Our Lady of Perpetual Help (or of Succour) or Our Mother of Perpetual Help is a title given to the Blessed Virgin Mary, associated with a Byzantine icon of the same name, said to be 13th or 14th century, but perhaps 15th century. The icon has been in Rome since at least the late 15th century. In the Eastern Orthodox Church this iconography is known as the Theotokos of the Passion.
The image is very popular among Catholics in particular, and has been much copied and reproduced. Reproductions are sometimes displayed in homes or elsewhere. Catholics have, for centuries, prayed to the Blessed Virgin that she intercede on their behalf with Christ. On the current Roman Catholic calendar of saints Our Lady of Perpetual Help is commemorated on June 27.
This icon was painted by an unknown artist most likely in the 13th Century.
The painting isn't meant to be one of beauty but holds a message instead; "You can come to me". The icon depicts the Blessed Virgin Mary wearing a dress of dark red with a blue mantle and veil. On the left is the Archangel Michael, carrying the lance and sponge of the crucifixion of Jesus. On the right is the Archangel Gabriel carrying a 3-bar cross and nails. This type of icon is a later type of Hodegetria composition, where Mary is pointing to her Son, known as a Theotokos of the Passion. The Christ-child has been alarmed by a pre-sentiment of his passion, and has run to his mother for comfort. The facial expression of the Virgin Mary is solemn and is looking directly at the viewer instead of her son. Jesus is portrayed clinging to his mother with a dangling sandal. The Greek initials on top read Mother of God, Michael Archangel, Gabriel Archangel, and Jesus Christ, respectively. The icon is painted with a gold background on a walnut panel, and may have been painted in Crete, then ruled by the Republic of Venice. The Cretan School was the source of the many icons imported into Europe from the late Middle Ages through the Renaissance. The icon was cleaned and restored in 1866 and again in the 1940s. Her hand is open, inviting us to join her and Jesus.
The earliest written account of the image comes from a Latin and Italian plaque placed in the church of San Matteo, Via Merulana where it was first venerated by the public in 1499. The writer of the icon is unknown, but according to legend the icon was stolen by a merchant from Crete who was sailing to Rome. The merchant sailed and hid the icon while traveling at sea, until a storm hit hard and the sailors prayed to the icon for help. When the merchant arrived in Rome he fell ill, and as his dying wish he asked a second merchant to place the icon in a church where it could serve as a visual image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. The second merchant confided to his wife about the icon. Upon seeing the beautiful icon, the woman refused to give it to the church but instead hung it in their home. Later on, the Virgin Mary appeared to the merchant's daughter, requesting that the icon be turned in to a parish. Mary indicated to the little girl that the icon ought to be placed between the basilicas of St. Mary Major and St. John Lateran. The wife gave the icon to the Augustinian Friars. On March 27, 1499, the icon was transferred to the church of San Matteo where it remained for 300 years.
In 1798 André Masséna, then governor of Rome, closed and destroyed several churches in the city. The church of San Matteo in the Via Merulana was one of these. The Augustian friars first took the icon to the nearby Church of St. Eusebius, then later set it up on a side altar in the Church of Santa Maria in Posterula. Decades later, Pope Pius IX invited the Redemptorist Fathers to set up a Marian house of veneration in Rome, in response to which the Redemptorists built the Church of St. Alphonsus Liguori at that location. The Redemptorists were thus established on the Via Merulana, not knowing that it had once been the site of the Church of San Mateo and shrine of the once-famous icon. A Redemptorist Father came to hear stories of the icon and of the church in which it had been enshrined.
The Superior General of the Redemptorists, Father Nicholas Mauron, brought the matter to the attention of Pope Pius IX, who decided the icon should be exposed to public veneration. The logical site was the Church of St. Alphonse, standing as it did on the site where it had formerly been venerated. In 1866 Pius wrote a short memorandum ordering the Augustinian friars to surrender the icon to the Redemptorists, on condition that the Redemptorists supply the Augustinians with another picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Help or a good copy of the icon in exchange. Upon its transfer, Pius gave the icon the title Our Mother of Perpetual Help. On June 23, 1867, the image was crowned by the Dean of the Vatican Chapter in a solemn and official recognition of the Marian icon under that title. On April 21, 1866, the Redemptorist Superior General gave one of the first copies of the icon to Pope Pius XI. This copy is preserved in the chapel of the Redemptorists' Generalate in Rome. The original icon remains under the care of the Redemptorist Fathers at the Church of St. Alphonsus.
Since then, the Blessed Virgin Mary as Our Lady of Perpetual Help has been venerated, having been popularized among many cultures and under several titles in different languages such as Nuestra Señora del Perpetuo Socorro, Perpetuo Succursu, Beata Virgo de Perpetuo Succursu, Ina ng Laging Saklolo and Mother of Perpetual Soccour.
Among Roman Catholics in the Philippines, Our Lady of Perpetual Help is widely venerated. Catholic churches hold a Novena and Mass every Wednesday in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary under this title. The National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help is filled every Wednesday with thousands of devotees who pay their homage. Every wednesday, numerous petition and thanksgiving letters are read from the pulpit from Filipinos worldwide for the intentions of Perpetual help. In addition to this, the Wednesday Perpetual Help Novena is strictly observed and followed in the majority of Catholic churches in the Philippines. The novena uses the same Wednesday novena booklet initially published by the Redemptorist Fathers.