minutes from the ruins of Pompei, Italy, the great Roman city destroyed
by the volcano of Mt. Vesuvius, there is a an area called Valle
di Pompei where the town of Campania is located. In the shadow of
the ancient volcano, a Marian Shrine was erected in the latter half
of the 1800's. The shrine is dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary,
named for the Marian image elevated on its high altar.
image represents Our Lady of the Rosary. It is a variation of the
Marian icons representing Mary enthroned. She is the reigning Madonna.
She reigns but she is herself the throne of the King of kings, Jesus
Christ, her son. He extends his blessing hand and at the same time
bestows the blessing of the rosary on the saint at his feet. The
Pompei image is a derivation of the Eastern icon type traced back
to the 6th century. Both in the East and West, the image represents
Mary as Queen of Heaven. The throne is usually situated in a church,
as is this one in the image of Our Lady of Pompei.
was destroyed in 79 AD. In the fourth century, Christians settled
in the area. Early records indicate that a large church dedicated
to the Most Holy Savior was erected there, and by the 11th century
entrusted to the care of the Benedictines. In time, the church was
destroyed and a small chapel built on the site. The lands were eventually
ceded to a Neapolitan noble who allowed the property to deteriorate.
Local inhabitants acquired the right of patronage, and Valle di
Pompei became one of eighteen parishes in Italy where the priest
was elected by the people.
article written in 1891 discovered in the files of The Marian Library/International
Marian Research Institute states: "The church twenty years
ago was small and dilapidated; the poverty of the place made a school
an impossibility; the inhabitants were superstitious and criminal,
many of them being thieves." It was a layman and his wife who
would change the face of Valle di Pompei.
Longo, founder of the Shrine of Our Lady Queen of the Rosary, was
born in 1841, the son of a doctor. Longo studied to be a lawyer.
During his studies, he joined a sect and was ordained as a priest
of Satan. He publicly ridiculed Christianity and did all in his
power to subvert Catholic influence. A good friend, Vincent Pede,
eventually showed Bartolo the gentleness of Christ and arranged
for him to meet a saintly Dominican priest, Alberto Radente. The
Dominican had a deep, personal devotion to Mary and fostered the
devotion of the rosary.
Bartolo Longo was baptized, he chose the second name, Maria, to
be his baptismal name. He saw Mary as a "Refuge of Sinners,"
and attributed his miraculous conversion to her. She was the "Refuge"
who would lead him to Christ. After his conversion, Bartolo Maria
Longo wanted to do penance for his past life and serve the Church
he had so viciously slandered. He made a promise to work for the
poor and destitute. He also published a pamphlet entitled, "The
Rosary of New Pompei" and did all in his power to spread the
evening, as he walked near the ruined rat and lizard infested chapel
at Pompei, he had a profound mystical experience. He wrote:
I pondered over my condition, I experienced a deep sense of despair
and almost committed suicide. Then I heard an echo in my ear of
the voice of Friar Alberto repeating the words of the Blessed Virgin
Mary: "If you seek salvation, promulgate the Rosary. This is
Mary's own promise." These words illumined my soul. I went
on my knees: "If it is true ... I will not leave this valley
until I have propagated your Rosary."
Bartolo Maria persuaded people of the area to help him clean out
the dilapidated church. Then he invited the people to join him one
evening to pray the rosary. Only a few curious children came.
the fact that the intrepid disciple of the rosary visited every
hut and farm house to distribute rosaries, medals, and encouragement,
his apostolate met with meager success. The people loved and respected
Don Bartolo, but they neither understood nor cared to learn about
the rosary. Queen of the Valley by Martin A. Stillmock
then sponsored a festival on the Feast of the Holy Rosary in 1873.
His first effort failed. It rained, and the preacher spoke in classical
Italian instead of the local dialect which the people understood.
He tried the next year; he wasn't much more successful, but he had
taught some of the people to pray the rosary. The third year, he
invited the Redemptorist Fathers to hold a two-week mission. In
preparation, he fully restored the little church. The mission was
a successful revival and blessed by the bishop. It was, in fact,
the bishop who envisioned a large church and pilgrimage place in
began the project by first hunting for a picture of Our Lady of
the Rosary. The only one he could afford was an oleograph on paper.
At the time, church law required sacred images to be painted in
oils on canvas or wood. He was told about a painting of Our Lady
of the Rosary being kept in a convent that had been purchased in
a junk shop for 3,40 Lire. Longo described it himself:
only was it worm-eaten, but the face of the Madonna was that of
a course, rough country-woman ... a piece of canvas was missing
just above her head ... her mantle was cracked. Nothing need be
said of the hideousness of the other figures. St. Dominic looked
like a street idiot. To Our Lady's left was a St. Rose. This I had
changed later into a St. Catherine of Siena ... I hesitated whether
to refuse the gift or to accept ... I took it.
image was too large to carry from Naples to Pompei, but Bartolo
finally found someone who would take it to the chapel for him. When
it arrived it was lying on a wagon of manure. An attempt was made
by an amateur to restore it, and it was placed in the church on
February 13, 1876, the foundation day for the Confraternity of the
Holy Rosary there. In 1880 the famous Italian painter, Federico
Madlarelli, offered to restore the image. It was again finally restored
by Vatican artists in 1965.
painting of Bartolo Longo presenting the shrine of Our Lady of Pompei
to Pope Leo XIII, 19 February 1894
image was first placed in the small, restored chapel in 1875, but
plans were made to build a large church worthy of Our Lady of the
Rosary. 300 people of the area pledged a penny a month for Our Lady's
work. The cornerstone laying was held on May 8, 1876. Within the
month, miraculous events began to take place at the shrine. Four
healings were recorded. From that time on, especially between 1891
and 1894, hundreds of miracles have been officially recorded at
the sanctuary. When the construction was completed in 1883, Bartolo
appealed to the people:
this place selected for its prodigies, we wish to leave to present
and future generations a monument to the Queen of Victories that
will be less unworthy of her greatness but more worthy of our faith
In 1894, Bartolo and his wife, Countess Marianna Farnararo De Fusco,
gave the new church to the papacy, in whose care the shrine has
remained since. The image was crowned immediately after its enthronement
on the inauguration day of the opening of the new shrine.
1965, after the third restoration of the image, Pope Paul VI said
the following during a homily: "Just as the image of the Virgin
has been repaired and decorated ..., so may the image of Mary that
all Christians must have within themselves be restored, renovated,
and enriched." At the end of this solemn celebration, Pope
Paul VI placed two new precious diadems on the heads of Jesus and
Mary, crowns that had been offered by the people.
the time when the pilgrimage church was being built, Bartolo Maria
Longo began to undertake many works of charity. He and his wife
established an orphanage for little girls. The first children he
took in were 15 small orphans, one for each decade of the rosary.
He also established a hospice for boys, sons of prisoners, and a
corresponding hospice for girls. He founded the Daughters of the
Holy Rosary of Pompei, a religious women's institute to care for
the shrine and the educational houses attached to it. He also established
the Dominican Tertiaries near the shrine.
special devotion known as the "Supplication to the Queen of
Victories" was begun on October 1883 and is recited all over
the world, especially on May 8 and on the first Sunday in October.
The devotion includes a request thought to have been given by Our
Lady to one of the children healed at Pompei, "Whoever desires
favors of me should make three novenas of petition and three of
October 21, 1979, Pope John Paul II visited Pompei. The gathering
was a national pilgrimage to Our Lady of Pompei. On October 26,
1980, Bartolo Longo was beatified by John Paul II and called "the
man of the Madonna" and the "Apostle of the Rosary."
Shrine of Our Lady of the Rosary
Pompei, Italy. The present structure was begun in 1934 at the request
of Pope Pius XI.
image of Our Lady of the Rosary represents the long tradition of
the faithful who turn to Mary for refuge and hope in their needs.
Mary is the throne for her small Son, Jesus. He found his first
home on earth within her womb and on her lap. Mary is seated on
a throne. It is the throne of the Church. Mary with her divine son
reigns in the Church and from the Church, sign of heaven's continuation
what church is it? The church in the painting's background is formed
of simple, plain lines. The throne is of wood, not the highly carved
wood of the period found in wealthy homes, but the wood of the poorer
people. The Madonna's feet rest on a plain pedestal, not a cushion
of velvet. The people of Pompei wished to honor the Son and his
mother by erecting a magnificent shrine of stone. The shrine of
beauty, golden decorations, and sacrificed jewels was the way the
culture of the time expressed their love and devotion. Bartolo Longo,
however, knew that shrines of stones must be built by the living
stones of charity and peace. It was his first intention to teach
the people to pray, then to care for their needs.
rosaries in the painting each have six decades. This, too, was the
custom of the time. Many times, this sixth decade was prayed for
the intentions of those caring for the Church and the apostolic
works of the Church. Whatever form the rosary devotion takes, it
remains a prayer of Sacred Scripture. The unknown artist of the
image has not forgotten this truth. A book is painted at the base
of the throne. Our eye moves to this point, away from the pearls
and gold, to the book containing the wisdom of God among us, the
reality of the Virgin and the Word Made Flesh who dwells among us.