Thursday, May 1, 2003

In my search for weird relics, I ran across this article by our frequent, brilliant and most helpful commentor Sandra Miesel on images of the pregnant and lactating Virgin in medieval art:

In past centuries, when Catholics appreciated the shocking fleshiness of our faith, artists delighted in depicting Maria Gravida (Mary pregnant) and Maria Lactans (Mary nursing). The absence of these motifs today is regrettable because it impoverishes our sense of religious "body language."

Though modern sensibilities may wince, the more explicit the image, the better it satisfied the cravings of medieval Christians! to see, feel, and taste the holy. Their spirituality depended heavily on visual cues. "Realism, the more penetrating the better, was consecrated as a form of worship," observes art historian Leo Sternberg. Medieval people were fascinated by the bodiliness of Christ, Mary as the bearer of Christ, and themselves as imitators of Christ. For them, the Incarnation was the "humanation" of God, Sternberg says.

.....What if Catholics of the third millennium were to rediscover Mary's radiant womb and abundant breasts? Imagine the impact on pro-life causes and reproductive concerns or the encouragement offered to breastfeeding women. If young children saw images of Mary obviously pregnant or nursing the infant Jesus, would they see her in their own mothers, and vice versa? Could enriched Marian symbolism avert interest in goddess worship and Wicca among our young !people? Would it foster a healthy respect for the body, counteracting both sensualism and prudery?

Old devotions cannot be simply reintroduced-the cultural contexts that gave them meaning no longer exist. But striking images from the past could be promoted and new ones created. Patristic and medieval thinking about the significance of Mary's body could be recovered, rethought, and reapplied. There can never be too much reverence for Mary's call to mother God.