What is the Salus Populi Romani? The story of the patroness of Rome

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When his election to the papacy was announced in 2013, Pope Francis gave his own special message to the thousands of pilgrims in St. Peter's Square.

March 13, 2013

Tomorrow, I want to go to pray before Our Lady so that she may protect all of Rome.

But who exactly is this patronness of the Eternal City with whom Francis began his papacy?

The history of this Marian devotion, the Salus Populi Romani, goes back centuries. Tradition holds the icon was made by the Evangelist, St. Luke, and brought to Rome by St. Helena in the 4th century.

The name means “Health or Salvation of the Roman People.” And it has lived up to that title. The icon is recognized as being responsible for miraculously saving the city of Rome from the plague in the 6th century.

But Francis is not the first pope to have a devotion to this Marian icon. Clement VIII, Gregory XVI and Pius XII all had crowns and jewelry made for the icon.

In the 17th century, Pope Paul V built the chapel that now houses the icon in the Basilica of St. Mary Major.

Pope Francis has such a strong devotion to the Salus Populi Romani that he has even decided to be buried in this Basilica.

As I always promised the Virgin, and the place is already prepared, I want to be buried in St. Mary Major, because it is my great devotion. Before, when I used to come here, I always went there on Sunday mornings. When I was in Rome, I would go there for a while. There is a very strong connection.

During his 11 years as pope, images of Francis visiting this icon of Rome's patronness before and after his international trips have become commonplace. And every time, he entrusts these travels into the hands of Our Lady.


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