May 22: Our Lady of Monte Vergine, near Naples, Italy (1119)
Also known as Our Lady of Montevergine, or as “Mother Schiavona,” this image was preserved from the flames at the monastery and church consecrated in her honor.
A very famous Benedictine sanctuary located in the village of Montevergine in the Campanian region of Italy is known as “Monte Vergine;” its religious history goes back to pre-Christian times, when there was a temple of Cybele there. A chapel of the Blessed Virgin was built in the seventh century, and in the year 1119 Saint William of Vercelli founded the monastery that still exists high up on the mountains. Saint William was a hermit who came back to his native Italy after making a pilgrimage to the shrine of Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
Due to Saint William’s reputation for sanctity, many men were drawn to him and soon there were many cells located on the mountain. The first true church was constructed in 1126, and was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin.
In the church is a large icon of the Mother and Child, “of Constantinople” (said to have been brought to Italy by King Baldwin of Jerusalem) which came into the possession of the monastery in 1310. King Baldwin was only able to take away the upper portion of the large image. The dark figures on the icon of Our Lady of Montevergine stand out strikingly from the gold background; the present lower part of the picture is a later addition.
The image is quite large, with a height of over 12 feet and width of over 6 feet, showing the Blessed Virgin seated on a throne with the Divine Infant Jesus seated on her lap. The image is dark, so the icon is often referred to as one of the “Black Madonnas.” There have apparently been several renovations made to the original painting, as in 1621 two crowns were placed on the heads of the Virgin Mary and her child Jesus, and other additions were made in 1712 and 1778.
During World War II the church was used to hide the famed Holy Shroud of Turin, the burial cloth of Christ. A new basilica was begun in 1952 in the Romanesque style, and this structure was consecrated in 1961. There are over one and one half million pilgrims yearly who come to Monte Vergine to visit Our Lady of Montevergine, most notably at Whitsuntide. There have been numerous miracles attributed to this portrait of the Mother of God and her Divine Son.
There is a church at Seattle, Washington, dedicated in honor of Monte Vergine, Our Lady of the Mount, and another at New Brunswick, New Jersey.
*from The Woman in Orbit and other sources
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