Devotion to Our Lady of Consolation
When in 1865, at the time it was proposed to build a new church at West Grinstead, a friend of the Mission suggested that the new sanctuary should be placed under the patronage of Our Lady of Consolation. Bishop Grant, the first bishop of the Diocese of Southwark, warmly approved of the suggestion, adding that with its past traditions of Catholicity, West Grinstead was in truth a “holy ground”; and Bishop Dannell, when signing the contract for the new building in 1874, presented it to Mary, in thanksgiving for the preservation of the faith on this privileged spot.
With the approval of the Archbishop of Turin in northern Italy, the new church was affiliated to the original sanctuary of Our Lady of Consolation, and a painting, closely resembling the miraculous Shrine Painting of Turin, enriched with similar indulgences and privileges, was brought to West Grinstead.
The title of Our Lady of Consolation, under which the Mother of God is specially honoured in the church of West Grinstead, is one that has long been in use in the Universal Church. In France the dioceses of Vannes, Valence, Montpelier, Laval, Nantes, Perigueux, Tours and many others, possessed churches or chapels dedicated to Our Lady, under a name so peculiarly fitted to inspire confidence. In these islands, before the Reformation, the same devotion towards Our Lady had existed; and altars were erected in her honour under the same title. “When John Knox began his work of demolition, there was”, says Father Bridget, “in the Church of St. John the Baptist at Perth, an altar inscribed to ‘St. Mary of Consolation.’” “Again”, the same author writes, “one of the many vocables or titles under which Our Lady was honoured in England and Scotland was that of ‘Our Lady of Consolation.’ ”
The Church seems every-where to have addressed to her children, the words of St. Sour, founder of the Abbey of Tarasson in the sixth century, who, when the poor, the sick, the unhappy, had recourse to his protection, replied, pointing to the neighbouring shrine: “Go and seek Our Lady of Consolation”. But of all the sanctuaries dedicated to Mary under this invocation, the most widely celebrated is the shrine of our Lady of Consolation at Turin, whence the sanctuary of West Grinstead derives its name and its privileges.
According to a venerable tradition confirmed by ancient writers, the original picture of “La Consolata”, at Turin, was painted by St. Eusebius of Vercelli, in the fourth century; and placed in the Church of St. Andrew of Turin by Bishop Maximus, in reparation for the blasphemies uttered against the Mother of God by Eutyches and his followers.
However, the holy image seems subsequently to have been forgotten and neglected until 1004, when the Blessed Virgin herself appeared to Ardoin, Marquis of Torea and last king of Italy; and bade him rescue her image from obscurity. He obeyed, and having restored the chapel which was attached to the Church of St. Andrew, he caused the picture to be placed with due reverence in its new shrine, where it was visited by multitudes of pilgrims, whose faith and piety were rewarded by countless miracles.
According to the chronicle of St. Benignus of Fruttuaria, and to the Italia Sacra of Ferdinand Ughello, Abbot of the Order of Citeaux, the name of “Madonna Della Consolata”, or in English, “Our Lady of Consolation” was given to that miraculous painting, by the express order of the Blessed Virgin, and the Sanctuary was erected at her own request. This is a privilege unheard of before, and which has never been granted since to any other painting by the Holy Mother of God.
Towards 1080, however, foreign invasions and civil wars spread ruin and destruction throughout the country; to these scourges were added those of famine and pestilence, so that, according to the old historians, Turin became like a city of the dead. Things were in this state when a fresh invasion of the Lombards completed the ruin of the unhappy city, its monuments were destroyed, its remaining inhabitants massacred, the sanctuary of Our Lady of Consolation perished in the general destruction, and the holy image itself was buried away among the ruins of its once magnificent shrine.
A new miracle was destined to bring it to light. In 1104, according to the historians of Our Lady of Consolation, the Mother of God appeared to a man born blind, named John; and bade him, if he desired to obtain the gift of sight, start for Turin; and there seek for the miraculous picture formerly honoured under the name of “La Consolata” and which now lay buried and forgotten among the ruins of the Chapel erected by King Ardoin. The blind man, in his child-like confidence, begged his brothers to lead him immediately to Turin to begin his search. But they treated his vision as a delusion, and scornfully refused to render him any assistance. He then entreated a poor servant girl to be his guide; and she having consented, they set forth and bravely pursued their journey. When they had arrived within a mile of Turin, the eyes of the blind man were suddenly opened, and he perceived a sun of extraordinary beauty and splendour shining over a ruined Chapel. Convinced that this was the spot where he was to begin his search, he bent his steps towards it, and though the gift of sight, miraculously given to him for a moment, was again withdrawn, he continued his road with unshaken confidence and joy.
On reaching the ruin, he knelt down and prayed fervently; and shortly afterwards his sight was again restored, but this time to be withdrawn no more. The Bishop of Turin, hearing of the miracle, hastened to the spot; a careful search was commenced and on the 2nd of June 1104, the painting of “La Consolata”, holding her divine Son in her arms, appeared to the searcher’s impatient gaze. The chapel was speedily rebuilt and the image, replaced in its honoured shrine, became the centre of an extraordinary concourse of pilgrims. It would be too long to relate even briefly the many miracles by which Mary rewarded the piety of her clients and justified the title under which they invoked her assistance. The history of the Sanctuary is a long chronicle of favours asked for and received; every form of ill – physical and moral – seems to have found its cure at the feet of the heavenly Comfortress, and in time of war and pestilence, her protection was extended in a miraculous manner over her faithful city.
In 1527, a Confraternity, which the Popes enriched with many privileges, was founded in honour of our Lady of Consolation and on the long roll of its members we find the names of Emmanuel the Great, Duke of Savoy; Catherine of Austria, daughter of Philip II, and Duchess of Savoy; and many other Princes and Princesses. Also among the pilgrims who more than once came to pray before the holy picture, must be mentioned St. Francis de Sales.
In 1704, the sixth centenary of the finding of the image was celebrated with great solemnity, and, upon this occasion, it was placed in a new Chapel, where it still receives, to this present day, the homage of countless pilgrims.
Such is, in a few brief words, the history of the venerable image, of which the picture of West Grinstead is a copy.
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You may make your own judgement as to just how faithful a copy of the “Madonna Della Consolata” the West Grinstead painting is, by seeing a copy of the Turin “Consolata” on the rear wall of the Secret Chapel in the Priest’s House!
We know nothing of the origin of the West Grinstead painting. It is described elsewhere in the Handbook of the Confraternity of Our Lady of Consolation, West Grinstead, as “a copy of the old miraculous picture of Our Lady of Consolation of Turin”. Early photographs of the Shrine (taken at the end of the 19th century) show the painting in its stone canopy and standing to the left of the Sanctuary arch, just as now; but of the painter, nothing can be discovered. One theory is that Mgr. Jean Marie Denis employed an artist to make either pencil or pen and ink sketches of the Turin ‘Consolata’. However, on return to England and in attempting to translate the sketches into a copy of the painting, the artist created something rather different. In the year 2000, the West Grinstead painting was carefully and professionally restored. The restorer is of the opinion that this is a mid-ninteenth century painting, typical of many religious painting dating from that time and from Northern Italy.
One way or the other, we are left with a lovely painting that truly is Our Lady of Consolation of West Grinstead (rather than a copy of the Turin painting).
PRAYER TO OUR LADY OF CONSOLATION
O God, who through the Virgin Mary has willed to give to your people the true consolation, Jesus Christ; grant to us who venerate her, under the title of Our Lady of Consolation, the grace to co-operate with her in the work of Redemption, we ask this through Christ Our Lord. Amen.
Our Lady of Consolation of West Grinstead
Have pity on us