Published: 27 April 2014
For almost 600 years the Augustinian Order has honoured Mary under the title of Mother of Good Counsel, based on an ancient fresco of that name. An annual feast day is on 26th April.
In the Augustinian world, the hill town of Genazzano, about an hour from Rome by car, is well known. The Order of Saint Augustine came there not long before the year 1274. In a church at Genazzano, where the Order of Saint Augustine has served since 1356, is most famous for a small fresco of the infant Jesus and his mother. The fresco (picture on the right) gives Mary the title of the Mother of Good Counsel. It is the the most famous fresco in Augustinian possession.
The Christ Child nestles close to his mother. Mary supports Jesus with her left arm. She bends her head toward him, and their cheeks touch tenderly. The left hand of Jesus gently grasps the rim of her dress, indicating the intimacy of nursing.
Measuring approximately 15.5 inches by 17.5 inches, the fresco is 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.
When restoration of the church was undertaken in 1957 (see photos below), scientific tests established that the fresco was probably painted sometime between 1417 and 1431 by the Italian artist, Gentile de Fabriano. It appears to have been part of a larger fresco that covered most of the church wall.
An earlier legend that reported the fresco being discovered – or miraculously “appearing” – in 1467 to a local widow named Petruccia de Geneo can be explained by the likely case of the fresco having had paint or plaster placed over it previously.
That the appearance of the fresco in 1467 was “miraculous” was promoted by the Provincial of the Augustinian Roman Province at that time. He was was Ambrose Massari da Cori O.S.A., who stated in his book, Chronica, in 1482 that the fresco had been carried by angels to Genazzano from Scutari in Albania. This is now historically discounted.
What is certain, however, is that the fresco immediately began to be a focus for pilgrims devoted to Mary in central Italy. This Augustinian church became one of the most popular Marian sanctuaries in central Italy, and remains so right up to the present day.
Pope Urban VIII visited the Genazzano sanctuary in 1630, and in 1779 Pope Pius VI approved a Mass and Divine Office for the feast of the Mother of Good Counsel. Pope John XXIII, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI all visited the shrine during their pontificates (see photos above).