Wednesday, 19 April 2006

The Miraculous Virgin of Monte Porzio

In 1796, as revolutionary clouds drifted from France in the direction of Italy, there was a spate of Marian miracles in the Papal States. Many of these were connected to images of the Madonna, which seemed to move their eyes or change their expression. According to the Rev. Robert Smelt, the English bishops agent in Rome, one of these portents occurred at the English College villa in Monte Porzio (just outside Rome). On the outside of the house was a Marian image (see photo above) and one devotee saw Our Lady open her eyes. Word of this wonderful happening spread round the sleepy Castelli town like wild fire, and before long “a great number of knives and offensive weapons” were hung up around the image as votive offerings. The Rector of the English College, Stefano Felici, “much pleased with all this, prepared a fine canopy and other ornaments”.

The Bishop of Frascati, in whose diocese Monte Porzio lies, soon took an interest in the case - his name was Cardinal Henry Benedict Stuart, brother of 'Bonnie Prince Charlie.' He was known to his supporters as “King Henry IX”. He ordered the local curate to take the miraculous image into the nearby parish church of St Gregory. However, Rector Felici was not keen to lose the wonder-working picture, and produced the College’s bull of foundation to show that it was exempt from the jurisdiction of the Ordinary. However the bishop still ordered the curate to obey his mandate, and reminded Felici that he is “both Bishop and King”. In the end, Felici won after forbidding the curate to come near the villa and threatening that, should the picture be removed to the church, “he would carry the boys in a body to the church, and take it away by force”. As an epilogue, Smelt added that “King Henry IX, who is as despotic a monarch as his ancestor Henry VIII, and full of logical contradiction, was violently enraged at the Rector and now abuses him like a pickpocket”. The shrine can still be seen, next door to what is now the carabinieri station. In 1905 St Pius X granted an indulgence for the shrine on the Third Sunday in July and the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. It remains a spiritual focus in the town to this day.



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