She is known as the Protectress of the Roman People and the pope regularly stops in to bring her flowers.
It was also before these same two images that Pope Francis went to pray when he left the Vatican in early March for a mini-pilgrimage for the intention of the end of the pandemic.
The Marian image is one of the oldest that exists, and it is traditionally attributed to St. Luke.
According to tradition St. Luke was a very talented young man. He not only wrote a Gospel account and the Acts of the Apostles, he was also a Greek physician and an artist.
He is held by the Eastern Church as the original “iconographer,” responsible for writing the first icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Many painters throughout the centuries have depicted this scene by placing St. Luke in front of an easel, painting a portrait of the Blessed Mother holdng the Child Jesus.
There exist multiple traditions surrounding what happened to the original icon(s) that St. Luke wrote. Whatever truth there is behind these traditions, one of the images that is attributed to St. Luke is this favorite of Pope Francis, known as Salus Populi Romani.
Similar to Our Lady of Czestochowa, it is believed this image was discovered by St. Helena and taken first to Constantinople. By the 6th century the image was transferred to Rome and ever since has been enshrined in the church of Saint Mary Major.
Already in the 6th century, Pope Gregory the Great is said to have had the image processed through Rome to stop a plague that was spreading through city.
It is this image, known as “Protectress of the Roman People,” before which Pope Francis prays and offers flowers each time he leaves Rome for a pontifical journey and again when he returns.
This icon, painted on a cedar panel, depicts Mary with a dark blue mantle trimmed with gold over a purple tunic, the typical dress of figures of power in 5th-century Rome.
She is holding the Christ Child, who is shown with a book in his left hand, presumably the Gospel. Unlike the 3rd-century representations of similar scenes, we see Mary, rather than Jesus, looking directly at the viewer.
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