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March 25 / September 8

The Exarchic Monastery of Santa Maria in Grottaferrata, also known as the Greek Abbey of Saint Nilus, was founded in 1004 by a group of monks from Calabria led by St. Nilus of Rossano, a charismatic leader and a very important figure of his time. When St. Nilus, the monks' spiritual father, died shortly after founding the Abbey, St. Bartholomew the Younger, his favourite disciple and cofounder of the monastery, assumed their leadership.

The monks, who follow the teachings of St. Nilus and St. Bartholomew, still live and work within the walls of this ancient Abbey. They are Catholics of the Byzantine-Greek rite and belong to the Order of Basilian Monks, established by the Catholic Church for all Byzantine-rite monasteries in Italy.

Today, Grottaferrata is the last of the many Byzantine-Greek monasteries that dotted Sicily, southern Italy and Rome itself in the Middle Ages. It is also unique in that, having been founded fifty years before the Great Schism that divided Catholics and Orthodox, it remained in communion with the Church of Rome while preserving the Byzantine rite and monastic tradition of its founders.

The Theot˛kos is a typical Byzantine icon painted on gilt board. The Virgin, with big eyes, holds the blessing Child. The author is unknown. Probably it is one of the many icons that the Greek monks reproduced imitating those ones destroyed in the East by the fury of the iconoclasts.

In 1140 Tolomeo II, count of Tuscolo, deprived the Church of many precious objects among which was maybe the icon of the Virgin. A well-grounded tradition says that this icon was worshipped for many years in a Church in Tuscolo. In 1191 Tuscolo was destroyed by the Romans and the icon was brought to Rome. In 1230 it was given back by Pope Gregory XI to the monks of the Abbey and solemnly enthroned.

For a long time it was placed on the side-altar. In the second half of the seventeenth century it was placed on the main altar, a work of Bernini. In 1687 the Vatican Chapter ordained its coronation.

This consecrated icon has granted many graces from heaven and it has gathered a multitude of faithful and pilgrims, among which were many saints and popes. Among them, was Pope Pius IX who often came to pray before its altar; Pope John XXIII came in 1960 and Pope Paul VI on the 19th of August 1963 made a sad appeal to the separated brothers of the christian East. Pope John Paul II visited the Monastery twice (on 1979 and 1987).

Source : Exarchic Greek Abbey of St. Mary of Grottaferrata : Basilian Monks