt daunted, Petruccia never once faltered
in her hopes. She constantly reiterated her assurance that the work would
be completed because Almighty God, through the intercession of Saint Augustine
and the Blessed Virgin, would see fit to crown her feeble efforts with unforeseen
Petruccia, having lived to see her fondest hopes abundantly realized,
died in 1470, honored by all. The Augustinians who owed so much to this
good tertiary laid her body to rest at the feet of the beloved Madonna,
with an inscription above which told of her share in the great work accomplished
by God at Genazzano.
Our Mother of Good Counsel has been called the Madonna of the popes.
In truth, since the arrival of the picture, there is scarcely a pope who
has not in some way shown great devotion to her. The initial approval of
the devotion to Our Mother of Good Counsel was given by Pope Paul II. In
1753 Pope Benedict XIV established the Pious Union of Our Lady of Good Counsel,
a spiritual society to which many indulgences were attached. Pope Pius IX
had a personal devotion to Our Mother of Good Counsel; he made a pilgrimage
to Genazzano in 1864.
More than any other pope, Pope Leo XIII, himself a member of the Pious
Union, 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.
It was he who coined the phrase: “Children, follow her counsels.”
Pope Pius XII dedicated his reign to Our Mother of Good Counsel, and Pope
John XXIII made a visit to her shrine in 1959.
The Augustinians have been at all times the outstanding promoters of
the devotion to Our Mother of Good Counsel. Within the last century there
have been two holy men of the Order who were particularly notable for their
zeal in spreading this devotion. Blessed Stephen Bellesini was pastor at
the shrine and is buried in a side chapel of the church, and Venerable Joseph
Menochio was papal sacristan to Pope Pius VII.
Thus, for five hundred years, the devotion to Our Mother of Good Counsel
has flourished and grown. Great artists have fashioned rich copies of the
Madonna in canvas, stone, and mosaic. One will find the picture of Our Mother
of Good Counsel in beautiful shrines and in great cathedrals and churches.
Missionaries have carried it to the ends of the earth, and it has found
its way into the humblest of homes throughout the world.
The feast of Our Mother of Good Counsel is celebrated by the Augustinian
Family on 26 April.
Click here to enroll in the Pious Union of Our
Mother of Good Counsel.