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Catholic Dictionary




A church and shrine of the Blessed Virgin on the Capitoline Hill in Rome, one of the most ancient sites in the city's three thousand years of history. Atop one of the Capitoline stairways of one hundred twenty-four marble steps, a votive offering for Rome's deliverance from the black plague, is the church of Ara Coeli. It was built in the seventh century. One of its side chapels, dedicated to St. Helena (255-330), is where Emperor Augustus is said to have had a vision of a beautiful lady standing on the altar of heaven, hence the church's name. The church's most cherished possession is an olive wood statue of the Christ Child brought from the Holy Land during the sixteenth century. The base of the ornately decorated statue is covered with votive offerings of gratitude from all parts of the world, thanking the Bambino for his favors. In extreme cases of illness the cherished image is taken by private car, attended by two Franciscans, to the sick patient hoping for a miraculous recovery.