I was browsing around some webpages about Old St. Peter’s in Rome, and found out that there used to be a big side altar, right next to the nave’s entrance doors, which was dedicated to S. Maria Praegnantium. (Handy if you were really big and needed to pray.)
The altar included an old picture of the Virgin Mary holding Barely Toddler Jesus. Mary has one arm curled protectively around her Son, Who is standing up and blessing the onlookers. With the other hand, she holds a gauze veil across His privates, while highlighting His bellybutton to prove that He was born of her. Otherwise, He’s a totally naked little boy, showing that He is true man as well as true God.
Today, there’s a whole chapel dedicated to her, under the name of the Madonna delle Partorienti (My Lady of the Women Giving Birth), and it’s in a place of honor. But here’s the catch: it’s downstairs in the crypt, under St. Peter’s. So maybe there’s an elevator now, but there didn’t use to be. For a shrine for pregnant women. (Facepalm. Men. Usually that’s not the problem, but here, it pretty clearly is.)
There’s also a chapel for another old medieval icon of Mary, which was also moved from Old St. Peter’s. S. Maria della Bocciata, or the Madonna della Bocciata (of the Slap, or of the Rejection) , was a wall fresco of Mary holding Baby Jesus, which was in the portico between the Ravenna Door and the Door of the Dead. Jesus is turned away from His mother and is blessing the onlooker below. But Mary has an odd-looking face, which some see as swollen, and her cheek has a dark spot that looks like a big bruise.
It’s a miraculous picture, because apparently it used to look normal, and it was painted in the 1200’s. It used to be called “S. Maria in columna,” Mary on the pillar. (Probably a picture of the Spanish apparition of Mary, “Our Lady of the Pillar,” which has Baby Jesus sit-standing against Mary’s shoulder. Her feast day is October 12, which is also Columbus Day from Columbus’ first landing in the Americas. Columba, Columna. Horrible pun.)
But one day in 1440, a drunken soldier, who had just lost a game of bowls, had a tantrum and threw one of the little balls or rocks that they were using for the game, and hit Mary’s picture right in the face. Drops of blood fell from her painted cheek and stained the floor; and ever since then, the picture has borne the bruise damage as a rebuke to those who disrespect the Blessed Mother. (And I’m sure we remember the similar thing that happened to the icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa.)
So of course the picture was removed from the wall before the old basilica was demolished, and now it also has its own home, down in the crypt. The two bloodstained paving stones sit behind grates on either side of the picture, and you’re meant to reach through the grates and touch them.
Unfortunately, this is another shrine that used to be a lot easier to visit, back when it was in the portico! But in this case, people actually got more attached to “the Rejected Madonna” after it was moved several times during all the building and renovation. So you never know.
Here’s a PDF from the Knights of Columbus, who funded the restoration of various crypt chapels, including these two. There are nice photos of the two pictures.
Many fragments and reproductions of Old St. Peter’s stuff live in the crypts. On the right hand wall of the Rejected Madonna’s chapel is an old inscription from the “sacellum” or “oratory” of the saints, which was created by Pope St. Gregory III, and dedicated at the opening of an anti-iconoclast synod in Rome on November 1, 731. To make his point stronger, the pope changed the Roman date of All Saints’ Day from May 13th to November 1, thus creating Halloween.
So the first Halloween decoration ever is sitting under St. Peter’s, in the Chapel of the Madonna della Bocciata!! Being all holy and historical and stuff!*
A webpage for the Chapel of the Madonna della Bocciata. Includes some nice big pictures. The remains of Cardinal Peran are back in his country now.
A webpage for the Chapel of the Madonna delle Partorienti.
Today is Mary’s birthday (December 8, feast of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary). The eve of the feast was associated by St. Brigid of Sweden with a devotion to St. Anne and the Virgin Mary, praying for pregnant women by starting a simple novena of nine Hail Marys a day, or even nine Hail Marys per month of pregnancy (which she received in an vision from Mary). St. Anna Maria Emmerich received a similar vision, where Mary asked pregnant women to say nine Hail Marys at noon on September 8, and then to continue saying nine at noon for nine days.
(But any time during the day is fine – it’s noon somewhere. Noon was associated with saying the Angelus and hearing the Angelus bells ring, so Mary was trying to make it easy.)
*There are two known inscriptions. One is all about the guys who witnessed the synod and the pope being happy to praise the Lord (which is the one in the chapel), and the other is all “anathema” and “interdict” to violators of the synod’s teaching. Which would be Emperor Leo III.