By Denise Trull
I LOVE this image of Our Lady. She has been on my refrigerator for a long time now, so she is always with me in the kitchen. She comes from Italy, but looks mysteriously the same as some of the Madonnas painted by Peruvian artists: young, beautiful, yet kind and welcoming, as if she would be interested in what you are making for dinner or to tell you simply that she loves you and all will be well.
Here is her charming story if you don't already know it.
In the year 1844, there lived in the Sacred Heart Convent of Trinita Dei Monti in Rome, a young French novice by the name of Sister Pauline Perdrau. She had been asked one day to paint an image of the Virgin Mary in one of the many niches tucked away about the convent Church, perhaps to surprise her Reverend Mother. After laboring over the fresco for many months, and probably wondering why she had ever been chosen for this task, Sr. Pauline finally had to humbly conclude that her artistic efforts were disappointing at best. She had failed, and miserably. But humility is a good thing, she probably reasoned, for she was a faithful little sister.
Her mother superior mercifully hid the fresco behind a curtain in the alcove, and life went on as it always had in the Trinita Dei Monti Convent. Sr. Pauline was probably relegated to the kitchen and it was perhaps hinted at that she not be the one to paint the sets for the Christmas pageant, after all.
But Jesus and His Mother love humble little sisters like Pauline Perdrau.
As the charming legend goes, Pope Pius IX visited Trinita Dei Monti in October two years later. All was in a flutter. Every corner cleaned and shining for the Holy Father’s big day among them. The sisters wanted to show him everything, and to his credit he took a great interest in every nook and cranny. During the tour, the curious Pope came across the little alcove hung with the mysterious curtain. What was this, he wondered. Was there a collective sigh of horror among the sisters? Were looks exchanged? Too late now. Curiosity got the better of him and he looked behind the curtain. The nuns held their collective breath and closed their eyes.
Suddenly, the delighted Pontiff inexplicably exclaimed, "Mater Admirabilis!" For lo and behold Sister Pauline’s simple, failure of a fresco had been miraculously transformed into a beautiful work of art. I am sure the gasps were audible before the nuns could quickly suppress them.
They gazed in wonder where the Pope pointed his finger. It was a miracle.
The serene icon showed Mary as one balancing work and contemplation, learning and reflection. She was smiling sweetly and sitting amidst her work much as they did every day. They immediately took to her and loved her from then on as the Patroness of their humble Convent.
Although not on the Church's universal calendar, the Feast of Our Mother Most Admirable is often observed on October 20.
I love this story because little Sister Pauline, without much artistic talent, who probably still felt the sting of humiliation, was sweetly comforted by Our Lady, who turned her true, obedient and humble effort into something very beautiful. Isn't that the way Our Lady is to all of us?
And how delightful that the painting was discovered by a "curious" pope. I find that so charming an image - Pius IX snooping behind curtains.