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Rome Reports

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Image of Our Lady that protected Romans during 15th-century plague

Above the altar in the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament in the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare lies a not very well known Roman treasure.

It's a 15th-century fresco of the Virgin Mary, popularly known as the “Madonna dell'Apollinare.” It has an inscription that is still very relevant today.

Rector, Pontifical University of the Holy Cross
“Our Lady is with St. Peter and St. Paul, sitting on a throne, and underneath the throne is a prayer in Latin. I saw it this summer in a large print of this image, in which I discovered that it was a prayer asking Our Lady for protection from an epidemic, a plague that had occurred in Rome.”

Its celebration is held on Feb. 13, in memory of its rediscovery, since it was forgotten for many years.

Rector, Pontifical University of the Holy Cross
“There is a story. There was an invasion of German soldiers, who covered the image with limescale, and it remained hidden for some time. Then as the limescale fell away, the popular devotion spread.”

In the old days, the devotion of the Romans to this Marian icon was so important that when the new temple was built, it was located in the atrium of the basilica, undoubtedly an architectural feature.

Rector, Pontifical University of the Holy Cross
“One does not expect to see a chapel of the Blessed Sacrament in the atrium of a church. Usually, one enters a church and sees the chapel to the side. In this case, the chapel is the atrium of the church, containing the image of the Virgin Mary. The chapel of the Blessed Sacrament was placed there precisely because of the popular devotion.”

Nowadays, this devotion to this image of the Virgin Mary has regained importance among Romans. Six centuries later, many visit her to ask for her protection from the current pandemic.

Daniel Díaz Vizzi

Translation: Christian Campos