Saint Mary Major: Lent 2023, VIII

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— Feria IV post Dominicam primam — Statio ad S. Mariam majorem —

In the Borghese Chapel is housed the icon written by Saint Luke of the Virgin and Child: Salus Populi Romani . The image is five feet high by three and a quarter feet wide – very large for an icon, especially one with an early date. It is written on a thick cedar panel. Mary wears a gold-trimmed dark blue mantle over a dark red tunic. Christ is holding a book in his left hand, presumably a Gospel. His right hand is raised in a blessing, and it is Mary not he who looks directly out at the onlooker.

The folded together position of Mary’s hands distinguishes this image as a version of the earlier type from before the development of the types of iconography, where Mary points to Christ with her right hand. Rather than offering the Child, she keeps his body closer to hers and seeks physical and contact with Him.

Before this icon, which has saved Rome from physical and moral evil, many Saints offered themselves to Our Lord and to the Blessed Mother. It was here that Saint Paul of the Cross took upon himself the fourth vow to keep alive the memory of the Passion upon his heart and to share this devotion with all men.

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