Wednesday before Pentecost
Nuestra Madre Santísima de la Luz, León, Guanajuato, Mexico
In 1722, Jesuit priest Giovanni Antonio Genovesi of Palermo, Sicily, asked a visionary to find out how Mary would like to be depicted. The Madonna appeared to the woman as she wished to be portrayed, asking three times to be called "Most Holy Mother of the Light." When the mystic passed on Fr. Genovesi's suggestion that the image might incorporate a motif of sinners offering their hearts, the Virgin agreed, and an angel appeared beside her with a basket of flaming hearts. The Madonna didn't like the artist's first rendition, so the visionary went to his studio, where Mary reappeared and guided the final version to completion. Fr. Genovesi carried the image on preaching missions, spreading the devotion around western Sicily.
In 1732, José María Genovesi, S.J. — possibly a relative — brought a painting of the Mother of the Light from Palermo to Mexico. The Jesuits held a drawing to let heaven determine which of their churches would get the sacred image. Three times the new foundation in León won the draw. The painting arrived in the town on July 2, 1732, then the Feast of the Visitation. José Genovesi became known in Mexico for his intense spirituality and published many devotional works in Spanish.
On May 23, 1849, the Mother of the Light was proclaimed city patron, thanks largely to the efforts of parish priest José Ignacio Aguado. The following year, cholera struck León. Despite hygenic measures, the epidemic grew severe. City authorities joined Fr. Aguado in turning to their patron and vowing an annual solemnity on the three days preceding the Feast of the Assumption, with public chanting of the Litany of Loreto. The cholera ended.
The Jesuits moved the painting of the Mother of the Light to a new church, dedicated in her honor as the cathedral on March 16, 1866. On October 8, 1902, on the authority of Pope Leo XIII, Bishop Leopoldo Ruiz y Flores solemnly crowned the image.
In Mexico, the image of the Mother of the Light in Léon is held to be the original painted with the Virgin's guidance, as indicated in an inscription on its reverse. In Sicily, the original is believed to have remained in the main Jesuit church, the Casa Professa in Palermo, until U.S. bombers destroyed it in 1943. The church of San Materno Vescovo in Melara, Veneto, Italy, also believes its copy, donated by a missionary from Mexico in 1780 after suppression of the Gesuit Order, could well be the original.
León and Melara celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Light on the Wednesday between Ascension Thursday and Pentecost Sunday.
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