The traditional picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Help is a Byzantine-style icon, dated to the 13th century. Some records say that the writer of the image (one "writes" an icon) used Saint Luke the Evangelist's portrait of Mary as inspiration.

Painted on wood, it shows the Mother of God holding the Infant Jesus while the archangels Michael and Gabriel fly overhead, holding the instruments. of His Passion. His sandal dangles from one foot as if, startled and frightened by the glimpse of His future, the Child has fled to His Mother for comfort. The untied sandal also signifies that Mary alone is "fit to untie His sandal" (see Jn 1:27).

Greek letters over the figures form abbreviated words, naming the Mother of God, Jesus Christ, Archangel Michael, and Archangel Gabriel, respectively.

For many years, the icon was highly venerated on the island of Crete, until the island was conquered by the Turks in the 15th century. Fleeing from the invaders, a refugee from Crete took the holy picture, along with his belongings, and went to Rome.

Another version of the icon's history relates that it was brought to Rome at the end of the 15th century by a merchant. It is unclear whether the merchant bought or stole the image. Either in piety or remorse, he requested in his will that the picture be placed in a church for public veneration. It was taken to the Augustinian church of San Matteo, on the Via Merulana, the pilgrims' route between Santa Maria Maggiore and San Giovanni Laterano. For nearly three hundred years, the image—called Madonna di San Matteo—was the subject of great devotion.

When Napoleon's army invaded Rome In 1812, many churches were destroyed, including San Matteo on the Via Merulana. The icon mysteriously disappeared.

Fifty years later, a monk's mysterious dreams and the explorations of an inquisitive little boy lead to the discovery of the icon, hidden away in the attic of an Augustinian oratory at Santa Maria in Posterula.

Upon hearing of the rediscovery of the icon, Pope Pius IX, who remembered praying before the picture in San Matteo as a small boy, ordered that it should again be displayed on the Via Merulana pilgrims' route. This time, it was housed in the new Redemptorist church of San Alphonsus, built on the ruins of San Matteo. It can be seen there today.
Honoring Our Lady of Perpetual Help

Devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, and veneration of the icon, has been widespread in recent times. Many churches and schools are named in her honor, and reproductions of the image are found in many shrines, churches, and family homes. (See CCC no. 969.)

A common devotion of the 1930s to 1960s was the Novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Many parishes held weekly novenas of prayer to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, offering a sermon, public prayers and hymns, blessing of the sick, benediction, and then veneration of the painting. The devout could attend any nine consecutive services to complete a novena.

Though there are countless prayers composed to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, either to be said privately or as part of a public novena, the well-known Memorare seems most fitting.
The Memorare

Remember, most gracious Virgin Mary,
that never was it known that anyone
who fled to your protection, implored your aid,
or sought your intercession, was left unaided.

Inspired by this confidence, I fly to you,
a Virgin of Virgins, my Mother.

To you I come; before you I stand, sinful and sorrowful.
Mother of the Word Incarnate,
despise not my petitions,
but, in your mercy, hear and answer me. Amen.