The Sack of Rome took place in 1527, partly due to controversy over Pope Clement VII's political affiliations.
An international mob consisting of Italians, Germans and Spaniards stormed the city, ransacked the Vatican and even damaged part of Saint Peter's Basilica.
The residents were terrified, as this unruly group consisted of nearly 20,000 foot soldiers, more than 3,500 men on horseback and many others who just joined in, no doubt, because of the possibility of acquiring some spoils.
The invaders stayed in Rome for two months, destroying other holy and sacred places, including churches, rectories and monasteries.
The touch point for this conflict seemed to be the pope's alliance with France. Many of the invaders had once been loyal to Clement VII, but then turned on him. Some of the invaders were also followers of the new Lutheran movement that had started a few years earlier.
Loyalists to the Papacy were greatly outnumbered by the mutinous invaders. Thousands of residents were killed during this bloodbath.
Headed off at Frascati
Then the invaders headed for the hills surrouding Rome. The people of Frascati, about 12 miles away, could see them approaching their beautiful, fortified village. On one of the walls near the entrance was a painting of Mary, the Mother of God. It had been there as long as anyone could remember.
The men began to arm themselves. The women and children fled to the church to storm heaven and pray for protection.
Residents of Frascati could hear the soldiers shouting their battle cry, buoyed by their success in reducing much of Rome to rubble.
Then they heard a loud voice say, “Back soldiers – This land is mine.”
As retold by many witnesses, the voice came from the image of Mary painted on the wall that surrounded the town.
All of the soldiers were baptized Catholics, as the protestant reformation had begun just 10 years earlier. Apparently, they still had enough faith to take this warning seriously. They were terrified and they fled the town of Frascati, never to return.
Frascati becomes a destination
News of this amazing event spread all over the region and people came to Frascati to pray before this image. Soon, more favors and healings were granted and a new devotion arose that came to be known as Our Lady of Capocroce.
The land that is now Italy is home to a number of paintings and statues of Mary that are associated with extraordinary events. In fact, there are probably more of these wonders there than anywhere else in the world.
Some of these Italian images, such as Our Lady of Grace, Our Lady of Good Counsel and Our Mother of Perpetual Help are very famous.
Our Lady of Capocroce is pretty much unknown outside of Italy. It is an image of Madonna and Child painted as a fresco. The babe is held in her right arm, and he looks toward the viewer. He has distinctly Italian features.
This depiction of Mary portrays her with her face downcast. She looks sad and pensive. The painting is very old and cracked in a few places.
The town of Frascati and this image have been the scene of other miraculous events.
In 1611, as a priest was saying Mass, the newly consecrated host flew from his hands and disappeared. The priest then received a heavenly apparition from Our Blessed Mother, in which she asked him to build a much bigger church to house the miraculous painting, as it had been moved from the outskirts of town to a small chapel.
When he promised to do so, the host reappeared. He later oversaw the construction of a much more magnificent church.
The bigger church continued to draw many people. Then, in 1713, as a crowd had gathered there to pray, the painting seemed to come alive again. The lips moved and everyone was told to immediately leave. Then the roof came crashing down. However, because of this warning, disaster was averted.
Through the years, many people have seen the eyes of Mary open and close. At various points, the town of Frascati was spared earthquakes and plagues, even though nearby villages were decimated.
World War II, however, did bring a round of destruction to the town. The town was leveled by enemy bombs, but the church wasn't harmed.
The church was totally destroyed a year later, but the painting had been moved to keep it safe. A new church was later built on the same spot, and the painting rests above the altar.