An ancient icon, beloved of St. Ignatius of Loyola, still points the way.
Be with us Mary, along the way,Guide every step we take,Lead us to Jesus, your loving Son:Come with us, Mary, come. (“Hymn to Our Lady of the Way”)
I first ran into her in Assisi, 10 years ago. Not yet returned to the Church, on a pilgrimage with Catholic friends, I noticed an icon in the Chapel of St. Catherine of Alexandria in the Lower Basilica of St. Francis. The pose — Our Lady holding the Christ Child — and the Byzantine art style seemed familiar. But this was not Our Mother of Perpetual Help, as I first thought. A sign informed me it was Maria, Madre di Dio, Condottiera.
Mary, Mother of God, the Conductor? I was intrigued.
An informative text translated Condottiera as “Guide,” and noted that the image was based on an ancient icon of Mary known in the East as the Virgin Hodegetria, the “one who shows the way.” It depicts Mary holding or standing next to the Child Jesus, with one hand pointing to him as the Way.