Restored icon marks 550th anniversary of Madonna of Shkodra saving

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times April 28, 2017 10:58

Restored icon marks 550th anniversary of Madonna of Shkodra saving

The restored Lady of Shkodra painting

The restored Lady of Shkodra painting

TIRANA, April 27 – A Virgin Mary icon dating back to the 19th century which survived the communist persecution and atheism for almost five decades has been finally restored and placed at the St. Stephen Cathedral in Shkodra, northern Albania. The restoration also commemorated the 550th anniversary of the miraculous arrival of the original oil painting of the Madonna of Shkodra at Italy’s Madonna of Good Council Church in Genazzano after the Albanian sanctuary was destroyed by the Ottomans in 1467.

Cardinal Franc Rodé, who was Pope Francis special envoy at the celebration, urged Albania to continue its religious co-existence model.

“Albania will never die of chill because it preserves its historical memory, its legends and cultural and spiritual identity. Albania is a future promise to convey a message. The Albanian people is one of Europe’s eldest, but always young and should give an example to Europe and the whole world especially regarding the inter-religious relations,” said Cardinal Rode who blessed the recreation of the original 5th century painting that long resided in Shkodra until the 15th century Ottoman occupation.

Shkodra archbishop Angelo Massafra said the restoration was also a symbol to restore a people’s conscience.

“We did not do this simply for the cult of beauty, but to express with the symbol of this restored icon the need to deeply restore with the same virtuous work composed of truth and good deeds, a people’s conscience,” said archbishop Massafra.

Father Artur Jaku of the St. Stephen cathedral described the painting as a work that reflects Shkodra’s history.

“The frame where the Lady gently holds Jesus as a child, with wonderful love, reflects a relationship of light, truth, sincerity but also theology and dogma. That is a work that pulses with its wounds the history of Shkodra. I wish Shkodra the best on this lucky day of the return of its daughter, at the same time a mother and Heaven’s Door,” said Father Jaku.

Albania’s Culture Minister Mirela Kumbaro said the “Lady of Shkodra deserved not only spiritual veneration by believers and the church but also artistic dignity as cultural and historical heritage by institutions and the government.”

The anonymous 19th century Our Lady painting was restored at the Palazzo Spinelli Institute for Art and Restoration in Italy’s Florence.

The “Our Lady” legend

The Virgin May was venerated within the Catholic Church in Albania in particular as Zoja e Shkodres, Our Lady of Shkodra or the Madonna of Shkodra. The feast of Madonna in Shkodra was marked on October 8 by all of the Catholic tribes of northern Albania. The fourth council of Albanian bishops, held in 1895, indeed ‘proclaimed Our Lady of Shkodra the “Patron of Albania,” says Albanologist Robert Elsie.

The legend connected with Our Lady of Shkodra says the Madonna was originally a little church in old Shkodra at the foot of the Rozafa citadel, where her image was venerated by Catholics in the form of an oil painting. In 1467, when Ottoman troops were laying siege to Shkodra and threatening to desecrate the church, the painting miraculously detached itself from the wall, left the building and flew off in a westwardly direction over the Adriatic Sea to Italy. It was followed by two Albanian pilgrims, Gjorgji and De Sclavis. The image of the Virgin finally came to rest in the town of Genezzano near Rome, where a church was built in her honour, the Church of Our Lade of Good Counsel.

The sanctuary of Genezzano has been a pilgrimage site for Albanian Catholics since that time. Around the year 1700, the veneration of the Madonna of Genezzano also spread to the Arberesh Italo-Albanians in Calabria, in particular to the village of San Benedetto Ullano, with the help of the clergyman Stefano Rodota. The present church in Genezzano was constructed at the beginning of the twentieth century and pilgrims visit it, walking barefoot, in particular on the feast day of Our Lady of Good Counsel, April 26.

The church of Madonna in Shkodra was also the object of veneration by northern Albanian Catholics. Even in April 1946, half a year after the communist takeover, over 2,000 people participated in a pilgrimage to it. Soon thereafter, the church was closed down and transformed into a dance hall and in 1967, when Albania officially banned religion, razed to the ground. Luckily, the painting was spared and taken to be displayed at the local atheist museum in Shkodra for more than two decades before it was sent back to the St. Stephen Cathedral in the early 1990s after the collapse of the communist regime.

 

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times April 28, 2017 10:58