Mary’s majesty and mercy

Aurelio Porfiri

I must say that I have a particular relationship with a Roman Basilica where I have received most of the sacraments. This is the beautiful church of Santa Maria in Trastevere, one of the oldest in Rome. It was here that I began to serve Mass, direct the choir and participate in liturgical music. In this church I have always been struck by a painting that at the time of my adolescence was kept in a small side room in the left chapel for those who look at the altar (if I’m not mistaken). Now it is on the central altar of the same chapel, chapel Altemps, for the veneration of all.

It is the Madonna della Clemenza (Our Lady of Mercy), a painting that dates back to the 6th-7th century, one of the oldest icons in the West. When I enter the Basilica I never fail to visit the chapel and stop in front of this image, which brings me back to medieval and Byzantine Christianity and makes me contemplate the Mother of God outside certain deviations of recent centuries, which have made the image of the Blessed Virgin too sugary.

Unfortunately in very recent decades, the respect for and the importance of the Virgin Mary in salvation history has faded, due to the crisis of faith that we are all experiencing. So it is very important to rediscover why it is indeed important to invite back the Mother where she belongs.

In the medieval image kept in Santa Maria in Trastevere, the Madonna is the queen of mercy, indeed she is merciful as a queen. Basically, it summarizes what will be sung a few centuries after the making of this icon in one of the Marian antiphons still best known today: Salve Regina, mater misericordiae. Mary is queen and mother of mercy and the two are not in contradiction.

This image has always been very revered and was called Acheropita, that is, not made with human hands but almost realized as a gift from God. Certainly, it is always a thrill for me to find myself in front of this image that seems to almost gaze at me, like a queen who looks at one of her subordinates, with benign royalty.

(Photo from Wikipedia)