Origin of the Painting
This painting of the Blessed Virgin Mary with the Child has attracted worshipers to Šiluva since the beginning of the 17th century. It is not actually clear where from and how this painting reached in Šiluva. It has been argued that the famous painting was probably donated by its founder to the Šiluva church. Some of the popular stories of Šiluva tell us that this painting was found in the coffer buried in the forest. This version of the origin of the painting was widely spread up until the beginning the 20th century.
However, the tradition of attributing extraordinary, almost miraculous emergence to the famous paintings rather reflects the desire to emphasize the peculiarity of this painting than its true origin.
First of all, such origin of the painting has not been confirmed by any documents. Finally, this story of origin was disclaimed by the latest restoration of 2001-2003, before which thorough artistic, physical, chemical and biological investigation had been performed.
Based on these investigations, it was concluded that the painting of Mother of God and the Child was probably created by a local artist in the in the 1920s of the 17th century, for a newly built church after regaining lands from Calvinists in 1623-1624. Jonas Smolka-Kazakevičius, the new rector of Šiluva, might have been the purchaser,, it could have been brought by the Jesuits who owned a college in Kražiai.
The image of Our Lady of Šiluva is a copy of Salus Populi Romani. The prime image of this painting is the icon of Santa Maria ad Nives (Salus populi romani) in Rome, in the Pauline Chapel of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. The authorship of this icon is attributed to St. Luke. Thus, the image of Our Lady of Šiluva is a replica of one of the most famous and common icons of Mary.
It is believed that the painting of Madonna of Byzantine tradition Hodegetria type was intended to emphasize the message conveyed through the Apparition of Mary in Šiluva. Mary, who appeared in Šiluva, spoke not of herself, but of her Son. She was pointing to Him. This is precisely what the iconographic type hodegetria of the painting of Our Lady of Šiluva represents, the One Who Shows the Way towards Jesus.
Comparison of the image of Šiluva with the famous icon also makes it possible to determine more precisely the date of creation of Šiluva’s painting. Pope Pius V allowed copies of the Salus popoli romani icon only in 1569. Therefore, Our Lady of Šiluva in any way could not be painted earlier than that, thus the assumption about the existence of the painting in Šiluva before the Reformation must be rejected. This is also confirmed by the technique of oil painting on canvas, not yet used in the 16th century when the first church in Šiluva was being built.
Veneration of the Painting: Votive Offerings
From the 17th century the painting started to be regarded as famous for its special favours. As a sign of gratitude, people began bringing votive offerings. In the first five decades, the amount of votive offerings had become enormous, thus Joakim Skirmantas, the rector of Šiluva, commissioned the famous Königsberg goldsmith Laurynas Hofmanas to forge the garments for the figures of Mary and the Child. The order was executed in around 1674.
Until 2003, the painting had been covered with another garment put over the surface, while the painting itself was locked with an iron lock from the back for security reasons. The possibility to see the miraculous painting only on Sundays or on certain occasions reinforced the impression of non-routine festivity and sacredness.
The veneration of the painting of Our Lady of Šiluva and the Child is evidenced not only by the plentiful votive offerings or its special garments, but also by the many and varied practices of piety: prayers, hymns, walking around the altar where the famous painting hangs.
Coronation of the Painting
One of the most important events in the history of Šiluva is the coronation of the painting of Virgin Mary. It marks the official recognition by the Church of all the favours received as a result of patronage of Our Lady of Šiluva.
The permission to crown the painting was obtained from Rome in 1775, and the painting was solemnly crowned on September 8, 1786. During the days of the festivity (September 10, 1786) the fifth, present-day stone church of Šiluva was consecrated.
The coronation ceremony lasted three days. The painting was crowned in the square in front of the church. The wreaths were laid by Samogitian Bishop Duke Steponas Jonas Giedraitis. The celebrations were visited by an unprecedented number of people at that time, about 30 thousand.
Restoration of the painting
As centuries went on, the painting of Mother of God with the Child was restored multiple times. The last restoration was performed between 2001 and 2003 by restorers from Lithuanian Art Museum Pranas Gudynas Centre for Restoration.
During this restoration thorough research of the painting was carried out. The restorers strived to get rid not only of the marks of time and contaminants, but also to reverse earlier restorations as they were not performed well. Technological research and analysis of earlier paint layers showed that the painting had been restored at least five times before, the last time in 1957.