You hear of it now and again, but mainly it’s far in the background, below even the Catholic and Marian “radar.”
It’s the Weeping Madonna of Syracuse, Sicily (or Madonna Delle Lacrime in Italian), a plaster-hanging mold of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Like so many such cases, it has a rich and mysterious history.
As a Sicilian website explains, this plaster image of Mary was bought in 1953 as a wedding gift for Angelo and Antonina Lannuso, a young couple living in Sicily. While the couple previously admitted that they were not particularly devout Catholics, their lives were soon transformed by this seemingly innocuous piece of artwork.
The unexpected effects of the image hung above their bed.
Upon moving into their new home, the Lannusos hung the wedding gift above their bed. Before long, Antonina became pregnant. The couple was elated, but Antonina began to suffer from a severe case of toxemia after just a short time — causing convulsions and temporary blindness.
Late one night, Antonina was hit by a particularly traumatic episode that rendered her completely blind.
A few hours later, Antonina awoke, relieved to find that her sight had been restored.
She looked up and saw that the effigy of The Madonna was weeping.
A Divine phenomenon
“News of this fantastic effigy soon spread throughout the city, bringing curious friends, neighbors, church authorities, and strangers. To quell the people’s curiosity, the family decided to nail this effigy above the door, and many visitors came by to collect its tears on pieces of material.”
As always, there were the skeptics, still dubious. Scientists came to take samples of and analyze the tears.
But it was immediately obvious this was no simple fraud, nor any form of trickery at all. The tears were found to have the precise alkalinity, form, and composition of human tears.
Thus fell the skeptics’ main explanation: that the little statue’s moisture came from condensation. Among other things, it was noted that if it had been condensation, it would have exuded from other parts of the objects (not just the eyes) and have been apparent on other pieces of art and objects in the home.
“The Lannusos, their friends, neighbors, local clergy, and even scientists were all lost for words,” we’re told. “This study was sent to the secretary of the Holy Office, Cardinal Pizzardo. Archbishop Baranzini visited soon after this and declared that the tears were that of despair. He believed that society and culture had gone astray, people were suffering in the East, and others in the West were losing their faith.”
What was it about the year 1953? Was there a turning point, something special back then?
It wasn’t the Korean War: an armistice was signed that year. It wasn’t Stalin: that was the year the brutal dictator died. Was it the launch, the West, of publications such as Playboy, which arguably kick-started lascivious American culture, or more profoundly, the discovery that year of DNA? The rise of rock-and-roll (Elvis)?
Astoundingly, four years before, a similar event occurred in the U.S. and seemed connected (more tomorrow).
Whatever, the Lannusos family grew to be healthy: Antonina gave birth to a healthy son — on Christmas Day, 1953. So well-known had the couple become that Archbishop Baranzini officiated at their son’s baptism.
The news of Antonina’s miraculous healing and incredible witnessing of the tears of Our Lady spread across the globe. The wonder felt by the Lannusos was shared by Catholics worldwide; even scientists who studied the chemical make-up of Mary’s tears were baffled.
In Antonina’s own words:
“I opened my eyes and stared at the image of the Madonna above the bedhead. To my great amazement I saw that the effigy was weeping. I called my sister-in-law Grazie and my aunt, Antonina Sgarlata, who came to my side, showing them the tears. At first they thought it was a hallucination due to my illness, but when I insisted, they went close up to the plaque and could well see that tears were really falling from the eyes of the Madonna, and that some tears ran down her cheeks onto the bedhead. Taken by fright they took it out the front door, calling the neighbors, and they too confirmed the phenomenon…”
Built on the shape of a tear drop, a 300-foot-tall spire tops the church that is home to the weeping Madonna. The original plaster image, just over a foot tall, was a simple and humble representation of the Madonna. However, following the reported miracle, a larger bronze statue was commissioned. The statue has thus become a powerful symbol of faith, hope, and Divine mercy.
Locally, crowds still gather, while around the world, those who know of it still discuss what the tears could mean.
[resources: The Last Secret, by Michael H. Brown; join him on a pilgrimage to Italy]