By Hannah Brockhaus
Rome has an abundance of beautiful churches, interesting relics, and sacred art. To wander the streets of the city’s historic center is to stumble upon something amazing.
But some of Rome’s treasures are just a little more hidden. Here are three less-known Marian images which can be found in Rome… if one knows where to look.
Mater Admirabilis: Spanish Steps
Rome’s marvelous Spanish Steps are on the to-see list of many tourists to the Eternal City. Every day, many people climb the white staircase to take in the view from the top, as well as the late-Renaissance church which sits there: Santissima Trinità dei Monti.
The church is beautiful. But next door, in the Trinità dei Monti monastery, is a miraculous fresco of Mater Admirabilis, or Mother Most Admirable, painted by a young French girl in the 1800s.
The monastery of Trinità dei Monti, originally founded in the 15th century, would have been abandoned when Pope Leo XII, in 1828, gave it to the Religious of the Sacred Heart.
The fresco came about when Pauline Perdrau, who would later join the society, asked the mother superior’s permission to paint an image of Our Lady along a corridor of the monastery.
Perdrau was a talented young artist but inexperienced in the technique of fresco painting. She asked the Blessed Mother for her intercession, dedicating herself to the painting for long hours every day for months.
According to tradition, when the fresco was completed in 1844, the colors of the image were considered too bright and the fresco was covered by a curtain. Two years later, Pope Pius IX visited the monastery and, seeing the curtain, asked what was behind it. When the curtain was removed the soft colors still visible in the image today were discovered. Supposedly, the pope, when he saw it, exclaimed, “Mater Admirabilis!” giving the image its title.
Word of the image spread, and with it, devotion to Mary, Most Admirable Mother. Miracles are attributed to her intercession. Pilgrims from around the world, including St. Madeleine Sophie Barat and St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, have prayed in the presence of the fresco.
The chapel of Mater Admirabilis can be visited Monday-Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. by asking at the door to the monastery/school, which is at the top of a small staircase directly to the left of the staircase leading to the main church doors (when facing the church).
Holy Mary, Cause of Our Joy: Trevi Fountain
Just steps away from another famous destination in Rome, the Trevi Fountain, down a side street and at the end of a small alley, lies the chapel boasted to be Rome’s smallest Marian shrine, the Sanctuary of the Madonna of the Little Arch.
The image of Santa Maria Causa Nostrae Laetitiae – or, Holy Mary, Cause of Our Joy – dates to the late 1600s, when it was painted on Italian tin-glazed pottery called maiolica by the artist Domenico Muratori.
Tradition holds that in 1696, the Virgin in the image moved her eyes. This miracle led to the image being moved beneath the arch for better protection and easier public veneration. On July 9, 1796, witnesses reported seeing her eyes weep and move again.
Among those devoted to Holy Mary, Cause of Our Joy were St. Maximilian Kolbe, St. Benedict Joseph Labre, St. Vincent Pallotti, and St. Pope John XXIII.
In 1851, the image was enclosed in a small chapel, built in the neo-renaissance style and today the oratory is under the jurisdiction of the nearby Basilica of the Holy Apostles.
The address of the shrine is Via di San Marcello, 41b. It is open Monday through Saturday at 7 p.m. for the recitation of the rosary, and on Sundays at 7 p.m. for Mass.
Madonna of San Sisto: Monte Mario
The average tourist to Rome is less likely to find him or herself near the Church of Santa Maria del Rosario, which is situated not on one of the original seven hills of Rome, but on Monte Mario.
Those willing to make about an hour-long walking pilgrimage uphill from the Vatican (or to take a shorter taxi ride) can view the “Madonna Advocata” image after Mass at the convent church of a group of cloistered Dominican nuns.
The nuns participate in Mass from behind a grille to the left of the altar. Next to them, also behind a grille, lies the Marian image, sometimes called the Madonna of the Golden Hands.
This image is most likely from the 7th century, though it was revered over the centuries as having been painted by St. Luke. After it was smuggled out of Byzantium during the period of iconoclasm, it spent time in the oratory of St. Agata in Trastevere and the Church of San Sisto Vecchio, which is where it received its name of the Madonna of San Sisto. It eventually ended up under the care of the Dominicans at the convent church on Monte Mario.
The image can be seen daily at Via Alberto Cadlolo, 51, from 7:00-11:15 a.m. and 2-5:30 p.m. (excluding during Mass).