More commonly known as ‘The Virgin Mary’, ‘Holy Mother of God’, or ‘Jesus’ old lady’, Saint Mary is very interesting. As the mother of Jesus she is considered by many as the greatest, most holy of saints.
I mention in other articles in ths series how early Christianity owes an awful lot to women. Jesus himself had female followers, whose role as disciples seems to have been downplayed by a male dominated church. The most famous is probably Mary Magdalene. His mother Mary is another significant woman in the Christian tradition.
Women were also important for their role as leaders, prophets and preachers in the early Christian movement – when it was still basically a Jewish sub-sect. This is apparent even in scripture, especially the Pauline Epistles – the Letters of Paul that make up a huge amount of the New Testament. In them Paul mentions meeting in women’s houses, where they were leading a home-church, and of their activity as preachers, teachers and a very public face of Christianity in the Roman Empire.
Even once Christianity took on a more patriarchal and sexist attitude, they could not deny the importance of women, though they tried. His female followers were effectively scrubbed. Sometimes they can be seen standing in the background of artistic pieces. But some aspects of femininity and its importance could not be denied, even by a church determined to be a right bloody sausage-fest, and the Holy Mother is a perfect example of that.
She’s also got some stunning imagery and the motif of “The Virgin and the Child”, a glowing Mary, usually dressed in stunning blue robes, holding a beautiful infant Christ, has been reproduced by so many artists, with such beauty.
But I’m not really interested in her for that. It’s when we get to the comparative that my ears twitch and a smile comes over my face. You see Mary is also sometimes referred to as the “Queen of Heaven” and this epithet, this title, puts her in esteemed company for what is, seemingly, a universal symbol. A feminine ruler of the heavens.
Even in religions of the most sexist of cultures female Gods are present, and can often be very important. Hera, or Juno, in the Greco-Roman pantheon, Inanna or Ishtar in the Sumerian-Babylonian pantheon, Isis of the Egyptian pantheon and the ancient Semitic goddess Anat all bore this title of ‘Queen of Heaven’, or ‘Queen of the Heavens’.
It is widely considered that the Greco-Roman pantheon owes a lot to the Gods and Goddesses of the East. In that tradition there were many feminine rulers of heaven, such as those mentioned above. The symbolism of Mary being referred to this way is huge, then!
I can only speculate as for reasons why. Obviously as the mother of Jesus Mary is a significant figure in Christianity but her being placed in a position of reverence may also have helped early Christians adapt to their new religion, especially if they were following ancient pantheistic (multiple gods) religions. Perhaps it was deliberate, a specific intent to put the mother of Jesus on equal or greater footing than other prior female deities. Or could it be that the symbol of the ‘mother’ – however she is portrayed – is something of importance to a human psyche that, as a reproductive animal, places a massive weight of importance on parenthood? After all one of the first demands God makes of humankind is “…Be fruitful and multiply…” (Genesis 1:28).
What I do know is all of this places Mary as a very important figure not merely in Christianity, but in the study of the culture and influence of worship and religion itself. That’s cool!
Want to know about more saints? Read our full list.
Like a dark-chocolate fountain at a weight loss party, Karl Anthony Mercer is an under-utilised river of bittersweetness. When not busy researching or writing about any and all non-fiction topics for 'We Lack Discipline' Karl can often be found walking, staring at wildlife or writing poetry.
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