The history of the image of Our Lady of Health at the church of Magdalene

On 15 May 1616, Ms. Settimia De Nobili, wife of Mr Giovanni Paganelli, a Roman citizen, died in Montecitorio, a few steps from the church of the Magdalene.

The lady had been assisted in her infirmity by Father Cesare Simonio, a zealous Minister of the Infirm, brought up in the school of St Camillus, who was particularly dear to him for his great love of the sick and of Our Lady. Fr Simonio also served as rector of the Magdalene church, but his greatest task was the care of the dying in their homes.

Ms. Settimia kept the picture of Our Lady in great veneration in one of the rooms of her house. It is not said when and how she got it, but during her long infirmity the pious lady found her greatest comfort by praying continually under the gaze of the devout image.

Father Simonio, who was called to visit the sick woman to confess and comfort her, was taken up by the great admiration and devotion for the beautiful painting, eventually expressing the opinion and desire to place it for public veneration in the Magdalene church.

The lady said she was willing to hand over the image, but only after her death.

It is likely – and here documented history gives way to tradition and the easy interpretation of the chronicler – that Fr. Simonio asked for the information about the painting. He thus learnt that the precious painting had belonged to Pius V (1566-1572) and that he had kept it in his rooms in the Vatican. Consequently, it began to be thought and said that the same image was the one before which the holy Pontiff, praying, would have known about the victory at Lepanto (7 Oct. 1571).

It is, however, probable that since it is a subject (Our Lady of St. Luke) that is widely diffused, the tradition is, in effect, more related to St. Pius V than to this or any other copy, with well-founded certainty.

The story resumes with certainty, from the day the image was entrusted to the Magdalene church and the religious of St. Camillus.

In a notarial deed of 19 February 1614, Ms. Settimia De Nobili ordered that, on her death, the picture of the Madonna with the Child Jesus on her left arm be bequeathed to the church of La Maddalena dei Chierici Regolari Ministri degli Infermi. The devout image – it was stipulated – must be handed over to the Fathers before the donor’s own funeral.

Ms. Settimia died on 25 May 1616, assisted to her last breath by Fr Caesar Simonio. The next day, in accordance with his instructions, the picture of Our Lady was taken to the Magdalene Church and placed on the high altar.