Art restorers from the Vatican Museums checked the conservation of an important Byzantine Marian icon in Rome on Thursday.
The image of Our Lady Salus Populi Romani — Protection of the Roman People — was found still to be in “excellent condition,” according to a Jan. 20 statement.
The icon, which has been revered by the people of Rome for centuries, underwent a months-long restoration in 2017.
In January 2018, the image of Mary and the Child Jesus was returned to the Pauline (also called Borghese) Chapel of the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome. It is now kept inside an air-conditioned display case to ensure its continued conservation.
According to a statement from the basilica, after a short prayer, the image was taken down from its niche on Thursday morning and moved to a nearby hall where it was checked by Vatican technicians.
“Thus, amid general satisfaction, shortly after the ‘Angelus’ the Salus Populi Romani returned to display in ‘its’ Pauline Chapel,” the basilica stated.
The icon of Salus Populi Romani, which tradition says was painted by St. Luke, has long been considered a symbol of the city of Rome and its people. It has also been beloved by many popes, including Pope Francis, who has a strong devotion to the image.
He visits the icon before and after every international trip to ask for the Virgin Mary’s intercession and to pray in thanksgiving for her protection.
During Italy’s first wave of the coronavirus in March 2020, Pope Francis also stopped to pray before the image while making a brief pilgrimage for an end to the pandemic.
The pope prayed silently before the icon for about 20 minutes on March 15, 2020. A few days prior, on March 11, he had sent a video message asking for Mary’s protection under the title of Salus Populi Romani.
“Under Your protection we seek refuge, Holy Mother of God. Do not despise the entreaties of us who are in trial, and free us from every danger, glorious and blessed Virgin,” Francis prayed via video.
“You, Protectress of the Roman People, you know what we need and we are sure that you will provide so that, as in Cana of Galilee, joy and celebration may return after this trying moment,” he said.
The icon was also carried in procession through Rome by St. Gregory I in 593 for an end to the plague.
The Marian image was returned to the basilica after a major cleaning and restoration on Jan. 28, 2018, the Feast of the Translation of the Miraculous Image of Our Lady Salus Populi Romani.
Pope Francis celebrated Mass for the occasion, and in his homily, he recalled that Mary’s mantle “is always open to receive us and gather us.”
“The Christian East reminds us of this, where many celebrate the Protection of the Mother of God, who in a beautiful icon is depicted with her mantle sheltering her sons and daughters and covering the whole world,” he said.
“Where our Mother is at home, the devil does not enter in. Where our Mother is present, turmoil does not prevail, fear does not conquer,” he continued. “Which of us does not need this, which of us is not sometimes distressed or anxious?”
“How often our heart is a stormy sea, where the waves of our problems pile up and the winds of our troubles do not stop blowing,” he said. “Mary is our secure ark in the midst of the flood. It will not be ideas or technology that will give us comfort or hope, but our Mother’s face, her hands that caress our life, her mantle that gives us shelter. Let us learn how to find refuge, going each day to our Mother.”