In the Augustinian world, the hill town of Genazzano, about an hour from Rome by car, is well known. The Order of Saint Augustine came there not long before the year 1274. The church at Genazzano, where the Order of Saint Augustine has served since 1356, is most famous for a small fresco of the infant Jesus and his mother.
The fresco (pictured below) gives Mary the title of the Mother of Good Counsel. The image below is a fairly accurate copy of the fresco and its decorative jewelry. It is the most famous fresco in Augustinian possession. The Christ Child nestles close to his mother. Mary supports Jesus with her left arm. She bends her head toward him, and their cheeks touch tenderly. The left hand of Jesus gently grasps the rim of her dress, indicating the intimacy of nursing. Measuring approximately 15.5 inches by 17.5 inches, the fresco is executed on a thin layer of plaster or porcelain not much thicker than paper. One writer describes it as a fresco painted on a material resembling egg shell.
When restoration of the church was undertaken in 1957, scientific tests established that the fresco was probably painted sometime between 1417 and 1431 by the Italian artist, Gentile de Fabriano. It appears to have been part of a larger fresco that covered most of the church wall. An earlier legend that reported the fresco being discovered – or miraculously "appearing" – in 1467 to a local widow named Petruccia de Geneo can be explained by the likely case of the fresco having had paint or plaster placed over it previously. That the appearance of the fresco in 1467 was "miraculous" was promoted by the Provincial of the Augustinian Roman Province at that time. He was Ambrose Massari da Cori O.S.A., who stated in his book, Chronica, in 1482 that the fresco had been carried by angels to Genazzano from Scutari in Albania.
What is certain, however, is that the fresco immediately began to be a focus for pilgrims devoted to Mary in central Italy. This Augustinian church became one of the most popular Marian sanctuaries in central Italy, and remains so right up to the present day. Pope Urban VIII visited the Genazzano sanctuary in 1630, and in 1779 Pope Pius VI approved a Mass and Divine Office for the feast of the Mother of Good Counsel. The devotion of Leo XIII (Pope from 1878 to 1903) to Mary under the title of Mother of Good Counsel has become proverbial especially because of his words, saying of that pontiff: "Children, follow her counsels."
Photo (at right) :Virgin and Child, a known work of Anthony Vivarini (see text above). It bears some resemblance to the Genazzano fresco. One of the famous pictures of Pope Leo XIII is the one taken beneath a picture of Our Mother of Good Counsel. Whence came the Pope's devotion to the Mother of Good Counsel? Perhaps it was through his Augustinian confessor, the Papal Sacristan, Bishop William Pifferi O.S.A., himself an ardent apostle of this Marian devotion. We may sum up the devotion of Leo XIII to the Augustinian Madonna by quoting from the Decree of 22nd April 1903, which announced the inclusion of the invocation to Our Mother of Good Counsel in the Litany of Loreto:
"... Likewise, with the Apostolic See approving, the Blessed Virgin Mary has been saluted with the title Mother of Good Counsel from ancient times both by clergy and Christian laity, asking for her aid. Our Holy Father Pope Leo XIII, on account of his own, and on account of the singular piety of the faithful towards Our Mother of Good Counsel and her Sacred Image which is particularly cherished at the sanctuary at Genazzano, after he had conceded through the Sacred Congregation of Rites a new Office with a Mass for the feast in 1884, in the year 1893 he also granted a proper Scapular with indulgences; and at the turn of this year 1903, he also erected through Apostolic Letters in the form of a Brief , the Sanctuary at Genazzano to the grade of Minor Basilica with all the privileges of such a rank, having previously enlarged the guest house there from his own money."
"Finally, this same pontiff, in order that the aforementioned title may increase the honour and cult of the Blessed Virgin, having consulted the Sacred Congregation of Rites, has stated and decreed that in the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary, after the invocation Mother Most Admirable, there be added Mother of Good Counsel, Pray for us. Moved also by this thought, and by the firm hope that in so many trials and calamities of these days, Our Lady, who is called by the Fathers the treasury of heavenly graces and universal counsellor, petitioned by the whole Catholic world under this title, may show herself to be our Mother of Good counsel, and may she obtain for us that grace of the Holy spirit, which will illumine our senses and our hearts, and may she obtain for us the holy gift of Counsel."
With the Pope himself thus expressing his devotion to the Augustinian Madonna, it was only natural that the Order should show its appreciation by greater devotion to the Mother of Good Counsel. Pamphlets, books and periodicals in Italian, Spanish, Belgian, German and English began to appear under Augustinian auspices.
Among the poems of the Pope Leo XIII was found this one to the Mother of Good Counsel:
THE PRAYER OF JULIUS (1895)
Mother, I called thee from my childhood hour,
With Prayer and hymn I besought thy power,
A youth, I felt alas the olden fire,
Cool in the midst of rash desires.
But thou art faithful: help thy erring child
Thou “Mother of Good Counsel” styled – Leo XIII
A subsequent intense artistic scrutiny of the fresco led to the discovery of what appeared to be an artist’s name disguised on the edge of the dress of the Infant, which seemed to be A. VIVA…. – FECIT, written upside down. By proposing the letters that were unable to be read, this was interpreted to be A. VIVARINI – FECIT, which is Latin for A. Vivarini made this. Anthony Vivarini (born 1410-1415, died c.1476) was a Venetian painter. He was a master of the Veronese school of art in the first half of the fifteenth century. Nothing is known about Vivarini before he became famous in 1440, hence his painting the Genazzano fresco before 1440 is feasible.
Art experts agree that the style of the fresco is that of Italian art of that post-Gothic but pre-Renaissance period and, furthermore, could be an early work of Vivarini. Two of his earliest-known works are from the year 1441, and are at the Galleria dell’Academia in Venice. One of them is called Virgin and Child, and is reproduced (at top right). It bears some resemblance to the Genazzano fresco. Another of Vivarini's works of 1414 is The Marriage of St Monica.Photo GalleryFor the Augnet gallery on the Augustinian history of Genazzano, click here.
NUESTRA SEÑORA DEL BUEN CONSEJO. Mucho antes de la venida de Cristo, el pequeño pueblo de Genazzano, a treinta millas de Roma, construyó un templo a Venus, la diosa pagana del amor, a la que le tenían particular adhesión. Allí se le ofrecía culto y celebraban grandes fiestas en su honor, especialmente el 25 de abril. http://www.corazones.org/maria/buen_consejo.htm
The Catholic Travel Guide. The town of Genazzano is home to the original fresco of Mary, the Mother of Good Counsel. http://www.thecatholictravelguide.com/ItalyGenazzanoOurLadyofGoodCounsel.html
Good Counsel church and shrine. Website to Commune de Genazzano. Contains large photographs of the town, the church inside and out, and the Good Counsel fresco. http://www.turismoqr.it/genazzano/6.html
Ferdinand Gregorovius' Walks. Genazzano is just a few miles after Palestrina and Gregorovius on seeing it from Via Labicana has the impression to watch a procession as if the houses were moving towards the castle of the Colonna on the top of the hill. Genazzano has only one gate: it has some resemblance with those of Palestrina…… This attractive web site is a tourist guide that covers Genazzano photographically, including the Augustinian Shrine to the Mother of Good Counsel. http://www.romeartlover.it/Genazza.html
A Trip to Genazzano. A pilgrim’s visit to the Church and Shire of the Mother of Good Counsel in April 2007. Therein are good photos of the exterior and interior of the church. http://depianteinrome.blogspot.com/2007_04_01_archive.html
The Shrine of the Mother of Good Counsel. During a restoration of the church begun in 1957, however, scientific tests gave evidence of the true origins of the small fresco. It was probably painted sometime between 1417 and 1431 by the Italian artist Gentile de Fabriano. It appears to have been part of a larger fresco that covered most of the church wall. From the web site of the Midwest Augustinians in the United States of America.http://midwestaugustinians.org/our-mother-of-good-counsel Il Santuario della Madonna del Buon Consiglio di Genazzano. (You Tube: 4 minutes 2 seconds) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wfCdHH2TdVw AN4229