Weeping Madonna of Syracuse
plaster sculpture, or plaque, which depicts the Immaculate Heart of Mary was mass-produced
in a studio in Tuscany. It was then shipped with others of its kind to Syracuse,
where it was purchased as a wedding gift. But after it had hung for a time in
the humble home of the Iannuso couple, the plaque was singled out for the unexpected
and prodigiously shed tears for four days.
veneration paid this plaque in a church built especially for its exhibition was
approved by three popes, but only after an ecclesiastical tribunal scrupulously
studied the miracle and had the tears scientifically analyzed. It has been said
by authorities that never was a miracle so thoroughly tested or so quickly approved.
history of the image begins with its sculptor, Amilcare Santini, who modeled it
in only three days "under artistic inspiration." It was made of plaster
that had been dissolved in water and poured into a mold before it was turned out
to dry in the sun. It was then sprayed with nitrocellulose varnish that made it
shiny and suitable for painting. After it was colored, varnished and polished,
ordinary screws were used to attach the image to a panel of black opaline. The
panel measures 39 by 33 centimeters, the figure 29 by 22 centimeters.
plaque was purchased a s a wedding gift for Antonina and Angelo Iannuso, who were
married March 21, 1953. They admitted that they were tepid and neglectful Christians,
yet they hung the image with some devotion on the wall behind their bed. Angelo
was a laborer who had taken his bride to live in the home of his brother on Via
Degli Orti 11. When his wife discovered that she was pregnant, her condition was
accompanied by toxemia that expressed itself in convulsions that at times brought
on temporary blindness. At three in the morning on Saturday, August 29, 1953,
Antonina suffered a seizure that left her blind. At about 8:30, her sight was
restored. In Antoninas own words:
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
the many visitors who examined the plaque at close range was Mario Messina, who
was highly regarded in the neighborhood. After observing the slow formation of
the tears he removed the plaque from the wall, examined it thoroughly and satisfied
himself that the tears were not the result of an internal reservoir. After the
plaque was dried, two tears immediately reappeared.
of the phenomenon spread quickly throughout the city, bringing crowds that forced
their way indoors and gathered in the streets around the house. The inspector
of security, with the couples permission, hung the plaque on the outside
of the house to satisfy the curiosity of the people, but later, on seeing that
the crush showed no sign of diminishing, the picture was taken to the constabulary
in an effort to reduce the confusion. The image wept while outside the building
and during its transport, but after 40 minutes at the police constabulary, when
it did not weep, it was returned to the Iannuso home.
Sunday, August 30, at 2:00 in the morning, the weeping image was placed on a cushion
and displayed to satisfy the curious who had remained in the street throughout
the night. The image was nailed
above the main door on Monday, and its tears were collected by the people on pieces
of cloth and wads of cotton. During this time the curious were satisfied, the
skeptics were convinced, and many of the sick were healed. Also during this day,
to protect the plaque from falling, it was brought to an improvised altar outside
the home of the Lucca family who lived directly across the street. Several hours
later, after the recitation of the Rosary, it was returned.
priests visited the home during this time. One of them notified the Chancery,
which assembled a group of distinguished clergymen, four men of science and three
reputable witnesses, to comprise an investigative commission. On
the specific instructions of the chancellor, the commission gathered at the Iannuso
home the morning of Tuesday, September 1 for the purpose of studying the phenomenon
and collecting a sample of the tears for chemical analysis. The plaque was examined
while it wept and while the liquid collected in the cavity formed by the hand
over the heart. The commission examined the smooth finish and found no pores or
irregularities on the surface. The backing was removed and the unfinished calcined
gypsum was scrutinized and found in a dry condition, even though tears collected
on the reverse.
Six coats of
nitrocellulose colors were counted on the image; these were covered with a coat
of nitrocellulose varnish. Using a sterilized pipette, a sample of tears was collected
and placed in a sterilized vial that was taken to the provincial laboratory to
be examined by doctors and chemists. One centimeter of liquid was obtained, about
19 to 20 drops. Following this
thorough examination, the image continued weeping for another 51 minutes, but
at 11:40 in the morning the tears stopped, never to be repeated.
sample of tears was compared scientifically with those of an adult and to those
of a child. Following a detailed analysis, the conclusion reached by the doctors
was that: the liquid examined
is shown to be made up of a watery solution of sodium chloride in which traces
of protein and nuclei of a silver composition of excretiary substances of the
quanternary type, the same as found in the human secretions used as a comparison
during the analysis.
the alkalinity and the composition induce one to consider the liquid examined
analogous to human tears. The
report was dated September 9, 1953, and was signed by Drs. Michele Cassola, Francesco
Cotzie, Leopoldo La Rosa and Mario Marietta. Concerning
this commission and the various investigations conducted, we must consider that
the church is never in a hurry to pronounce her judgments on such occurrences
and that she acts with maximum caution and prudent reserve and is ready to affirm
miracles only after positive and unquestionable proofs have been extended. Nevertheless,
sufficient proofs were apparently given, since a favorable judgment was rendered
in a relatively short time.
Archbishop of Syracuse visited the Iannuso home to examine the plaque and returned
another day to recite the Rosary together with the crowd. Various monsignori visited
the plaque, some of whom witnessed the weeping. Many cardinals expressed interest,
while the Archbishop of Palermo, Ernesto Cardinal Ruffini, in a radio broadcast
of December, 1953 stated: After
careful sifting of the numerous reports, after having noted the positive results
of the diligent chemical analysis under which the tears gathered were examined,
we have unanimously announced the judgment that the reality of the facts cannot
be put in doubt.
XII, in a radio broadcast on October 17, 1954 said:
We acknowledge the unanimous declaration of the Episcopal Conference held in Sicily
on the reality of that event. Will men understand the mysterious language of those
tears? The medical commission
that was nominated on October 7, 1953 to examine seriously and scientifically
the nature of extraordinary cures worked through the intercession of the Weeping
Madonna of Syracuse, considered 290 cases of which 105 were of "special interest."
These miracles were reported within a few years of the incident.
first person to experience a miracle of healing was also the first to observe
the weeping. From the time Antonina Iannuso first saw the tears, she recovered
completely from severe toxemia and gave birth to a healthy son on December 25,
1953. Archbishop Baranzini officiated at the infants Baptism. The same astonishment
experienced by the people of Syracuse at the time of the miracle was felt by those
around the world who read about the occurrence in local newspapers, or heard about
it on radio or television. It has been tabulated that reports even reached India,
China, Japan and Vietnam. In Italy alone more than 2,000 articles appeared in
225 papers and magazines, while hundreds of articles appeared in 93 foreign newspapers
in 21 different nations. Rarely is an event of religious interest given such worldwide
That the events were
the result of collective hallucination is rejected by authorities of the shrine
where the image is now kept, since one, then, two, then small groups and finally
hundreds of people, including skeptics, viewed the event and the intermittent
character of the weepings. The plaque was seen to shed tears in several locations
inside the home and at three places outside; moreover, there was the tangible
evidence of saturated cloths and cottons. Hallucinations are to be excluded because
of the psychological state of numerous unbelievers who examined the image and
even tasted the salty liquid. Moreover, photographs and motion picture footage
of the weeping cannot, of course, be hallucinated.
question of condensation is likewise rejected since it would have covered the
whole statue and would not have originated only from the corners of the eyes.
Condensation would have collected on nearby objects as well, which did not occur,
and if it had been present certainly would not have been salty. The
physicians and scientists who studied the event could offer no natural explanation
for the occurrence and deemed it extraordinary in several documents.
reliquary presented to Archbishop Baranzini on the occasion of the 50th anniversary
of his ordination is of special interest since it contains the tears collected
by the medical commission for their chemical analysis. The reliquary is comprised
of three layers. The bottom contains, in addition to cloths that had been saturated
with tears, one of the vials that contained the tears collected by the commission
and cotton wool that absorbed some of the tears on another occasion. The second
layer has four panels depicting the events. The third and highest layer has a
crystal urn which holds another of the vials used for the collection of the samples.
The tears within it are now crystallized.
little house on Via Degli Orti 11, where the Madonna first shed her tears, is
now an oratory where Mass is often celebrated. The image itself is enshrined above
the main altar of the Santuario Madonna Delle Lacrima, built specifically to accommodate
the crowds that continually gather in prayer before the holy image.
did the Madonna weep? Many theories have been offered which remind us of the tears
Mary shed at the foot of the Cross and of those shed by her during the vision
of La Salette. During one of the visions of St. Catherine Labouré on July
18, 1830, St. Catherine noticed that the Virgin looked sad and had tears in her
eyes. Perhaps we should pray the words engraved on the base of the reliquary,
"Weeping Madonna, take from the hardness of our hearts tears of penitence."
And we wonder with Pope Pius XII, "Will men understand the mysterious language
of those tears?
*Visit the official website of Our Lady of Tears Shrine.