In the quaint medieval town of Genazzano, about 30 miles from Rome, on a side altar of the Church of Our Lady of Good Counsel, there is a small image of the Blessed Virgin holding her infant Son. The Child, in His turn, lovingly encircles Mary’s neck with His arm, inclining her head towards Himself in a gentle and intimate embrace.
This small fresco has a marvelous history.In the fifteenth century there lived in the town an elderly widow, by name Petruccia, who had invested the entirety of the small fortune left to her by her husband in a needed side chapel for her church. Her money running out when the walls were only a few feet high, the townsfolk openly mocked and ridiculed her for her foolishness. Undaunted, Petruccia assured them that in spite of the apparent failure of her own endeavors, the Mother of God and St. Augustine, whose spiritual sons were caretakers of the church, would finish the work she had begun.
On April 25, 1467 as the inhabitants of Genazzano celebrated the feast of their patron St. Mark, marvelous music was heard approaching, its source seemingly from above. Looking upwards, the astounded citizens saw a brilliant cloud descending towards them. The bell of the church, and then others throughout the town, began to peel of their own accord. The cloud came to rest on Petruccia’s unfinished chapel wall and gradually dissipated, revealing the extraordinary image of the Madonna and Child. The widow’s supernatural confidence being so wonderfully rewarded before the astonished gaze of all, the construction of the chapel was not long in its completion.
Shortly after these remarkable events, two foreigners in strange attire arrived in Genazzano claiming to be Albanians. Their names were Giorgio and DeSclavis and on seeing the icon, they cried out with joy and then told a wonderful tale.
After the death of Albania’s king, George Castriota, known as Scanderberg, their nation had finally been conquered by the invading Turks. Early in 1467, while they prayed before the miraculous fresco, the image suddenly became illuminated, and detaching itself from the wall, it began to move through the air. Entranced, the two former soldiers followed the painting, first over land and, then, across the Adriatic Sea, which solidified under their feet.
In the Eternal City they lost sight of it, until hearing reports of a great miracle in a nearby town, they surmised where their Madonna had come to rest. Both decided to remain near their treasure, and married and raised families in Genazzano.P
A plaque left at the shrine by visiting Albanians begs their Madonna to return to them, but there she is to this day. It is a continuous miracle: a fresco painted on eggshell plaster suspended in the air for five and a half centuries, but how much greater is the miracle of that tender embrace between Mother and Child, that union of soul into which each one is invited and warmly received.