Thursday, April 26, 2007

Trip to Genazzano

Yesterday we met our friend Pietro and two seminarians for a trip to the town of Genazzano. I woke up that morning not knowing where we were going, so it was a big surprise to hear where we were going. Before I procede with the story, here is a picture of the town of Genazzano, about 1 1/2 hours outside of Rome.
Now for why Genazzano is so special. There is a miraculous image of the Virgin Mary there, in a beautiful church. To be brief, I am copying down excerpts from the University of Dayton's website that explain how the picture came to be at the church. Here is the story, in italics.
The image as it is known in the West is traced to the year 1467 to Genazzano, Italy, a small town ca. thirty miles southeast of Rome. It is presently located in a side chapel, built between 1621 and 1629, in the church of Our Lady of Good Counsel, whence the image derives its name. Measuring approximately 15-1/2 inches by 17-1/2 inches, the painting is a fresco executed on a thin layer of plaster or porcelain not much thicker than paper. One writer describes it as a fresco painted on a material resembling egg shell. It appears suspended in mid-air in its frame, with approximately an inch of space between it and the wall behind it.
There are two strands to the story of Our Lady of Good Counsel. Most sources refer to the ancient intertwined holy legends of an Albanian image, Our Lady of Shkodra (Good Counsel) and the Italian image in Genazzano. The Albanian Catholic Bulletin Vol. 9, 1988, pp. 12-14 gives the following brief account.
The story of our Lady of Shkodra (Good Counsel) is in part the story of Albanian Catholicism....O Nane, Zoje e Shkodres, Lutu per Shiqipni (O Mother, Our Lady of Shkodra - pray for Albania) was prayed to in Albania's darkest times of foreign occupation and religious persecution.

The holy legend of the ancient icon...was told from generation to generation and even recorded by Church commissions. Albanians nourished a particular devotion and love for the Virgin Mary, Zoja e Bekueme (The Blessed Lady). Numerous churches and chapels were erected in her honor throughout the nation. Shrines of Mary were placed on the mountain slopes and lowland crossroads. These were decorated with flowers and tree greens as a sign of homage and devotion.

One of those churches dedicated to Zoja e Bekueme lies beneath the old Illyrian fortress of Shkodra. This church was a center of special devotion because of its beautiful painting of Our Lady. The icon hung on the wall over the main altar. Because of the "motherly expression and uplifting sweetness in her gaze," the Zoja e Bekueme was regarded by Albanians as "an angel come to life." The fame of this painting and stories of protection received by numerous petitioners drew large crowds to the church.

Particularly at the time when the Ottoman Turks were advancing in the 15th century, the church of Zoja e Bekueme became a source of consolation and encouragement. Her patronage was urgently sought following the death of the Albanian warrior Gjergi Kastrioti (Skanderbeg), in 1405. Skanderbeg had often prayed before the painting, seeking advice and strength for his army. Nonetheless, the Turks quickly conquered Albania. The last stronghold of Albanian resistance was Shkodra.

The story continues: "One day during the siege of Shkodra two escaping Albanians stopped at the Church to pray to Zoja e Bekueme for their safe journey. While praying fervently, they suddenly noticed the painting moving away from the wall.... The two Albanians, Gjorgji and De Sclavis," followed the painting, as if it were a bright star, all the way to Rome, where the image disappeared. They heard rumors that a miraculous image had appeared in Genazzano. They ran to the nearby town and there discovered the painting of their beloved Zoja e Bekueme." The two "settled down and made Genazzano their home."
It is here that the second strand of the story begins.

When Pope Sixtus III (432-440) called for help in renovating Saint Mary Major, the people of Genazzano contributed generously. Property was given to the town area that had contributed the most. Eventually a church was built with the title Our Lady of Good Counsel.
Augustinians were entrusted with the church in 1356. Joan Carroll Cruz writes:
With the passage of time the church became decrepit and ill-kempt. During the year of the miracle, 1467, a local widow named Petruccia de Geneo felt herself called to spend her meager funds on needed repairs. Her friends and neighbors thought her plan presumptuous and declined to support her praiseworthy endeavor. After the widow had spent all her money on repairs, work had to be halted due to the increased cost of both materials and labor. When the people saw this, they scoffed and ridiculed her, laughingly calling the unfinished work "Petruccia's Folly." Her efforts were nevertheless rewarded in a marvelous manner.
On St. Mark's Day, April 25, 1467, the entire population of the city was participating in the yearly festival in honor of the day's patron. At about 4 o'clock in the afternoon the merrymakers began to hear the strains of exquisite music. Then, while they silently gazed at the sky for the source of the singing, they saw, in an otherwise clear sky, a mysterious cloud that descended until it obliterated an unfinished wall of the church. Before the thousands of awe-struck revelers, the cloud parted and dissipated, revealing a portrait of Our Lady and the Christ Child. This was resting on the top of the unfinished wall that was only a few feet high. The church bells of the city rang of their own accord, attracting people from outlying areas who hurried to investigate the untimely ringing.
All of Italy came to visit the blessed image; cities and towns came in pilgrimage. Many wonders occurred, many favors were granted... The very beautiful image of Mary appeared on the wall without human intervention.
So great was the number of healings that a notary was appointed to make a register of the more important cases. This record, which is still preserved, notes that from April 27 until August 14, 1467, 171 miracles occurred.

In a thorough, detailed study, Joao S. Cla Dias writes, "...the fresco has unexplainably remained suspended in the air close to the wall of the chapel in the church of Our Lady of Good Counsel for over five hundred years." Cla Dias' work contains several documents about the miraculous character of the image itself, including the amazing fact that the painting is not mounted or attached at the back. There are also indications that the image appears to bear different expressions according to particular situations.

There is a vast registry of miraculous happenings related to the image of Our Lady of Good Counsel and to its copies. Conversions, healings, and specially requested graces are among the numerous accounts of extraordinary occurances related in connection with the image.

With that said, here is the facade of the church.

And here is the interior. The marble and gold decorations were amazing.
And here is the miraculous painting, on a side altar of the church.
Here is a closer picture of the painting. if you notice, the brown area above the painting is the wall behind the panting. You can't see it too good in the picture, but even once you looked down on the panting you could see the gap between the painting and the wall. It truly is suspended in midair.
Here is the church bell that rang on its own when the image came to the church.

After we left the church we stopped outside for the parade celebrating the anniversary of the liberation of Rome by the Americans at the end of World War II.
We went back into the church for a few more minutes, and I took this shot of the arches and the ceiling.

Once when there were enemy troops in the city, a soldier outside was gambling and lost all his money. He began cursing God and ran inside the church. Seeing a large painting of Christ crucified he began hacking at it with his sword. He was immediately killed, and his sword was twisted by an unseen force. The sword was preserved, and years later a blacksmith straightened it. Immediately after he was done, the sword twisted back into its previous shape. It has remained like that, and is inside the church next to the painting the soldier damaged.
We went back outside and got some fried goodies from a street vendor. They had grape leaves with mozzarella cheese inside, fried cauliflower, fried potatoes, and the equivalent of elephant ears.
Genazzano is a medieval town, so we walked across the street to the castle which has been restored. Here is a shot of mom standing on causeway between the town and the castle with the hills in the background.
This is a picture of the castle crennelations.
And here is a shot of everyone on one of the balconies inside the castle.


Barbaranne said...

You're quite the photographer Anthony, with a good "eye" for framing your shots. It's a treat to see the pictures you're posting. You'll have quite a souvenir/history book when you're done! Can't wait to see this weekend's photos!

Barbaranne said...

btw, Alex should stand BEHIND your Mom and Dad in future group shots...

Erika said...

Very cool!!!

I'm so very jealous. When I come (God willing), I want to see everything you've posted in this entire blog. Do you think we can do that in 4 days? =)

Love you guys,

Thomas said...

Genazzano is gorgeous! Keep up the pictures Antonio!

Shannon story said...

You really are a good photorapher- I would love to visit this town and church- is that a priest with you??

Bronwyn said...

I love the stories that accompany these things you photograph!

Aggie said...

Nice to see Jim in a picture, what a shame though Jim, that someone has to work to pay for the family sight seeing. It must be bitter-sweet to read the blog of their adventures.