The morning of December 30, 2021, with all due safety protocols taken, the much-venerated image of Our Lady of Constantinople, housed in the Marian shrine of St. Augustine in Salerno, Italy started her journey to Rome, to St. Peter’s Basilica for the traditional New Year’s Eve vespers and Te Deum in the presence of Pope Francis.

Known as Our Lady Who Came from the Sea by the Salernitani, it was Pope Francis who requested her presence for the New Year’s Eve vespers and for Mass on January 1, the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, and also the World Day of Peace. The image of Mary was placed at the foot of the baldacchino over the papal altar that was realized by Bernini and inaugurated in 1633 by Pope Urban VIII. (vatican media photo)

A Jubilee Year dedicated to Our Lady is underway in Salerno and will conclude at the end of this year.

There’s a wonderful story behind this image, almost a story of Mary as a refugee.

In the violence that preceded the fall of Constantinople in 1453, this revered image of Mary was placed on a merchant ship going to Naples, Italy. As it neared the coast of Salerno, just south of Naples, a powerful storm caused the ship to sink and, for a time, no word was had as to the image, the crew or the cargo.

However, shortly after the shipwreck, a mason looking for sand along the Salerno shore hit something unusual with his hoe: it was the icon of Our Lady of Constantinople, later renamed by the people of Salerno.

Tradition says that the mason, having struck the image with his hoe, was left with a paralyzed arm. He began to call out for help. People came to his aid and, as they dug in the sand, they found the image that was recognized by one of the sailors who had survived as the one they had brought from Constantinople.

It seems that the mason – who did not know what a treasure he had found – gave Mary to the city of Salerno that, over time, was showered with blessings and many graces, as was the populace.

This entire scene drew the attention of the Augustinian religious whose community was very close to the beach. While the people kept repeating the word ‘miracle’ they wanted to bring the image into their church and thus organized a procession. It is said that even the bells of the churches – without anyone touching them – began to ring in a festive manner.

The image was then placed in the chapel of the Holy Spirit of the Mazza family where, however, the next day disappeared. It was found in a horse stall and the horses were seen on their knees in front of the image. Mary was brought back to the church but once again she disappeared into the stall. And once again she was brought back to the church.

In time the Augustinians build a church in her honor. She was first placed in a side chapel, then over the main altar.

The image depicts Mary seated on a throne, vested in an elegant blue habit that is trimmed in red with golden touches. With her right hand she’s pointing to the Child Jesus and with her other hand she’s offering Him in adoration to the faithful. Above Jesus and Mary are two angels who assist Mary. The image depicts Mary is the Mother of God and as “She who leads, who indicates the way.”

On the first Sunday of August every year the Salernitani process with the image along the entire coast of the city and then back to the church of St. Augustine