The pope has made a habit of visiting the icon before and after every foreign trip.
The Vatican released photos of Pope Francis’ favorite icon of the Madonna, known as the Salus Populi Romani (Protectress of the Roman People) — and the Byzantine-style painting of Mary with the infant Jesus is looking considerably lighter and brighter.
When Francis was first elected pope, it was to this icon, which hangs in the St. Mary Major Basilica in Rome, that he turned in prayer. And before and after every foreign trip, he stops in to visit the icon, often leaving a bouquet of flowers.
The restoration uncovered the “delicate” colors of the faces of Mary and Jesus and the “brilliance of the child’s golden robe and the blue of Mary’s tunic,” said Barbara Jatta, the head of the Vatican Museums, according to an AP report.
In an article in L’Osservatore Romano, Jatta said that the restoration revealed that the work was painted between the 11th and the 13th century. Tradition had it dating from the 5th century — or even earlier, as it was said to have been painted by St. Luke himself.
Pope Francis has had a particular devotion to Our Lady since before he became a bishop, as described in this article in Crux. In addition to his faithful visits to see the icon in St. Mary Major, he gave up TV because of a promise he made to the Virgin of Carmel, he has made a point of visiting Marian shrines while traveling, and he has spoken often of his devotion.
The icon will be displayed to the public on Sunday when Pope Francis celebrates a special Mass at the St. Mary Major Basilica.