A Closer Look at Two Important Icons in Venice and Rome

Icons are most typically associated with the Eastern churches, but of course they actually represent a shared patrimony of both East and West. Two prominent icons that can be found within Italy are situated in Venice, in the high altar of the the basilica of Santa Maria della Salute -- perhaps Venice's most photographed church facade -- and the second in Rome within the Pauline chapel of the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore.  These icons, however, are not easily approached close up because of the fact that each of them are situated within their respective reredoses.  In addition to this, they also share the fact that both icons are associated with plague and health -- hence, "salute" and "salus" respectively.

In the case of the Venetian icon, the basilica of Santa Maria della Salute was erected by the Republic of Venice as a votive offering in the 17th century after an outbreak of the plague.  As part of the arrangement, the baroque high altar included a 12th or 13th century icon know as the "Panagia Mesopantitissa" or the Madonna the Mediator. The icon originally found its home in Crete but came to safe passage in Venice after the are fell to the Ottomans.  Here is a closer look at this particular icon without its silver covering:

Icon found in the main altar of Santa Maria della Salute in Venice

Some of you will no doubt better recognize it within its liturgical context in Santa Maria della Salute:

The next icon is likely to be even more familiar to our readers, being the icon named "Salus populi Romani" (health of the Roman people) which the newly elected Roman pontiff traditionally visits at the beginning of his pontificate within the patriarchal basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome.  This icon is much more ancient that its Venetian counterpart, being said to have arrived in Rome in 590 during the pontificate of pope St. Gregory the Great -- and its origins, by tradition, is said to be that of St. Luke himself. Like its Venetian counterpart, it is also thought to have originally come from Crete and St. Gregory the Great is said to have welcome the arrival of the icon in person on the Tiber.  In the year 593, St. Gregory the Great had the icon carried through the streets of Rome to play for an end to the plague, and again in 1837 by Pope Gregory XVI to pray for an end to an epidemic.  Many other acts of popes venerating and utilizing this particular image can be found, including St. Pius V in relation to the Battle of Lepanto. 

Here then is a closer look at this important, perhaps most "Roman" of icons:

Salus Populi Romani, Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome

And, once again, here it is within its greater architectural and liturgical context:

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