Our Lady of Good Counsel
Alternate titles: Mother of Good Counsel, Our Lady of
Shkodra, Our Lady of Good Services and St. Mary
M. Jean Frisk
The painting of Our Mother of Good Counsel is an
Eleousa, (the Mother of Tenderness). The Christ Child
nestles close to his mother. The image is a half figure. The
Christ Child rests on Mary's left arm, her head bends toward
him, their cheeks touch tenderly. The left hand of the child
gently grasps the rim of her dress, indicating the intimacy of
The image as it is known in the West is traced to the year 1467
to Genazzano, Italy, a small town ca. thirty miles southeast of
Rome. It is presently located in a side chapel, built between
1621 and 1629, in the church of Our Lady of Good Counsel, whence
the image derives its name. Measuring approximately 15-1/2 inches
by 17-1/2 inches, the painting is a fresco 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. It appears suspended in mid-air in its frame, with
approximately an inch of space between it and the wall behind it.
The only support is on the lower edge where it "rests on a small
base on one of its sides, i.e. from the center to the extreme
right." (Joao S. Cla Dias, p. 42) The work itself
probably originates as a fourteenth century Umbrian work.
There are two strands to the story of Our Lady of Good Counsel.
Most sources refer to the ancient intertwined holy legends of an
Albanian image, Our Lady of Shkodra (Good Counsel) and the
Italian image in Genazzano. The Albanian Catholic
Bulletin Vol. 9, 1988, pp. 12-14 gives a
beautiful brief account of the legend:
- The story of our Lady of Shkodra (Good Counsel) is in part
the story of Albanian Catholicism....O Nane, Zoje e
Shkodres, Lutu per Shiqipni (O Mother, Our Lady of
Shkodra - pray for Albania) was prayed to in Albania's darkest
times of foreign occupation and religious persecution.
- The holy legend of the ancient icon...was told from
generation to generation and even recorded by Church commissions.
Albanians nourished a particular devotion and love for the Virgin Mary, Zoja e Bekueme (the Blessed Lady).
Numerous churches and chapels were erected in her honor
throughout the nation. Shrines of Mary were placed on the
mountain slopes and lowland crossroads. These were decorated with
flowers and tree greens as a sign of homage and devotion.
- One of those churches dedicated to Zoja e
Bekueme lies beneath the old Illyrian fortress of
Shkodra. This church was a center of special devotion because of
its beautiful painting of Our Lady. The icon hung on the wall
over the main altar. Because of the "motherly expression and
uplifting sweetness in her gaze," the Zoja e
Bekueme was regarded by Albanians as "an angel come to
life." The fame of this painting and stories of protection
received by numerous petitioners drew large crowds to the church.
- Particularly at the time when the Ottoman Turks were
advancing in the fifteenth century, the church of Zoja e
Bekueme became a source of consolation and
encouragement. Her patronage was urgently sought following the
death of the Albanian warrior Gjergi Kastrioti (Skanderbeg), in
1405. Skanderbeg had often prayed before the painting, seeking
advice and strength for his army. Nonetheless, the Turks quickly
conquered Albania. The last stronghold of Albanian resistance was
The story continues: "One day during the siege of Shkodra two
escaping Albanians stopped at the Church to pray to Zoja
e Bekueme for their safe journey. While praying
fervently, they suddenly noticed the painting moving away from
the wall.... The two Albanians, Gjorgji and De Sclavis,"followed
the painting, as if it were a bright star, all the way to Rome,
where the image disappeared. They heard rumors that a miraculous
image had appeared in Genazzano. They ran to the nearby town and
there discovered the painting of their beloved Zoja e
Bekueme." The two "settled down and made Genazzano
It is here that the second strand of the story begins.
- When Pope Sixtus III (432-440) called for help in renovating
Saint Mary Major, the people of Genazzano contributed generously.
Property was given to the town area that had contributed the
most. Eventually a church was built with the title Our Lady of
- Augustinians were entrusted with the church in 1356. Joan
Carroll Cruz writes:
- With the passage of time the church became decrepit and
ill-kempt. During the year of the miracle, 1467, a local widow
named Petruccia de Geneo felt herself called to spend her meager
funds on needed repairs. Her friends and neighbors thought her
plan presumptuous and declined to support her praiseworthy
endeavor. After the widow had spent all her money on repairs,
work had to be halted due to the increased cost of both materials
and labor. When the people saw this, they scoffed and ridiculed
her, laughingly calling the unfinished work "Petruccia's Folly."
Her efforts were nevertheless rewarded in a marvelous manner.
- On St. Mark's Day, April 25, 1467, the entire population of
the city was participating in the yearly festival in honor of the
day's patron. About 4 o'clock in the afternoon the merrymakers
began to hear the strains of exquisite music. Then, while they
silently gazed at the sky for the source of the singing, they
saw, in an otherwise clear sky, a mysterious cloud that
descended until it obliterated an unfinished wall of the church.
Before the thousands of awe-struck revelers, the cloud parted and
dissipated, revealing a portrait of Our Lady and the Christ
Child. This was resting on the top of the unfinished wall that
was only a few feet high. It is said that the church bells of the
city rang of their own accord, attracting people from outlying
areas who hurried to investigate the untimely ringing. Petruccia,
who had been praying in another area, rushed to the scene when
she heard the bells and fell down in tears before the miraculous
The provincial of the Augustinian order, Ambrogio da Cori,
- All of Italy came to visit the blessed image; cities and
towns came in pilgrimage. Many wonders occurred, many favors were
granted... The very beautiful image of Mary appeared on the wall
without human intervention.
- So great was the number of healings that a notary was
appointed to make a register of the more important cases. This
record, which is still preserved, notes that from April 27 until
August 14, 1467, 171 miracles occurred.
In a thorough, detailed study, Joao S. Cla Dias writes, "...the
fresco has unexplainably remained suspended in the air close to
the wall of the chapel in the church of Our Lady of Good Counsel
for over five hundred years." Cla Dias' work contains several
documents about the miraculous character of the image itself,
including the amazing fact that the painting is not mounted or
attached at the back. There are also indications that the image
appears to bear different expressions according to particular
There is a vast registry of miraculous happenings related to the
image of Our Lady of Good Counsel and to its copies. Conversions,
healings, and specially requested graces are among the numerous
accounts of extraordinary occurances related in connection with
There is more to the story and its possible translation from
Albania. The Christian population of Albania have kept the memory
of Our Lady of Good Counsel alive for centuries. The Catholic
population of the country celebrates not one, but two feastdays
in honor of Our Lady of Good Counsel, April 26 for all Albania
and the third Sunday of October for the Scutari area. The people
come from all over the country to gather by the thousands before
the cathedral where Our Lady of Good Counsel once was. There is
an ancient hymn with the refrain:
Copies of the image are found in homes throughout Albania. During
the time under Communist rule in this century, the image of Our
Lady of Good Counsel was nevertheless to be found in the majority
of Catholic homes.
- Mother of Good Counsel, return to us. On the path of peace
It is the Augustinian Order which has contributed to the
worldwide spread of devotion to Our Lady of Good Counsel. Karl
- During the time of the Counterreformation, the Augustinians
decided to place the entire order under the protection of this
Madonna, and to honor her wherever they were established. In
Germany, for instance, seventy-thousand images were soon distributed.
Today, copies of the image are found in Augustinian churches
and cloisters. Many confraternities developed under her
patronage. Pope Leo XIII added the invocation Mother of Good
Counsel, pray for us, to the Litany of Loretto. (p. 861).
The Jesuits also have spread devotion to Our Lady of Good
Counsel. Two images indicate how the picture and devotion were
adapted elsewhere. The image at left with the painted frame shows
missionaries and a small sailing vessel. The painting was taken
to Brazil by Fr. Jose de Campos Lara in 1785. It received its
place of honor in the Saint Louis Jesuit High School in Itu, and
later in Sao Paulo.
The statue in the photograph at right was also venerated under
the title Mother of Good Counsel and is located in the Imperial
School of the Society of Jesus in Madrid, Spain. The picture we
see is taken from an old photograph of the original wooden
carving which was lost during bombing and sacking in the 1930s.
The image received its papal coronation on November 17, 1682. A
canon of Saint Peter's chapter was sent to represent Pope
Innocent XI. A report was written five days later describing the
image as touching the wall only at the upper edge and not
supported by other means. It is from this date on that the
existence of the painting as such was considered miraculous, not
only because of its arrival at Genazzano, but because it is for
the most part suspended in the air. Eyewitnesses also testify to
extraordinary phenomena regarding changing features of the image.
Since that time, there have been many privileges granted to the
shrine, papal visits and honors.
An undated prayer card in our Marian Library tells us, "As can be
seen from the register at the shrine [in Genazzano, Italy],
Benedict XIV, Pius VIII, Pius IX, and Leo XIII are enrolled as
members" of the organization then known as the Pious Union of Our
Lady of Good Counsel. "It was Leo XIII who chose the motto for
its members: Children, follow her counsels. Pope
Pius XII placed his pontificate under the maternal care of Our
Lady of Good Counsel."
In 1777 the Sacred Congregation of Rites approved a Proper Office
commemorating the history of the shrine. The Augustinians were
granted the privilege of this office. In the newly revised
Collection of Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary, (1988)
there is also a special votive Mass in honor of The Blessed
Virgin Mary, Mother of Good Counsel. In the United States,
there is a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Good Counsel in the
National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
Our Lady of Good Counsel soon became a symbol of lay involvement
and responsibility in Counter-reformation times. It was the woman, Petruccia, who saw the need for the restoration of a church
fallen to ruins. She gave her utmost for the restoration and
beautification of the church, and according to the story, she
also prayed for the church. Today, there are women's groups,
such as the Christian Mothers here in America, who turn to the
patronage of Our Lady of Good Counsel.
Over the centuries, there are many prayers written in the spirit
of the respective age, seeking advice from Mary on how to live a
Christ-centered life. For our meditation, we have selected one of
these prayers and include here the official prayers of the church
for the votive Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Good
Counsel. We encourage you to savor these prayers as we pray with
the universal church for good counsel.
A "Short Prayer to Mary Most Holy of Good Counsel to Implore Her
Protection" from 1796:
- O Mary of Good Counsel, inflame the hearts of all who are
devoted to you, so that all of them have shelter in you, O great
Mother of God. O most worthy Lady, let everyone choose you as
teacher and wise counselor of their souls, since you are, as
Saint Augustine says, the counsel of the Apostles and counsel of
all peoples. Amen.
From the liturgy:
you know that our thoughts on earth
are full of fear and uncertainty;
through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
from whom your Son took flesh and blood,
send us the Spirit of counsel
to teach us how to know your will,
and to guide us in all we do.
- Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives
and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and
we have shared in your mysteries
on this memorial of Our Lady, Mother of Good Counsel.
- Grant that we may learn what is pleasing to you,
and receive salvation from your Son,
whom you gave to us as our wonderful Counselor
through the cooperation of his Blessed Mother.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
For further information on Our Lady of Good
Counsel, see: The Mother of Good Counsel of
Genazzano, by Joao S. Cla Dias, Sunbury, Penn: Western
Hemisphere Cultural Society, Inc., 1992; "Our Lady of
Good Counsel," In: A Dictionary of Mary, by Donald
Attwater, New York: P.J. Kenedy & Sons, 1956; "Guter Rat," In:
Marienlexikon, Vol. 3, p. 64.
See Also:Our Lady
of Good Counsel A Reflection
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