The Madonna of Syracuse is a Popular Sicilian Devotion
A Plaster Plaque as a Wedding Present
Angela and Antonina Iannuso were married in the spring of 1953. With little money of their own, they moved into a relative's home in Syracuse, Sicily.
One of their wedding presents was a raised plaster relief of Mary, the Mother of Jesus. It was flat on one side, allowing them to hang it above their bed.
Unfortunately, Antonina's first pregnancy was extremely complicated. She suffered from toxemia, which could have killed her and her child. This also resulted in epileptic seizures, which caused temporary loss of vision after each episode.
After one particularly severe seizure, early in the morning, Antonina was blinded for several hours. When she regained her vision, she looked up at the plaque and saw liquid coming from Mary's eyes.
Two relatives came to comfort the startled Antonina. At first, they were certain her condition was causing her to imagine this. However, they also noticed tears streaming from the plaque.
People from the neighborhood saw the same thing. The tears wouldn't stop running. Even if someone tried to wipe them away, they returned.
News of this event attracted large crowds, so the couple allowed the image to be displayed outside. The faithful would pray before it and try to collect some of the tears with pieces of cloth. A large number of unexplained cures were reported.
However, the number of pilgrims soon overwhelmed the little street where the Iannusos lived. So the image was brought to the local police station, where the tears immediately dried up.
An Official Investigation
Diocesan officials soon took an interest in this apparent miracle, and a formal investigation was launched. This was led by a committee of seven that included four scientists.
The image shed tears in the presence of committee members. The plaque was a type of religious image poured into a mold and then painted. Many others just like it had been produced by a sculptor from Northern Italy.
The committee determined there was no sign of fraud. The base of the plaster carving contained no fluid and there was no obvious way that liquid could have been pumped in. The possibility of condensation was also ruled out because no moisture was noticed anywhere else, on the rest of the plaque or in its surroundings.
Where is Syracuse, Sicily?
Numerous Cases of Tearing Statues
Through the years, there have been many accounts of images of Mary weeping tears or even what appears to be blood. One thing that sets Our Lady of Syracuse apart from many of the others is the fact that this happened in the mid-20th century, when there was access to modern scientific techniques.
The plaque stopped shedding tears, permanently, after the study sample was collected. An analysis of the liquid found that it contained various proteins normally found in the human body. The scientists concluded that the tears of the Madonna had the same composition as human tears.
Also, the fact that this really occurred is difficult to dismiss. Some of the people who gathered in front of the Iannuso home were able to take photographs, as well as video footage, of the tears streaming down Mary's face. This event was so unusual, and well documented, that even the secular press reported on it, generating headlines that spread around the world.
The Archbishop's Ruling
Whenever any seemingly miraculous event happens in the Catholic Church, it falls upon the local bishop to determine if, indeed, the circumstances are supernatural or not. Other possibilities include fraud, human imagination or even the diabolic.
The Archbishop of Syracuse, however, pronounced a favorable judgment on these events. This mean that Catholics could confidently assume they were of a heavenly origin and that they posed no danger to the faith. The others bishops of Sicily were in agreement as well.
Pope Pius XII also announced that he believed this was truly a sign from heaven. More than 100 cases of reported miraculous cures surrounding this new devotion to Our Lady of Syracuse held up to scientific scrutiny. In order for a healing to be considered miraculous, it must be complete and unexpected, with no other explanation.
The bride who hung one of her wedding gift above her marital bed also received a present the following Christmas, when she delivered a healthy baby boy.
The house where Angelo and Antonina lived, on Via Degli Orti, has been converted into a chapel. A much larger modern church was also constructed and the image of Our Lady of Syracuse rests above the altar.
Marian Apparitions Around the World
What Catholic Shrine are You Most Familiar With
Other Famous Marian Apparitions
Many Sicilians each year visit the sanctuary where the image of Our Lady of Syracuse is displayed. This devotion is well known throughout Italy, but many people in the United States and in other parts of the world haven't heard of it, as they're more familiar with Fatima and Lourdes, two of the more popular Marian shrines.
There are literally hundreds of shrines throughout the world where reports of apparitions have occurred, and many more reports of tearing statues. Most of these events, though, haven't been verified by the Catholic Church.
One common link tying all of true events of a heavenly nature together are the unexpected healings, cures and other miracles that surround each of them.
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