In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Our Lady of Perpetual Help was among the most widely spread images in the Catholic world. At the center of its notoriety stands a complex of religious practices and narratives that arose after the image arrived at the Redemptorist Church of St. Alphonsus in Rome in 1866. The events demonstrate the crucial importance of material objects in the process of inventing traditions.
Two main legendary motifs can be distinguished in the narrative, one concerning objects with a will of their own and the other dealing with illegitimate ownership. The use of legendary motifs supplies a network of interrelated meanings around the object, while at the same time these meanings appear to emerge from the image itself.
Traditionalization may be understood as the complex process of using old elements and references to the past to construct new meanings and authority. The narrative about Our Lady of Perpetual Help was constructed with the help of well-known legendary motifs, activating a logic in which the message of the narrative and the material object seem to confirm each other. A meaning for the present was created by selectively presenting chosen historical and quasi-historical elements from the past.