The Weeping Madonna of Syracuse

This prodigy involves a small plaster figure of Our Lady showing her Immaculate Heart, which in the city of Syracuse, for four days from 29 August to 1 September 1953, wept tears on numerous occasions, and attracted thousands of pilgrims. Although not an apparition as such, this seems to have been a very important development, which was quickly recognized by the Church as authentic.

Syracuse is in Sicily, the large island at the foot of Italy, and in one of its poorest parts lived a young couple, Angelo and Antonina Jannuso, who were given the plaster plaque of Our Lady as a wedding present; this they fixed to the bedroom wall. It showed Mary’s heart as in the message of Fatima, that is surrounded by thorns and flames. It is worth noting that the Communist party still had quite strong support in Sicily, and that Angelo Jannuso was a follower of Togliatti; neither was Antonina a particularly good Catholic.

On the morning of Saturday 29 August, the octave day of the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary at the time, 22 August, Antonina was in bed, suffering due to the effects of a difficult pregnancy, and also from some mysterious sickness something like epilepsy, when, to her amazement, she noticed that the eyes of the figure were shedding tears. Her sister-in-law, Grazia, also saw this happening, as did an increasingly large number of neighbors who gathered.

The weeping was not continual, but happened about 6 or 7 times that morning, and also again in the evening, when the husband had returned home. By now it was apparent that Antonina’s illness, which had puzzled her doctors, was cured, and all this led to the conversion of the couple, and many others. Over the next two days the weepings continued at intervals, and were witnessed by thousands of people, even when the plaque was moved from the bedroom to a little altar outside the house.

On Tuesday 1 September, a commission appointed by the archdiocese arrived to investigate. They compiled a report under oath, following a careful examination of the figure to ensure that nothing untoward was evident. While they were present there were more tears, and so they were able to collect some specimens for analysis. They could find no natural explanation, or means by which tears might have been fraudulently produced. The plaque was small enough to be held in the hands and the plaster was only between half an inch and an inch thick. Once their work was over the tears ceased.

The local archbishop arrived the next day to make inquiries and to speak to witnesses, as reports of miraculous healings began to spread, a development which would result in the formation of a medical commission. Archbishop Baranzini returned on 8 September with other ecclesiastics to say the rosary, and to explain to the crowd the meaning of these tears. He said that they were tears of sorrow and distress, a sign to a society and culture which had gone astray.

On 9 September, the laboratory analysis was published, and this confirmed that the liquid was exactly like human tears. The facts of the case were sent to Rome on 10 September, to Cardinal Pizzardo, secretary of the Holy Office.

Archbishop Baranzini returned on 19 September, to preach again to the growing crowds, telling them that these were the tears of a mother, weeping because of the persecutions her children were suffering in the East, and because of the loss of faith in the West. During September and October over a million pilgrims visited the plaster figure of Mary, which had been moved to a more prominent location.

Archbishop Baranzini went to Rome on 24 September, and met Pope Pius XII on 27 September. In December, the bishops of Sicily met to pass official judgement, and their leader, Cardinal Ruffini, explained their positive decision in the following statement:

“The bishops of Sicily, gathered together for their regular conference at Palermo, have heard the full report by His Excellency, Archbishop Ettore Baranzini of Syracuse, on the weeping of an image of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Having weighed carefully all the related evidence contained in the original documents, the bishops have unanimously judged that the reality of the weeping cannot be held in doubt. We express the desire that such a manifestation of the Heavenly Mother may inspire all to salutary penance and to a livelier devotion towards the Immaculate Heart of Mary and that there may be the prompt construction of a sanctuary to perpetuate the memory of the miracle.”

There is obviously a clear link, given the image of Mary’s Immaculate Heart on the plaque, between the supernatural tears of Syracuse and the message of Fatima, one which Church authorities were anxious to point out; and indeed Pope Pius XII was moved to ask if people understood, “the mysterious language of these tears.”

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