An Image of the Virgin Mary Performs Miraculous Cures


Narratione dell’origine e principio della divota e miraculosa imagine della gloriosa Vergine Maria nel monasterio della pieta della citta di Palermo, da quelle RRde madri riverita e custodita.

[Palermo], 1600- 1619


Quarto: 20 x 15 cm. pp. [76] + 86 blank leaves.

Manuscript on paper, largely in Italian with some Latin, small 4to (20 x 15 cm), pp. [76] + 86 blank leaves; neatly written in brown ink in several different hands; worm tracks to blank lower margins and upper inner margins (not touching text), some light foxing, some show through to a few leaves, some damp staining to head of blank leaves at end; well-preserved in contemporary red morocco, covers richly gilt with central device of Virgin and Child, gilt spine and edges; some damp staining and rubbing to boards, some worming to endpapers.                                              

A remarkable manuscript documenting almost 40 miraculous recoveries worked by an image of the Virgin Mary and by holy oil in the possession of the Dominican convent of Santa Maria della Pieta in Palermo, Sicily, on both nuns and members of the local population – an extraordinary record of religious devotion, of the lives of nuns, and of medical practice in the early 1600s. The convent of Santa Maria della Pieta was founded in 1526, and in 1600 – so our manuscript states – it acquired an image of the Virgin Mary, after one of the sisters was healed by an image of Our Lady of Trapani. This manuscript carefully records, over a period of almost two decades, cases of serious, long-standing illness – incurable by conventional medicine – which were cured either by touching this image or by employing holy oil associated with it. The overall message is clear: where medicine failed, the miraculous image could be relied upon to bring succour to the faithful. 

The earliest cases all involve nuns of the convent, variously suffering from fever, convulsions, head and heart complaints, melancholy, abscesses, loss of voice, and stomach pains, while one nun is cured of fright resulting from a large picture falling off the wall during a service. In the discussion of each case, consideration is given to its impact on the other members of the convent. 

Rumours of the image’s power must have spread, and subsequent cases involve friars and priests (e.g. suffering from bloody flux), children and young adults (one cured of blindness in one eye), and members of the nobility (a gentleman suffering with throat inflammation, another with flatulence, a baroness with malignant fever etc.). Restored to health, several of the latter are recorded as expressing their gratitude through gifts of money or rings. One Vincentius Bonherba, ‘infirmus gravissimoque morbo opressus’, expresses himself in Latin verses to the Virgin. Later cases involving nuns include one apparently suffering from breast cancer, and another caught in a storm between Sicily and Naples who calmed the sea with some drops of ‘oglio miraculoso di nostra signora’.