The Catholic Southern Front

Chapter 9/51 – Our Lady of Mercy, Divine Mercy and Votive offerings


In 1198 Saint John of Matha (1160-1213) and Saint Felix of Valios visited His Holiness Pope Innocent III who approved of the creation of their ‘Order of the Most Holy Trinity for the Redemption of Captives.’ The Trinitarians’ main mission was to purchase Catholics from Moorish slave markets, such as the slave market of Tunisia. Throughout seven centuries of redeeming captives, the Trinitarians freed a total of 140,000 slaves. The Order honored the Blessed Virgin Mary as their Patroness under the title of ‘Our Lady of Good Remedy.’ Saint John of Matha observed Our Lady’s Feast on October 8.

In 1218, in Barcelona Spain, Our Lady appeared to Saint Raymond the Dominican, to King James of Aragon and to Saint Peter Nolasco. In her apparition Our Lady of Ransom, appeared with two bags of coins. The Blessed Virgin made known to all three separately that she desired to establish an order for redeeming captives. On August 10, the ‘Order of Our Lady of Mercy and Ransom’ commonly known as the ‘Mercedarians,’ was instituted in Barcelona by King James of Aragon with the mandate: ‘To redeem Catholic captives and slaves from the Barbary Coast Moors.’ Pope Gregory IX approved this second Order on January 17, 1235. This Order belonged to the Kingdom of Aragon, a similar order, the ‘Order of Montesa,’ was an offshoot of the Mercedarians and was instituted in 1317. Together with Christopher Columbus, several of the members of Montesa set sail to the New World. The Feast of ‘Our Lady of Mercy and Ransom’ was established in 1696 and is kept on July 21.

The Papal Bull of Pope Alexander IV, May 3, 1258, titled ‘Prout Scriptura Testatur’ states: “The Master and the friars of Blessed Mary of Mercy… work with all their power.” According to the Mercedarian historian, Nadal Gaver, the reason for which the Order was dedicated to Our Lady, was attributed to her apparitions and her direct desire for its formation. The Mercedarians gave themselves as substitutes for the redemption of Christians held captive in the Holy Land and in other countries. Englishmen were especially devout to the Order, in fact the devotion to Our Lady of Mercy and Ransom was particularly strong in Oxford.

An Irish saint by the name of Saint Serapion was enrolled as a soldier in Richard the Lion Heart’s Army. Serapion received the Mercedarian habit. He redeemed many captives and on one particular occasion gave himself as hostage to ransom Christian prisoners, who were on the verge of betraying their Faith. His Mercedarian friend traveled swiftly to Spain, collected the money for the ransom and returned to save Serapion. Unfortunately, the friend did not return in time and the Algerian King, Selin Benimarin, nailed Saint Serapion onto a Saint Andrew’s cross. On November 14, 1240, Serapion was savagely dismembered. Similarly, Saint Peter Armengol gave himself in exchange for a captive in Morocco. Once again the ransom money did not arrive in time and Saint Peter was hung. The Blessed Virgin miraculously intervened and although Peter remained with a twisted neck for the rest of his life, his life was spared. Peter died in seclusion in the Convent of Santa Maria dels Prats, in 1304.

In 1294, the Holy House of Loreto, considered to be the Blessed Virgin’s abode while still on Earth, was angelically transported from Nazareth to Dalmatia. In 1473, it was once again angelically transported to Loreto in Italy. The sixteenth century pirates and Moorish corsairs criss-crossed the Mediterranean Sea, many Christians from the islands and coasts of Greece, Italy and Malta were made captive. In 1551 the renowned corsair Dragut enslaved the entire population (5,000 inhabitants) of the Mediterranean Island of Calypso, Gozo. One of the captured Christians offered intercessory prayers of Our Lady of Loreto to an Ottoman Pasha who was taken ill. On November 10, 1552, the Catholic slave belonging to the Turkish Pasha, convinced his master to pray to the Virgin of Loreto. The Ottoman Pasha prayed as the slave instructed and was miraculously healed. In gratitude the Muslim Pasha sent many gifts to Loreto in Italy, including his bow and quiver.

Amongst her many titles Our Lady is called, ‘Our Lady of the Holy Rosary.’ As a means to war against our own inclinations for evil, Our Lady advocates the recitation of the most Holy Rosary, which leads people away from the snares of sin. Initially, the Holy Rosary was preached in Europe by Saint Simon Stock, then by Saint Dominic and later by many, including the French priest, Blessed Alan de la Roche. In 1460, Blessed Alan de la Roche, was celebrating Mass when he received an admonition from Our Lord through the Sacred Host. The Lord said: “How can you crucify me again so soon?”(1) “What did you say, Lord? inquired blessed Alan, horrified. “You crucified me once before by your sins” answered Jesus, “and I would willingly be crucified again rather than have my Father offended by the sins you used to commit. You are crucifying me again now because you have all the learning and understanding that you need to preach my Mother’s Rosary and you are not doing so. If you only did this you could teach many souls the right path and lead them away from sin, but you are not doing it and so you, yourself, are guilty of the sins that they commit.” This admonition spurned the priest to preach the Holy Rosary all the days of his life. The Blessed Virgin revealed to him: “You were a great sinner in your youth,” she said, “but I obtained the grace of your conversion from my Son. Had such a thing been possible I would have liked to go through all kinds of suffering to save you because converted sinners are a glory to me. And I would have done this also to make you worthy of preaching my Rosary far and wide.” Saint Dominic appeared to Blessed Alan de la Roche saying: “See the wonderful results I have had through preaching the Holy Rosary! You and all those who love Our Lady ought to do the same so that, by means of this holy recitation of the Rosary, you may draw all people to the real science of the virtues.”

The world in 1830 was experiencing its first industrial revolution and Charles Darwin was perfecting his theory on the evolution of species through natural selection. In the attempt to deny the existence of the Christian God, the theory was later misused by the worshippers of the ‘god of reason.’ In 1830, in a convent of the Sisters of Charity in Paris, France, twenty-four-year-old novice Catherine Laboure was awakened in the middle of the night, by a five year old child, who invited her to the chapel, for the Blessed Virgin was waiting. As Catherine descended towards the chapel the candles were lit. At midnight she heard the rustle of silk and gazed upwards to behold an apparition of Our Lady in a blaze of white light. The Blessed Mother warned Catherine on the future, she said: “The times are very evil. Sorrows will befall France; the throne will be overturned. The whole world will be plunged into every kind of misery.”(2) A second apparition of Our Lady occurred, the Blessed Virgin was holding an orb topped with a golden cross, she stood upon a white globe and crushed beneath her feet a green serpent with yellow spots. Surrounding the Virgin was an oval frame with the words: ‘O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.’ Our Lady desired that this image would be struck into a medal and on the other side, a large letter ‘M’ surmounted by a cross with two hearts below, one crowned with thorns, the other pierced by a sword. The medal is to be worn around the neck, worn with confidence, Our Lady pledged that whoever wears the medal will receive great and abundant graces.

Catherine Laboure accomplished the Blessed Virgin’s instructions, by the time of her death in 1876; thousands of medals were worn. Priests, such as Father Maximillian Kolbe, evangelized by giving out the miraculous medals, he referred to the medals as: “Bullets for the conversion of sinners and non-believers.” The miraculous medal was effective at keeping the faith alive in a secularized world. During these very years, the god of reason had many adherents, a writer by the name of Ludwig Feuerbach published a literary work titled, ‘The Essence of Christianity.’ This work glorified materialism and scientific advancements as a substitute of Faith. His treatise would eventually inspire movements giving birth to Karl Marx’s atheistic philosophy. With the ever-growing apostasy of Faith in Christian Europe as a back drop, it came by no surprise that in 1846 Our Lady of La Salette appeared weeping.

His Holiness Pope Saint Pius X declared that: “True devotion to Christ demands true devotion to Mary.” Pope John Paul II preached the devotion to the Mother of God at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. and referred to her as: “A sign of contradiction to the world and at the same time, the sign of hope whom all generations shall call blessed.”(3) Many miracles were wrought through the wearing of the La Salette miraculous medal, before it sickness and disease quailed away from the sick, sinners received the grace of conversion, dangers and calamities were averted, men and women survived wars. On December 31, 1876 Sister Catherine died. On May 28, 1933, she was beatified, her body was exhumed and found completely incorrupt. On July 27, 1947, Pope Pius XII canonized Sister Catherine Laboure. Her body is enshrined at 140 Rue du Bac, Paris, in the Chapel of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the exact location where the apparitions took place.

In 1842 the heir of a wealthy Jewish banking family, Alphonse Ratisbonne, was to convert to Christianity and later became a Catholic priest. Alphonse was a friend of a certain Baron de Bussieres who was a good practicing Roman Catholic. Their friendship was based on business, nonetheless the good-hearted Baron de Bussieres, challenged Alphonse to wear the miraculous medal around his neck and recite the ‘Memorare’ prayer of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, in a Roman Church. The Jewish Banker accepted the challenge on the sole premise as to disprove the Catholic Baron. It is by no great surprise that a hardened sinner can convert, for example, Saint Paul who was a Jewish persecutor of Christians, later himself became a convert to Christianity. Alphonse Ratisbonne remained in the chapel, while the Baron left for ten minutes to visit the monks. When de Bussieres returned, he found Alphonse a changed person. As the Baron later explained: “When I came back into the church I saw nothing of Ratisbonne for a moment; then I caught sight of him on his knees, in front of the Chapel of St. Michel. I went up to him, and touched him three or four times before he became aware of my presence. At length he turned towards me, his face bathed in tears; joined his hands, and said, with an expression no words will render: ‘Oh, how this gentleman has prayed for me!’ I was quite petrified with astonishment; I felt what people feel in the presence of a miracle. I raised Ratisbonne, I led him, or rather almost carried him, out of the church; I asked him what was the matter, and where he wished to go. ‘Lead me where you please,’ cried he; ‘after what I have seen, I obey.’ I urged him to explain his meaning, but he could not; his emotion was too mighty and profound. He drew forth from his bosom the miraculous medal, and covered it with kisses and tears. I could get from him nothing but exclamations, broken by deep sobs: ‘Oh, what bliss is mine! How good is the Lord! What a grace of fullness and happiness! How pitiable the lot of those who know not!’ Then he burst into tears at the thought of heretics and misbelievers….’ “This wild emotion became gradually more calm. He begged me to take him to a confessor; wanted to know when he might receive holy baptism, for now he could not live without it; yearned for the blessedness of the martyrs…. He told me that he could give me no explanation of his state until he had received permission from a priest to do so; ‘For what I have to say,’ he added, ‘is something I can say only on my knees.’ “I took him immediately to the Gesu to see Father de Villefort, who begged him to explain himself. Then Ratisbonne drew forth his medal, kissed it, showed it to us, and exclaimed, ‘I have seen her! I have seen her!’ and his emotion again choked his utterance. But soon he regained his calmness, and made his statement.” ‘I had been but a few moments in the church when I was suddenly seized with an unutterable agitation of mind. I raised my eyes; the building had disappeared from before me; one single chapel had, so to speak, gathered and concentrated all the light; and in the midst of this radiance I saw standing on the altar, lofty, clothed with splendor, full of majesty and sweetness, the Virgin Mary, just as she is represented on my medal. An irresistible force drew me towards her; the Virgin made a sign with her hand that I should kneel down; and then she seemed to say, ‘That will do!’ She spoke not a word, but I understood all!’ “She had spoken not a word, yet this hardened unbeliever of just moments before now understood all! He understood far more than those who take the faith for granted. Even to a ‘profound understanding of the mystery of the Crucifixion.’ “The Catholic Faith exhaled from his heart like a precious perfume from a casket, which contains it indeed, but cannot confine it. He spoke of the Real Presence like a man who believed it with all the energy of his whole being; but the expression is far too weak, he spoke like one to whom it was the object of direct perception.”(4) Therefore, the Jew received a mystical appearance by the Jewess Mary (the New Temple of Solomon and the New Ark of the New Covenant), who revealed the path to her Son and to salvation. In 1847 the banker Jew Alphonse Ratisbonne, was ordained a Catholic priest.

In December 1860, at the City of Gaeta in Italy, the convent belonging to an order of nuns, who consecrated themselves with the title: ‘The Order of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy,’ came under heavy fire and shelling, bombarded heavily by the Piedmontese. Whilst the nuns constantly served and cared for the wounded Napolitan soldiers, during the siege their convent was supernaturally protected. They placed Our Lady’s miraculous medals above every convent window and door. They prayed and recited Our Lady’s inscription: “Blessed Virgin conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.” The Piedmontese’ cannon balls, fell upon the nunnery, ricocheted and failed to harm the building. The Sisters of Mercy carried out their daily sorties rescuing soldiers, and amidst the heavy bombardment none were injured or hurt. Amidst such shelling, the preservation of the building was considered an authentic miraculous prodigy wrought by Our Lady of Mercy whose trust her nuns faithfully kept in adversity.

To the Polish nun of the Sisters of Mercy, Saint Sister Maria Faustina Kowalska (1905-1938), the Lord appeared and instructed that at: “Three o’clock implore My mercy especially for sinners; and, if only for a brief moment, immerse yourself in My Passion, particularly in My abandonment at the moment of agony. This is the hour of great mercy for the whole world… In this hour I will refuse nothing to the soul that makes a request of Me in virtue of My Passion.”(5)

In 1943 the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Cracow-Lagiewniki, Poland, received a special and world famous votive offering. The painting was donated to the Sisters of Mercy for the miraculous protection Our Lady bestowed upon the painter and his family during the Second World War. The painter by the name of Adolph Hyla offered the ex-voto which has today become the much famous painting of the Divine Mercy Jesus. The depiction represents the Lord having two rays streaming forth from his pierced sacred heart, the words ‘Jesus I trust in Thee’ can clearly be seen beneath. Adolph depicted Our Lord according to Sister Faustina’s descriptions, who received private mystical visitations by Our Lord. Sister Faustina’s confessor, Father J. Andrarz SJ, blessed and consecrated the Divine Mercy Image and initiated the solemn services in honor of the devotion to the Divine Mercy of Our Lord. In private visitations, Jesus Christ promised the sister of Mercy, that as testimony to the authenticity of His apparitions, this devotion would first be honored in her chapel and would later spread throughout the whole world. Unquestionably, the devotion did spread throughout the whole world, as did the Second World War Divine Mercy votive Image painted in thanksgiving to Our Lady of Mercy and her Son.

To Sister Faustina the Lord Jesus Christ said: “Speak to the world about My mercy, let all mankind recognize My unfathomable mercy. It is a sign for the end times, after it will come the day of justice. While there is still time let them have recourse to the fount of My mercy, he who does not pass through the gates of My mercy must pass through the gates of My justice.”(6)

The centuries of mariners witnessed devout and grateful sailors of Our Lady Star of the Sea, she delivered them from the perils of the Oceans. They referred to her as Stella Maris, Northern Star and Polaris. As a thanksgiving to the Blessed Virgin for her prompt succor from such dangers at sea, members of the Sovereign Military and Hospitaller Order of Saint John in Malta, left numerous votive paintings in chapels. In the chapel dedicated to ‘Il-Madonna tal-Herba’ or ‘Our Lady of the Ruins,’ the votive offerings are various. One image depicts a Catholic brigantine chased by a Muslim pink in the Mediterranean; Mr. L. Grech dedicates a painting to Our Lady after his ship escaped an ensuing Islamic corsair vessel, which in its own turn was intercepted and sunk by a Catholic vessel. Two Capuchin monks dedicated a silver plaque and panel to Our Lady, following their liberation from two years of captivity at the hands of Algerian corsairs. Two men who miraculously escaped unharmed, when Berber pirates threatened their felucca (a small vessel), dedicated another canvas to the Blessed Virgin. A last depiction of Our Lord the Redeemer and His Mother, was offered as an ex-voto by the sole surviving member of a Catholic brigantine whose crew fell in the hands of cannibals on the West Coast of Africa on March 29, 1840. He attributes his delivery from the cannibals to their intercession.

While protecting the ordinary Christian mercantile business, the Knights of Saint John particularly enjoyed raiding and harassing their enemy’s shipping activity. Certain victories at sea coincidentally fell on the eve, or the morrow, of Our Lady’s solemnities. On the morrow of the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, October 8, 1700, General Spinola captured the ‘Sultana Benghem.’ On the morrow of the solemnity dedicated to Our Lady of the Assumption, August 16, 1732, Jacques De Chambray at Damietta, captured the ‘Gran Signor.’ On the eve of the Festivity of Our Lady of Victory (Maltese Feast) and her Nativity, September 7, 1707, the ‘Santa Catarina’ commanded by Giuseppe de Langon, attacked seven Algerian ships. On the eve of the solemnity dedicated to Our Lady of the Assumption, August 14, 1723, an Algerian corsair vessel was sunk by the ‘San Vincezo’ commanded by Jacques de Chambray. All the people involved in these events gave thanks to ‘Our Lady Star of the Sea.’

The Knights associated the Blessed Mother with Christian victory and protection. In 1607, the painting executed by Caravaggio, today kept at Pitti, in Florence, Italy, most vividly portrays the Knights’ philosophy. Grandmaster Alof de Wignacourt holds the Holy Rosary Beads in his right hand, while clenching the hilt of his sword in his left. The painting elucidates the notion that the Holy Rosary, apart from being a means for prayer, was a most efficacious weapon against the enemy and the most powerful tool for invoking the Queen of Heaven’s intercessory help and protection. Even then, in the 1500-1600s, the Holy Rosary was used for the supplication of Our Lady’s assistance, both for spiritual and physical deliverance. In 1618, Grandmaster Alof de Wignacourt erected the tower of Saint Mary upon the Island of Comino, in the Mediterranean Sea. The tower was destined to protect the Comino Channel from acts of piracy. It was designed to withstand longer periods of siege than any other tower in the area. The Saint Mary Tower, served as a prison tower in the cinematographic production: ‘The Count of Monte Cristo,’ USA, 2002, starring James Caviezel.

Votive offerings for the First World War period include; a canvas by nine sailors of the crew on board the French liner ‘Espagne,’ who commissioned a painting to ‘Our Lady tal-Herba’ for delivering them from a submarine attack occurring on June 15, 1917, in the Mediterranean Sea. Votive offerings for the Second World War period include; the deliverance of a sailor on ‘H.M.S. Warspite’ sunk in 1943, intercessions granted by prayers dedicated to ‘Madonna tal-Herba.’ Another votive image bears the ‘Madonna Ta Pinu’ by Mr. P.Vella, one of three men who survived the torpedoed ‘Heslyside’ in the Atlantic on October 23, 1941. Upon the Order’s Island of Malta, an island the size of twenty-seven by fifteen kilometers, approximately 6,560,000 Kilos of Nazi bomb ordnances were dropped during the Great War. A votive offering at the Madonna tal-Herba Chapel is in special thanksgiving to the Blessed Mother for having saved the island from complete destruction.

A brave American soldier who survived numerous battles, such as the invasion of Normandy, the Seventh Fleet Battle against the Japanese and the taking of the Japanese Islands of Iwo Jima and Okinawa, has a most splendid story to share. The American retired sailor publicly revealed that he owes his survival to ‘Our Lady of Mount Carmel’ and the wearing of her Scapular. While he served on the ‘USS Nevada’ in the Pacific Ocean, the ship’s cargo hold was stocked with dynamite. A Japanese Kamikazi crashed on the deck close to where the sailor stood, the fires caused by the plane ignited the explosives and the blast was so severe, that it blew open the bolted steel doors of many compartments. The ex-sailor is grateful of the fact that on that day, he was wearing the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, for: “I alone was left uninjured after the explosion. The rest were all dead or seriously mangled.” Receiving a commendation for bravery from the Admiral of the fleet, the American sailor attributed the merit of his deliverance, exclusively to Our Lady, the Virgin most Powerful, Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

Sargeant Leo E. Lovasik was a WWII American pilot who was nicknamed ‘Our Lady’s Knight.’ He was an example to his peers and always instructed his fellow companions to pray to Our Lady for her protection. There must have been many pilots who prayed to Our Lady and were delivered from dangers. During WWII six obsolete Gloster Sea Gladiator biplanes were deployed against the Italian Air Force which bombed the Maltese Islands. The biplanes nicknamed Faith, Hope and Charity were successful at repelling the Italians and thus convinced the British to defend and reinforce the Maltese Islands right till the end of WWII. In their shelters, the locals coined prayers such as “Gesu, Guzeppi, Marija, ghamlu li l-bombi jinzlu fil-hamrija” or “Jesus, Joseph, Mary, please cause the bombs to fall in the fields.” To a certain degree the biplanes accomplished this for the Italians were so terrified of the Gladiators that they indiscriminately dropped their bombs from 6000m. They had planned to fly at an altitude of 3000m for accuracy targeting, but were not allowed to accomplish this.

In 1944, the town of Tegelen in Limburg, the Netherlands, was under the occupation of the Third Reich. The townsfolk vowed to the Blessed Virgin to erect a monument in her honor, if the retreating Nazis were not to evacuate this town of its citizens. ‘Operation Market Garden’ was in those days underway to sweep the Netherlands clean of the infesting Nazi criminals. The Reich had formulated evacuation plans for Limburg, all of the Dutch citizens were to move East alongside the retreating troops. Most towns were evacuated by order of SS Oberfuhrer Leffler. Tegelen’s turn for evacuation was planned for December 25, for Christmas Day. The relentless Allies moved forward, pushing the Nazis further East behind the River Roer. During the last week of Christmas 1944, Tegelen’s citizens recited the Holy Rosary continuously. On December 26, the vicar and three inhabitants vowed to the Blessed Virgin, that if Tegelen were not evacuated, Carnival would not be celebrated for twenty-five years. The Nazis evacuated Mid Limburg, however, cancelled the evacuation of Tegelen. This event was attributed to Our Lady’s miraculous intervention and the monument for the Blessed Virgin Mary and Child Jesus, was revealed on May 9, 1948, and today stands in Tegelen’s main square.

In Maastricht, Limburg’s Capital, a sculpture of Our Lady, referred to as ‘Our Lady of Good Cover,’ is a votive ceramic monument representing the Virgin sheltering four men under her robe. A German manufactured V2 bomb can be seen to her left, while a white dove to her right. The survivors pledged to ‘Our Lady Star of the Sea,’ that if they survived the terrible war, this votive offering would be commissioned in remembrance of her heavenly protection. Her Motherly protection was granted.

In Breda, Germany, a votive chapel was constructed in 1947 in thanksgiving for the vow made by Father P. Hopmans, the Bishop of Breda. During the Great War he pledged Our Lady with the construction of a chapel in her honor if the City of Breda was spared from the terrible destruction which befell other cities close by. At the famous German Marian Shrine of Altotting, the pilgrim can view a votive offering kept in the Chapel of Grace, showing five men in a Russian Gulag camp. ‘Our Lady of Altotting’ appears at the top and the text in German beneath reads: “As thanks for a safe return home from Russian imprisonment 1949 L.W. u. J.B.” Another plaque reads: “Thanks to Our Lady of Altötting for all the protection in Great War dangers. 1939. Sebastian Kint 1945.” Yet another: “The sweet Mother of God of Altötting and the Blessed Father Rupert Mayer are thanked a thousand times for the lucky homecoming from five years of Russian imprisonment. Familie Steinböck, Thann bei Rattenkirchen.”

The Marian Shrine at Montenero in Livorno, Italy, possesses the largest collection of votive paintings in the whole world. A votive canvas depicts an officer and the medal of ‘Our Lady of Montenero’ in the officer’s breast pocket, which miraculously stopped a direct shot from killing him, the bullet and medal were preserved. Other votive offerings depict Italian soldiers invoking Our Lady amidst the detonating mortars and the shelling of various battles of the First World War. All images illustrate abundantly Our Lady’s miraculous protection, occurring in the years 1916 – 1919, during battles taking place in the Italian Alps, in Mathausen, Austria, Monfalcone and Monte Rombon, Italy. The soldiers’ wives pledged many vows to ‘Our Lady of Montenero,’ for the safe return of their husbands. In thanksgiving many placed their votive offerings in the shrine and were happily reunited with their husbands.

All the graces mentioned above have been wrought by the special protection and motherly intercession of Our Lady, the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of All Nations.






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