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Titles of the Virgin Mary

( Originally Published 1895 )



Of the various titles given to the Virgin Mary, and thence to certain effigies and pictures of her, some appear to me very touching, as expressive of the wants, the aspirations, the infirmities and sorrows, which are common to poor suffering humanity, or of those divine attributes from which they hope to find aid and consolation. Thus we have

Santa Maria " del buon Consilio." Our Lady of good Counsel.

S. M. " del Soccorso." Our Lady of Succor. Our Lady of the Forsaken.

S. M. " del buon Core." Our Lady of good Heart. S. M. " della Grazia." Our Lady of Grace.

S. M. "di Misericordia." Our Lady of Mercy.

S. M. " Auxilium Afflictorum." Help of the Afflicted. S. M. " Refugium Peccatorum." Refuge of Sinners.

S. M. " del Pianto," " del Dolore." Our Lady of Lamentation, or Sorrow.

S. M. " Consolatrice," " della Consolazione," or " del Conforto." Our Lady of Consolation.

S. M. " della Speranza." Our Lady of Hope.

Under these and similar titles she is invoked by the afflicted, and often represented with her ample robe outspread and up-held by angels, with votaries and suppliants congregated beneath its folds. In Spain, Nuestra Senora de la Merced is the patroness of the Order of Mercy ; and in this character she often holds in her hand small tablets bearing the badge of the Order.'

S. M. " della Liberta," or "Liberatrice," Our Lady of Liberty ; and S. M. " della Catena," our Lady of Fetters. In this character she is invoked by prisoners and captives.

S. M. " del Parto." Our Lady of Good Delivery, invoked by women in travail.

S. M. " del Popolo." Our Lady of the People.

S. M. " della Vittoria." Our Lady of Victory.

S. M. " della Pace." Our Lady of Peace.

S. M. " della Sapienza," Our Lady of Wisdom ; and S. M. " della Perseveranza," Our Lady of Perseverance. (Some-times placed in colleges, with a book in her hand, as patroness of students.)

S. M. "della Salute." Our Lady of Health or Salvation. Under this title pictures and churches have been dedicated after the cessation of a plague, or any other public calamity.'

Other titles are derived from particular circumstances and accessories, as

S. M. " del Presepio." Our Lady of the Cradle ; generally a Nativity, or when she is adoring her Child.

S. M. " della Scodella " with the cup or porringer, where she is taking water from a fountain ; generally a Riposo.

S. M. " dell' Libro," where she holds the Book of Wisdom.

S. M. " della Cintola." Our Lady of the Girdle ; where she is either giving the Girdle to St. Thomas, or where the Child holds it in his hand.

S. M. " della Lettera." Our Lady of the Letter. This is the title given to Our Lady as protectress of the city of Messina. According to the Sicilian legend she honored the people of Messina by writing a letter to them, dated from Jerusalem, "in the year of her Son, 42." In the effigies of the "Ma-donna della Lettera," she holds this letter in her hand.

S. M. " della Rosa." Our Lady of the Rose. A title given to several pictures in which the rose, which is consecrated to her, is placed either in her hand or in that of the Child.

S. M. " della Stella." Our Lady of the Star. She wears the star as one of her attributes embroidered on her mantle.

S. M. "del Fiore." Our Lady of the Flower. She has this title especially as protectress of Florence.

S. M. " della Spina." She holds in her hand the crown of thorns, and under this title is the protectress of Pisa.

S. M. " del Rosario." Our Lady of the Rosary, with the mystic string of beads. I do not remember any instance of the Rosary placed in the hand of the Virgin or the Child till after the battle of Lepanto (1571), and the institution of the Festival of the Rosary, as an act of thanksgiving. After this time pictures of the Madonna " del Rosario " abound, and may generally be found in the Dominican churches. There is a famous example by Guido in the Bologna Gallery, and a very beautiful one by Murillo in the Dulwich Gallery.

S. M. " del Carmine." Our Lady of Mount Carmel. She is protectress of the Order of the Carmelites, and is often represented holding in her hand small tablets, on which is the effigy of herself with the Child.

S. M. " de Belem." Our Lady of Bethlehem. Under this title she is the patroness of the Jeronymites, principally in Spain and Portugal.

S. M. " della Neve." Our Lady of the Snow. In Spain, S. Maria la Blanca. To this legend of the snow the magnificent church of S. M. Maggiore at Rome is said to owe its origin. A certain Roman patrician, whose name was John (Giovanni Patricio), being childless, prayed of the Virgin to direct him how best to bestow his worldly wealth. She appeared to him in a dream on the night of the 5th of August, 352, and commanded him to build a church in her honor, on a spot where snow would be found the next morning. The same vision having appeared to his wife and the reigning pope, Liberius, they repaired in procession the next morning to the summit of Mount Esquiline, where, notwithstanding the heat of the weather, a large patch of ground was miraculously covered with snow, and on it Liberius traced out with his crozier the plan of the church. This story has been often represented in Art, and is easily recognized ; but it is curious that the two most beautiful pictures consecrated to the honor of the Madonna della Neve are Spanish, and not Roman, and were painted by Murillo about the time that Philip IV. of Spain sent rich offerings to the church of S. M. Maggiore, thus giving a kind of popularity to the legend. The picture represents the patrician John and his wife asleep, and the vision of the Virgin (one of the loveliest ever painted by Murillo) breaking upon them in splendor through the darkness of the night ; while in the dim distance is seen the Esquiline (or what is meant for it) covered with snow. In the second picture, John and his wife are kneeling before the pope, " a grand old ecclesiastic, like one of Titian's pontiffs." These pictures, after being carried off by the French from the little church of S. M. la Blanca at Seville, are now in the Royal Gallery at Madrid.

S. Maria " di Loretto." Our Lady of Loretto. The origin of this title is the famous legend of the Santa Casa, the house at Nazareth, which was the birthplace of the Virgin. and the scene of the Annunciation. During the incursions of the Saracens, the Santa Casa, being threatened with profanation, if not destruction, was taken up by the angels and conveyed over land and sea till it was set down on the coast of Dalmatia ; but not being safe there, the angels again took it up, and, bearing it over the Adriatic, set it down in a grove near Loretto. But certain wicked brigands having disturbed its sacred quietude by strife and murder, the house again changed its place, and was at length set down on the spot where it now stands. The date of this miracle is placed in 1295.

The Madonna di Loretto is usually represented as seated with the Divine Child on the roof of a house, which is sustained at the corners by four angels, and thus borne over sea and land. From the celebrity of Loretto as a place of pilgrimage, this representation became popular, and is often found in chapels dedicated to our Lady of Loretto. Another effigy of our Lady of Loretto is merely a copy of a very old Greek " Virgin and Child," which is enshrined in the Santa Casa.

S. M. " del Pillar," Our Lady of the Pillar, is protectress of Saragossa. According to the legend, she descended from heaven standing on an alabaster pillar, and thus appeared to St. James (Santiago) when he was preaching the gospel in, Spain. The miraculous pillar is preserved in the cathedral of Saragossa, and the legend appears frequently in Spanish Art. Also in a very inferior picture by Niccolo Poussin, now in the Louvre.

Some celebrated pictures are individually distinguished by titles derived from some particular object in the composition, as Raphael's Madonna del Impannata, so called from the window in the background being partly shaded with a piece of linen. (In the Pitti Palace, Florence.) Correggio's Vierge au Panier, so called from the workbasket which stands beside her (in our National Gallery) ; Murillo's Virgen de la Servilleta, the Virgin of the Napkin [Seville], in allusion to the dinner-napkin on which it was painted.' Others are denominated from certain localities, as [Raphael's] Madonna di Foligno (now in the Vatican) ; others from the names of families to whom they have belonged, as [Raphael's] Madonna della Famiglia Staffa, at Perugia.

Those visions and miracles with which the Virgin Mary favored many of the saints, as St. Luke (who was her secretary and painter), St. Catherine, St. Francis, St. Herman, and others, have already been related in the former volumes, and need not be repeated here.

With regard to the churches dedicated to the Virgin, I shall not attempt to enumerate even the most remarkable, as almost every town in Christian Europe contains one or more bearing her name. The most ancient of which tradition speaks was a chapel beyond the Tiber, at Rome, which is said to have been founded in 217, on the site where S. Maria-in-Trastevere now stands. But there are one or two which carry their pretensions much higher ; for the cathedral at Toledo and the cathedral at Chartres both claim the honor of having been dedicated to the Virgin while she was yet alive. The Borghese chapel in the church of S. Maria Maggiore at Rome was dedicated to the honor of the Virgin Mary by Paul V. in 1611 the same pope who in 1615 promulgated the famous bull relative to the Immaculate Conception. The scheme of decoration in this gorgeous chapel is very remarkable, as testifying to the development which the theological idea of the Virgin, as the Sposa or personified Church, had attained at this period, and because it is not, as in other examples, either historical or devotional, but purely doctrinal.

As we enter, the profusion of ornament, the splendor of color, marbles, gilding, from the pavement under our feet to the summit of the lofty dome, are really dazzling. First, and elevated above all, we have the " Madonna della Concezione," Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, in a glory of light, sustained and surrounded by angels, having the crescent under her feet, according to the approved treatment. Beneath, round the dome, we read in conspicuous letters, the text from the the Revelation : " Signum Magnum Apparavit in Coelo Mulier Amicta Sole et Luna . Sub Pedibus . Ejus . et In Capite Ejus Corona . Stellarum Duodecim " (Rev. xii. 1). Lower down is a second inscription, expressing the dedication. " Marie Christi Matri Semper Virgini Paulus Quintus P. M." The decorations beneath the cornice consist of eighteen large frescoes, and six statues in marble, above life size. Beginning with the frescoes we have the subjects arranged in the following order :

1. The four great prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel, in their usual place in the four pendatives of the dome.

2. Two large frescoes. In the first, the Vision of St. Gregory Thaumaturgus and heretics bitten by serpents. In the second St. John Damascene and St. Ildefonso miraculously re-warded for defending the Majesty of the Virgin.

3. A large fresco, representing the four Doctors of the Church, who had especially written in honor of the Virgin : viz., Irenreus and Cyprian, Ignatius and Theophilus, grouped two and two.

4. St. Luke, who painted the Virgin, and whose Gospel contains the best account of her.

5. As spiritual conquerors in the name of the Virgin, St. Dominick and St. Francis, each attended by two companions of his Order.

6. As military conquerors in the name of the Virgin, the Emperor Heraclius, and Narses, the general against the Arians.

7. A group of three female figures, representing the three famous saintly princesses who in marriage preserved their virginity, Pulcheria, Edeltruda (our famous queen Ethelreda), and Cunegunda. (See Legends of the Monastic Orders, pp. 93, 200.)

8. A group of three learned Bishops who had especially de-fended the immaculate purity of the Virgin, St. Cyril, St. Anselm, and St. Denis (?).

9. The miserable ends of those who were opposed to the honor of the Virgin. 1. The death of Julian the Apostate, very oddly represented ; he lies on an altar, transfixed by an arrow, as a victim; St. Mercurius in the air. 2. The death of Leo IV. who destroyed the effigies of the Virgin. 3. The death of Constantine IV., also a famous iconoclast.

The statues which are placed in niches are :

1, 2. St. Joseph as the nominal husband, and St. John as the nominal son of the Virgin ; the latter, also, as prophet and poet, with reference to the passage in the Revelation, chapter xii.

3, 4. Aaron, as priestly ancestor (because his wand blossomed), and David, as kingly ancestor of the Virgin.

5, 6. St. Dionysius, the Areopagite who was present at the death of the Virgin (see Sacred and Legendary Art, p. 698), and St. Bernard who composed the famous Salve Regina, in her honor.

Such is this grand systematic scheme of decoration, which, to those who regard it cursorily, is merely a sumptuous con-fusion of colors and forms, or at best " a fine example of the Guido school and Bernino." It is altogether a very complete and magnificent specimen of the prevalent style of Art, and a very comprehensive and suggestive expression of the prevalent tendency of thought in the Roman Catholic Church from the beginning of the seventeenth century. In no description of this chapel have I ever seen the names and subjects accurately given : the style of Art belongs to the decadence, and the taste being worse than questionable, the pervading doctrinal idea has been neglected or never understood.

Brief and inadequate as are these introductory notices, they will, I hope, facilitate the comprehension of the critical de-tails into which it has been necessary to enter in the following pages, and lend some new interest to the subjects described. I have heard the artistic treatment of the Madonna styled a monotonous theme ; and to those who see only the perpetual iteration of the same groups on the walls of churches and galleries, varied as they may suppose only by the fancy of the painter, it may seem so. But beyond the visible forms, there lies much that is suggestive to a thinking mind to the lover of Art a higher significance, a deeper beauty, a more various interest, than could at first be imagined.

In fact, the greatest mistakes in point of taste arise in general from not knowing what we ought to demand of the artist, not only in regard to the subject expressed, but with reference to the times in which he lived, and his own individuality. An axiom which I have heard confidently set forth, that a picture is worth nothing unless " he who runs may read," has inundated the world with frivolous and pedantic criticism. A picture or any other work of Art is worth nothing except in so far as it has emanated from mind, and is addressed to mind. It should, indeed, be read like a book. Pictures, .as it has been well said, are the books of the unlettered, but then we must at least understand the language in which they are writ-ten. And further if, in the old times, it was a species of idolatry to regard these beautiful representations as endued with a specific sanctity and power ; so, in these days, it is a sort of atheism to look upon them reckless of their significance, regardless of the influences through which they were produced, without acknowledgment of the mind which called them into being, without reference to the intention of the artist in his own creation.



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