Genazzano is a small town of around 6,000 inhabitants, 60 kilometres east of Rome in Italy. Since 1467, the image of Our Lady of Good Counsel has been venerated here, having miraculously arrived from Albania, across the Adriatic Sea, through heavenly intervention. A multitude of miracles have been performed there ever since. Here is the wonderful — and also true — story of this image and its shrine.
In the first half of the 15th century, Antonio Polani and his wife, Blessed Petruccia da Janeo, lived in Genazzano. Both were very devout, as well as being benefactors of the Augustinian monks who officiated in the church of Santa Maria del Buon Consiglio in Genazzano. Petruccia, who was widowed in 1426 at the age of 39, devoted her entire life to prayer and works of piety. As the Augustinian church was in a poor state, she had the idea of restoring it, using up all her possessions and even selling her house in 1451. Since her property was not enough to complete the restoration work, people began to make fun of her. But she calmly reassured them: "Don't worry, my friends; before I die, the Blessed Virgin and Saint Augustine will finish repairing the church."
And then a much greater obstacle appeared than a simple lack of resources. Petruccia had in fact declared that she had begun her enterprise and had been encouraged to persevere in it, mainly by relying on an inspiration, vision or revelation that she believed she had received from God; and the Church, in order to guard against the abuses which had sometimes arisen from paying attention to alleged supernatural messages of this kind, had now enacted a law forbidding the dealing with such things unless they were corroborated by some other external and independent testimony; the mere assertion of a dream, vision or revelation was not to be obeyed under any circumstances. Petruccia's work had therefore not only been suspended; for lack of means, it was also canonically forbidden. Such was the state of affairs in Genazzano until April 25, 1467.
To the east of Italy, on the other side of the Adriatic Sea, lies Scutari (Shkroda in Albanian), a small town in Albania where, from time immemorial, a miraculous image of the Virgin Mary was venerated: all Catholics had recourse to her, particularly in the most difficult of times. The miraculous Virgin quickly established herself as the Patron Saint of Albania, and her shrine soon became the country's largest centre of religious devotion. Unfortunately, Scutari and Albania fell to the Muslim Turks.
But God willed that the sacred image, publicly venerated in Scutari, should be miraculously saved from destruction by the Muslims. The Virgin herself appeared in a dream to two of her devotees, Sclavis and Giorgi: She told them that the image would leave Scutari before the country lost its faith, and asked them to follow her. As Sclavis and Giorgi prayed before the image, it detached itself from the wall of the church and, enveloped in a white cloud, rose into the air and headed towards the sea. The two devotees bravely followed it and managed to make it out, since it appeared by day as a cloud and by night as a pillar of fire; they too crossed the sea, walking dryly across the Adriatic. But once they reached Rome, they lost sight of the image... which they providentially found again in Genazzano a few days later.
April 25, 1467 was the feast of Saint Mark, patron saint of Genazzano; the village was packed with people who had come to celebrate the occasion. At 4 o'clock in the afternoon, the compact crowd of pilgrims, gathered in Piazza Santa Maria, were amazed to hear celestial harmonies descending from the heavens... It was as if the gates of heaven had opened... At that moment, much higher up, a white cloud was seen spreading bright rays of light on all sides, enveloped in celestial music, in a splendour that veiled the sun itself. It gradually descended, coming to rest on the wall of the little unfinished chapel.
Miraculously, the church bell began to ring joyfully while, almost at the same time, the other churches in the city echoed this miraculous sound with their chimes, without anyone operating them. Gradually, the rays of light ceased to shine, the cloud slowly disappeared, and a very beautiful object appeared before the eyes of the crowd: It was the image from the sanctuary of Scutari, representing the Blessed Virgin holding the Infant Jesus in her arms, but the people of Genazzano did not know where it came from.
Petruccia came out of her house to ask what had happened, just like the others. When she saw the miraculous image, she fell to her knees and greeted it with outstretched arms. Then she got up and, turning to the people, told them in a voice half-strangled by tears of joy and gratitude, that it was the Gran Signora, the Great Lady she had been waiting for so long, who had now come to take possession of the church that should have been prepared for her, and that the bells were ringing in this miraculous way just to honour her.
At these words, the people fell to their knees and began to pour out their prayers before this marvellous image, which they did not know how to describe other than as the Madonna del Paradiso, the Virgin of Paradise. It's easy to imagine the emotion produced by this event on the people who witnessed the miracle. All activities were abandoned... in unison a cry went up: "Long live Mary! Long live our Mother of Good Counsel!", while others shouted: "A miracle! A miracle!"
People from all over Italy travelled to contemplate the image, coming in procession from small villages and large towns alike. There were prodigies and miracles: between April 27 and August 14, 1467 alone, 161 miracles were recorded. The alms that were now permitted (due to a clear sign from Heaven) exceeded all expectations, even during Blessed Petruccia's lifetime, and not only was the church rebuilt, but it was even possible to build a beautiful convent. Miracles abounded: the blind, the mute, the lame and the sick of all kinds were healed, the possessed were freed... people everywhere were talking about the apparition.
Let's come back to the two Albanians, Sclavis and Giorgi. Two or three days after their arrival in Rome, they learned that an image had appeared in a very strange way in Genazzano, and that its appearance had been followed by many miracles. They immediately set off to visit it, where they recognized it and proclaimed its identity. Later, other Albanians, who were scattered abroad in different parts of Italy, came to see the image and confirmed its identity. Sclavis and Giorgi decided to settle in Genazzano. The Sclavis family died out in the early 1700s, while Giorgi's descendants are still there today.
The Pope at the time, Paul II, was informed of the events and, shortly afterwards, sent two bishops to Genazzano: Gaucerio de Forcalquier, Bishop of Gap in France, and Nicola de Crucibus, Bishop of Hvar in Dalmatia, to investigate the situation. Their investigation proved positive. The miracles continued, and so many donations arrived that the church was completed in no time. Blessed Petruccia died in 1472, and her body was buried in the chapel of the Blessed Virgin.
Immediately after the apparition, there were numerous miracles attested to by notaries. A certain Guglielmo de Orlandis from Terni, aged 25, blind from birth, who had just entered the church, recovered his sight; Antonietto from Castelnuovo had begged the Virgin of Genazzano to restore the life of his faithful servant, Constantino de Carolis from Castelfollit: he was granted his wish.
The very image of Mary in Genazzano is a miracle. The image appears sometimes benevolent, sometimes sad, sometimes illuminated by rosy colours, depending on who is approaching it. What's more, the suspension of the image is miraculous: it's not a painting executed on a panel or canvas, so it can be easily removed and leave no trace behind; it's a simple fresco on a very thin layer of plaster, which no human skill could have detached from the wall in one piece, let alone transported from one place to another without breaking it.
Subsequently, the provenance of the image was even more clearly established by the testimony of people who spoke under oath, not only to the exact shape and size, as corresponding to an empty space that was then still visible on the wall of the church in Scutari, before its demolition by the Communists in 1967. In 1895, Our Lady of Good Counsel was proclaimed Patron Saint of Albania.
In the liturgical calendar, the feast of Our Lady of Good Counsel is celebrated on April 26. Among the readings at Mass is the Gospel passage from the wedding feast at Cana (John 2), where Mary says to the servants: "Do whatever Jesus tells you." These words are also addressed to each one of us.
If Mary is the Mother of Good Counsel, it is because she is the mother of the "Wonderful Counsellor", according to the words of the prophet Isaiah (9:5) to designate Jesus. We also know that counselling is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. The gift of counsel is the ability to discern good from evil and the Will of God according to the circumstances, because it is not enough for a thing to be good in itself for it necessarily to correspond to the Will of God in given circumstances.
Saint John Paul II visited the shrine of Genazzano on Thursday, April 22, 1993. He wanted to become a pilgrim at the feet of the Mother of Good Counsel in preparation for his pastoral visit to Albania a few days later. Here is his speech after the recitation of the Rosary:
"Dear friends, you are well aware of the deep connection between this shrine (of Genazzano) and the town of Shkodra, where next Sunday I will celebrate the Eucharist and ordain four Albanian bishops. The image of Our Lady of Good Counsel venerated here comes from Shkodra: According to a pious tradition, it migrated from the church that housed it, thus miraculously escaping the Turkish invasion of 1467. I would like to thank you for your warm welcome and for the large attendance at today's meeting. I also commend you to all our Albanian brothers, on the other side of the Adriatic Sea, with whom you are so closely linked through this image of Our Lady of Good Counsel."
On the following Sunday, April 25, 2023, in Shkroda (Scutari), John Paul II blessed the foundation stone of the new sanctuary of the Mother of Good Counsel, to be rebuilt on the exact spot where it stood before it was destroyed in 1967 by the sacrilegious hand of the Communist regime. The Pope also donated a copy of the image of the Mother of Good Counsel of Genazzano, painted by Dante Ricci of Genazzano, to symbolise the return of the Lady and Protector of Albania to her homeland.