Our Lady of the Rosary of Pompeii
"That picture is so ugly that it must have been painted purposely to destroy devotion to Our Lady !" So spoke the Countess Mariann de Fusco on her first glimpse of the painting of Our Lady which was to help increase devotion to the rosary in the desolate valley of Pompeii.
Blessed Bartolo Longo, while visiting the valley of Pompeii on business in l872, was shocked and filled with great pity at the ignorance, poverty, and lack of religion of the inhabitants of the area. His generous heart was moved, and he promised Our Lady to do all in his power to promote devotion to the rosary among the people of the area. To this end, he set up rosary festivals, with games, races, and even a lottery to attract the people.
In order to encourage the people, he determined to purchase a picture to be exposed for veneration by the peasants at the end of a three-day mission. By canon law, the picture had to be a painting in oils or on wood.
In vain, Blessed Bartolo and a priest friend scoured Naples for a painting of the Virgin with her rosary. At last, a Dominican sister offered them a large painting which had been bought at a junk shop for three francs. Seeing their hesitation, she told the men not to hesitate about taking the picture and predicted that it would work miracles. Rather than disappoint the people of Pompeii by returning empty handed, Bartolo accepted the picture and made arrangements for a wagoner to transport it to Pompeii.
Blessed Bartolo himself described the picture, which was dilapidated, wrinkled, soiled, and torn --" Not only was it worm eaten, but the face of the Madonna was that of a course, rough country-woman ... a piece of canvas was missing just above her head … her mantle was cracked. Nothing can be said of the hideousness of the other figures. St. Dominic looked like a street idiot. To Our Lady's left was a St. Rose. This latter I had changed later into a St. Catherine of Siena... I hesitated whether to refuse the gift or to accept. I had promised a picture unconditionally for that evening. I took it."
The waggoner arrived at the chapel door with the large painting wrapped in a sheet, and on top of a load of manure which he was delivering to a nearby field! Thus did Our Lady of Pompeii arrive in the valley which would become one of the major places of pilgrimage in honor of Our Lady.
At first, everyone who saw the picture was disappointed. An artist refurbished the unsightly canvas and ornamented it with diamonds donated by the faithful. A crown was placed on the head of the Madonna, and the painting was solemnly mounted on a throne of marble imported from Lourdes.
Bartolo later commented, "There is something about that picture which impresses the soul not by its artistic perfection but by a mysterious charm which impels one to kneel and pray with tears."
Immediately on its exposition, the picture became a veritable fountain of miracles.
First, a young epileptic girl in Naples was restored to health on the very day that the picture was re-exposed for veneration. Her aunt had heard of the plans to form a rosary confraternity in Pompeii and vowed to assist in the building of the church if the child got well. Next, a young woman dying in agony was completely recovered, immediately after her relatives had made similar promises to Our Lady of Pompeii. A Jesuit priest who had been persuaded by the Countess de Fusco to put his faith in the Virgin of Pompeii was cured immediately, and the following Feast of the Holy Rosary he sang the Mass and acknowledged his cure from the pulpit at Pompeii. In less than ten years, over 940 cures were reported at the shrine.
Today, the picture is framed in a frame of gold, and is encrusted with diamonds and prescious gems which hide all but the faces of the Saints and the Holy Child. Daily, pilgrims plead with Our Lady here for her graces and her favors. In this valley where once a pagan religion thrived, Our Lady reigns over her subjects whom she calls to adoration of her son.
Queen of Pompeii, help us to remember that true beauty lies not in external appearances, but rather in what comes from within. Let us never forget that God loves, above all things, the beauty of each individual human soul.
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Copyright © 2004 by Ann Ball
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