In the Roman Catholic tradition, Eve is viewed as being responsible for the sufferings of humans since their fall and expulsion from paradise while the Virgin Mary is viewed as the source of all healing. She is the new Eve, who cannot eliminate the damage created by Eve, but limit it. Her fullness of grace, her position among the disciples of Christ and her title as Mother of God are seen as assurances that the Virgin Mary is a powerful intercessor.
Refugium Peccatorum is one part of four Marian advocations in the Litany of Loreto, the others being Salus Infirmorum (healer of the sick) Consolatrix Afflictorum (consoler of the sad) and Auxilium Christianorum (help of the Christians). Each advocation extolling Mary’s role as advocate for spiritual and corporeal mercy has a rich history, but in general, the notion of asking the Blessed Virgin Mary for help in temporal needs dates back to Saints Justin Martyr, Irenaeus and Ambrose of Milan.
The Archconfraternity of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Refuge of Sinners was established at Notre-Dame-des-Victoires in the 19th century, and spread throughout the world.
The 18th century Jesuit preacher Antonio Baldinucci had a particular devotion to the Refugium Peccatorum image of Virgin Mary in the Church of the Gesu (Frascati) in Italy and commissioned a copy which he considered miraculous and carried it with him in his travels. The Jesuits spread copies of the image of the Madonna of Refuge or Our Lady of Refuge in Mexico by the 19th century, and it began to be depicted in missions there, often with clouds surrounding the lower portion of the image of the Virgin Mary holding the Child Jesus.
In some 19th-century images, biblical scenes are included below the image of the Madonna, e.g. Peter’s visions as well as the depiction of a safe harbor (Psalm 108:30).
The term “Refugium peccatorum” is also used other works of Roman Catholic Marian art. For instance, there is a marble statue representing Our Lady of Refuge, on the grand staircase of the old municipal palace in Venice, Italy. The name came from the fact that the convicts were allowed to stop in front of the Virgin Mary’s statue to pray for their soul on the way to the scaffold.
The traditional feast day of Our Lady of Refuge is August 16. In Mexico, the feast day is observed on July 4. She is the patroness of California, where the (arch)dioceses there celebrate the feast on July 5.
Our Lady of Laus, which the Vatican approved in 2008, is named Refuge of Sinners because she asked for the conversion of sinners.
The worst evil that can befall us is unquestionably SIN, which makes us an object of abhorrence in the sight of God.
God’s infinite mercy has not only prepared for us a potent remedy against sin in the merits of Jesus Christ, our Savior, but it has also given us poor sinners a secure refuge in the assistance of Mary, Our Lady refuge of sinners. In the Old Law there were cities of refuge to which the guilty could flee for safety; in the New Law, Mary’s mantle is for us that citadel of refuge for sinful souls. How can the Divine Wrath strike us, if we are covered by the mantle of Mary, the chosen daughter and the honored Mother of God?
Our Lady refuge of sinners is thus not merely a pledge of our safety, but by her unrivaled sanctity, she is as earnest of pardon for all sinners who have recourse to her intercession. She not only disarms the just anger of God roused by our sins, but also obtains for her true clients sincere and heartfelt conversion. All we need do is turn toward her with Faith, to obtain Divine Clemency and the means to rise from the mire of sin.