With the death of the last great Albanian leader in January of 1467, the Turkish army poured into Albania, occupying all its fortresses, cities and provinces with the exception of Scutari, in the north of the country. However, the city’s capacity to resist was limited, and its capture was expected at any moment. With its fall, Christian Albania would be defeated. Faced with this prospect, those who wished to practice their faith in Christian lands began a sad exodus. Two men named Giorgio and De Sclavis also studied the possibility of fleeing, but something kept them in Scutari, near the church with the miraculous painting. In this church the faithful Christians venerated an eggshell-thin fresco of Our Lady which had mysteriously descended from the heavens two hundred years before. According to tradition, it had come from the east. Having poured out innumerable graces over the whole population, its church became the principal center of pilgrimage in Albania. Their great Albanian leader, himself, had visited this shrine more than once to ardently ask Our Lady for victory in battle. Now the shrine was threatened with imminent destruction and profanation.
The two Albanians were torn by the idea of leaving the great treasure of Albania in the hands of the enemy in order to flee the Turkish terror. In their perplexity, they went to the old church to ask their Blessed Mother for the good counsel they needed. That night, the Virgin Mary inspired both of them in their sleep. She commanded them to prepare to leave their country, adding that the miraculous fresco was also going to leave Scutari for another country to escape profanation at the hands of the Turks. Finally, she ordered them to follow the painting wherever it went.
The next morning, the two friends went to the shrine. Suddenly, they saw the picture detach itself from the wall on which it had hung. Leaving its niche, it hovered for a moment and was then suddenly wrapped in a white cloud through which the image continued to be visible. The painting left the church and floated out of Scutari. It traveled slowly through the air at a considerable altitude and advanced in the direction of the Adriatic Sea at a speed that allowed the two walkers to follow. After covering some twenty-four miles, they reached the coast.
Without stopping, the picture left the land and advanced over the waters of the Adriatic Sea while the faithful Giorgio and De Sclavis continued to follow, walking on the waves. When night would fall, the mysterious cloud, which had protected them with its shade from the heat of the sun during the day, guided them by night with light, like the column of fire in the desert that guided the Jews in their exodus from Egypt.
They traveled day and night until they reached the Italian coast. There, they continued following the miraculous picture, climbing mountains, fording rivers and passing through valleys. Finally, they reached the vast plain of Lazio from where they could see the towers and domes of Rome. Upon reaching the gates of the city, the cloud suddenly disappeared before their disappointed eyes. Giorgio and De Sclavis began to search the city, going from church to church, asking if the painting had descended there. All their attempts to find the painting failed, and the Romans disregarded these two foreigners with their strange and incredible tale.
Meanwhile, in Genazzano, a charming medieval town about thirty miles south of Rome, financial difficulties had prevented the necessary and urgent restoration of the ancient temple there. Petruccia de Nocera had been left a modest fortune following the death of her husband in 1436. Living alone, she dedicated most of her time to prayer and services in the church of the Mother of Good Counsel. It grieved her to see the deplorable state of the sacred premises of the attached ancient chapel, and she prayed fervently that they would be restored. Finally, she resolved to take the initiative. After obtaining permission from the friars, she donated her goods to initiate the restoration in the hope that others would help complete it once it was commenced.
Petruccia, who was already eighty years old, found that her generous offering was scarcely enough to complete the first phase of the new construction of the chapel. To make matters worse, no one came forth to help. To her dismay, the building had hardly risen three feet when construction came to a halt due to lack of resources.
On April 25, 1467, the feast day of the city’s patron, Saint Mark, a solemn celebration began with Mass. It was Saturday, and the crowd began to gather in front of the church of the Mother of Good Counsel. The only discrepant note in the celebration was the unfinished work of Petruccia’s ancient chapel. At about four in the afternoon, everyone heard the chords of a beautiful melody that seemed to come from heaven. The people looked up toward the towers of the churches and saw a white cloud that shone with a thousand luminous rays; it gradually neared the stupefied crowd to the sound of an exceptionally beautiful melody. The cloud descended on the church of the Mother of Good Counsel and poised over the wall of the unfinished chapel of Saint Biagio, which Petruccia had started.
Suddenly, the bells of the old tower began to ring by themselves, and the other bells of the town rang miraculously in unison. The rays that emanated from the little cloud faded away, and the cloud itself gradually vanished, revealing a beautiful object to the enchanted gaze of the spectators. It was a painting that represented Our Lady tenderly holding her Divine Son in her arms. Almost immediately, the Virgin Mary began to cure the sick and grant countless consolations, the memory of which was recorded for posterity by the local ecclesiastical authority.
Shortly thereafter, amazing news came to Rome: a picture of Our Lady had appeared in the skies of Genazzano to the sound of beautiful music and had come to rest over the wall of a church that was being rebuilt. The two Albanians rushed to find their country’s beloved treasure miraculously suspended in the air next to the wall of the chapel where it remains to this day. Although some inhabitants found the strangers’ story difficult to believe, careful investigation later proved that the two were telling the truth, and that the image was indeed the same one that had graced the shrine in Scutari for two hundred years. This miraculous painting had made the incredible journey, carried by the angels, upon the request and direction of the Blessed Virgin as foretold to these two devoted gentlemen.