· The effigy of the «Mater Ecclesiae» in St. Peter’s Square requested by John Paul II as a sign of gratitude ·
The tourist or pilgrim who comes to St. Peter’s Square will see dominating the top of the façade of the Apostolic Palace, on the side near the Basilica, a mosaic of the Madonna, bearing the title, Mater Ecclesiae . At the base of the mosaic, which shows the Virgin Mary with the baby Jesus, is the coat of arms of John Paul II, with the motto, Totus tuu s.
The image, over two and a half meters high, was placed there between November and December 1981 and has a story that deserves to be remembered for its intimate connection to the Pontiff beatified on May 1st.
After the assassination attempt on May 13, 1981, Vatican officials were evaluating the possibility of placing a plaque, or some visible sign, in St. Peter’s Square in the area where the Pope had been shot, in remembrance of a painful page in the history of the Church but also as testimony of divine protection.
John Paul II, convinced that the Virgin Mary had protected him on that day, immediately expressed the desire that an image of the Madonna be placed in the square.
Pope Wojtyla also revealed that the previous year someone had mentioned to him that there was something “missing” from St. Peter’s Square: amidst the statues of Christ and the apostles and saints placed throughout the semi-circle of the columns, there was no representation of the Madonna.
Archbishop Eduardo Martinez Somalo, substitute in the Secretariat of State, asked me as assessor, to contact Bishop Giovanni Fallani, President of the Permanent Commission for the Conservation of Historical and Artistic Monuments of the Holy See and Professor Carlo Pietrangeli, Director of the Vatican Museums, in order to draw up some proposals.
Two hours later, we were standing in St. Peter’s Square and Mons. Fallani pointed to a window of the Apostolic Palace where the mosaic is now placed and said, “For me, a solution which works well for the setting of this square is a mosaic placed in the travertine frame of that window up there.” He then asked what was behind that particular window. I responded that it was the room where two sisters did some typing for the Secretariat of State, but that it was a large room and had another side window.
Pietrangeli judged the proposal valid, surprised that a solution had been found so quickly and one that was perfect for an architectural complex that many would have judged untouchable.
Most importantly, the Pope liked the idea and encouraged us to move ahead.
Since we were considering a mosaic, we contacted Archbishop Lino Zanini, President of the Office of Mosaics at the Fabbrica of St. Peter, who immediately asked us what kind of Marian representation we were looking for.
Once again, the Pope offered his opinion that he would like a representation of Mary as Mother of the Church, because, he explained, “the Mother of God has always been united with the Church and has been particularly close during difficult moments in its history.” He added that he was personally convinced that the Virgin Mary was in St. Peter’s Square on May 13, to save the life of the Pope.
Mons. Zanini informed us that inside the Vatican Basilica – precisely on the first altar to the left coming from the side doors called, “of prayer” – there was a Mother with Child, which, during the pontificate of Paul VI, had been restored and named Mater Ecclesiae , in remembrance of the historic date of November 21, 1964 when Pope Montini during the Second Vatican Council proclaimed the Virgin Mary, “Mother of the Church.” It is a mosaic full of historical significance as it was a fresco painted in capite columnarum and placed in the atrium of the ancient Constantinian basilica and was one of the few things that was saved and transferred to the new Basilica after Michelangelo’s cupola was completed.
The Pope gave his approval and Professor Virgilio Cassio, with the collaboration of some expert artists, lightly restored and intensified the colors of the entire image so that it is visible even at a great distance.
On the lower part of the mosaic, the coat of arms of John Paul II has been added and the motto Totus tuus .
On December 8th, 1981, John Paul II, before the recitation of the Angelus, blessed the Marian image, a sign of heavenly protection on the Pontiff, on the Church and on all who come to St. Peter’s Square.
St. Peter’s Square
Feb. 29, 2020
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