Christian Art in the Service of the Blessed Virgin, by Father B Rohner, OSB

detail of a painting of Saint Luke painting the Madonna by Maerten de Voc, 1602; Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp, Belgium; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsIt is the aim and duty of art to represent some sublime thought or idea in a correspondingly beautiful external form perceptible to the senses. The supernatural and even the divine, the natural and the human, should all be found harmoniously blending in every object of art. Now. where does the human imagination discover an object in which heavenly and earthly beauty are so charmingly united and blended as in our blessed Virgin Mother? Certainly Mary is a most fitting subject for artistic representation, and certainly Christian art cannot be accused of not having done its part faithfully to glorify her.

Do not expect, Christian reader, that a full and complete history of Christian art in the service of Mary will be here presented. For such a purpose a whole library of large volumes would not suffice. It will be all-sufficient for our present purpose if we establish the fact that a grand array of the finest artistic monuments owe their existence to man’s devotion for the Blessed Virgin, that Christian art, from earliest antiquity down to our day. has contributed much to this devotion with enthusiastic fondness; and that in the hearts of the most renowned artists there burned an ardent love to the Virgin Mother of God.

Christian Architecture

The chief idea associated with every Catholic temple is that it is the dwelling-place of the most high God: hence the name, House of God. The truest and most striking type of a Christian church was the home of Mary in Nazareth, where dwelt the Saviour in hidden humility and in voluntary obedience to Mary and Joseph. The same also represents the position which the benign Mother of God holds in every Catholic house. She is the fond and anxious mother, the dispenser of favors, the heart of the family, the very queen in the domestic circle.

A grand cathedral, artistically built, whose tall and graceful spires seem to pierce the heavens and to disappear in the clear blue of the sky, presents to our eyes a picture of the heavenly Jerusalem. And as in the land of the blessed, all the elect throng about Mary, who is their Mother and Queen, so do her children on earth, harassed by their struggles and sufferings, take refuge beneath the sheltering mantle of their good Mother, in order to gain through her assistance the crown of victory. Hence holy faith and generous, disinterested love have, from the very beginning, erected glorious temples which they dedicated to God under her invocation and to her honor.

Even in the first centuries of Christianity a number of beautiful churches were erected out of love to the Blessed Virgin and in her honor. And all the churches of holy pilgrimages, which will be still further described to you, what are they but architectural monuments raising aloft their stately towers and altars in honor of Mary? If you travel through those countries in which our holy faith still flourishes, as, for example, in France or Spain, you will encounter at almost every step churches of the Blessed Virgin, fair, costly, highly ornate, spacious, and perfect in artistic design. Then travel through those lands where heresy, aided by tyrannical rulers, has almost trodden down the seed of the ancient faith, which once shone forth in all its glory, brilliancy and vigor-as, for instance, in England, and in Protestant Germany: even there still exist in venerable beauty, graceful ruins of what were once majestic temples dedicated to the Virgin Mother. Their crumbling walls and broken arches are silent but positive witnesses of the devotion to Mary which existed in the hearts of the Catholic ancestors of the present Protestant generations. These moss-covered stones, now so silent, once resounded to solemn chant sung in Mary’s honor. These crumbling niches once contained her venerated statue. Where can you find a Catholic temple that does not contain at least one altar dedicated to our blessed Lady? In Catholic countries, how many chapels you see even by the roadside, in the silent woods, on the hill-top, in the valley, all proclaiming and testifying to the traveller the devotion of the inhabitants to Mary, while they themselves give praise and honor to the blessed Mother of God.

As already hinted, all the Religious Orders were very much devoted to Mary. Hence they dedicated to her, not only themselves, but their churches and monasteries. And what glorious piles many of the religious houses were and are! Yet their handsomest ornament is the word Mary, which so many of them bear over their stately portals. Although many of them have been desecrated and turned to venal purposes, although their consecrated walls have ceased to re-echo the praises once sung in Mary’s honor, yet their very stones proclaim the devotion to Mary that burned of yore in the hearts of the pious inmates. The ruins themselves are monuments of the admirable piety that flourished in the ages of faith.

Rightfully and truthfully, therefore, may we affirm that many of the most sumptuous and graceful specimens of ancient architecture were but the expression of Catholic devotion to the Mother of the Incarnate Word.

Sculpture

The art of the sculptor is still better adapted than even architecture to present to our view ideal beauty. It is better calculated and has more power to lend outward form and defined expression to the internal conception and inspired thought of the true artist. But while pagan sculpture in its artistic productions, presents to our senses mostly sensuous beauty and that, too, nearly always in a material and dangerous form, Christian sculpture brings before us, in the most attractive and expressive form, beauty born of heaven and sacred to heaven. Therefore, for this department in art, is the Blessed Virgin an unequaled, peerless and lovely subject. A single statue of Mary must necessarily represent and express at once dignity and humility, modesty and royal stateliness, maidenhood and motherhood. From very early times the most beautiful statues of the Mother of God were formed out of the simple wood, out of rare marble and even out of the precious metals, and the still more graceful ivory. Every incident or mystery of her varied life, but more especially as a Mother with the divine Infant in her arms, or as the Queen of Sorrows with her dead Son reposing on her heart, has been represented in graceful and touching form by thousands of Christian sculptors. Where in all Christendom is the Catholic temple that does not contain one or several of such statues? In the city square, at the gurgling fountain, on the summit of the monument, on the house front, in the humblest home, and in the hollow of the lonely tree, in the rocky grotto, and on the steep side of the frowning precipice, during the ages of faith, a statue of the Blessed Virgin used to look down upon the passing Christian with a parent’s look of anxious affection and fond encouragement.

Of a still more special and sublime significance are those figures of the Blessed Virgin which have been so highly favored by Heaven that they became known as miraculous pictures or statues. Such figures have existed from time immemorial in several sanctuaries, where they have been the means of most extraordinary cures, both of soul and body in behalf of multitudes who came before them to pray in hope and faith. These miraculous images, before which so many prayers have been heard by Heaven, afford a striking and undeniable proof that the Mother of God is pleased to make use of such material means in order to grant the blessings sought for by believing Christians. By them, in a most special and effective manner, is the trusting soul of in believing Christian vividly and forcibly reminded of the heavenly original and filled with sentiments of contrition, faith and confiding hope. The pious reader will find described in the third part of this work many of the most renowned and favored of these images which exist in many places that have long been frequented by devout pilgrims in search of Mary’s powerful aid.

We contront an unexplored mystery of God’s mercy and of Mary’s power when we attempt to discuss or to explain miraculous images. We may well ask ourselves, how is it that one image is favored by miracles more than another?

May it not be, perhaps, that together with the divine pleasure and decree of Heaven, the artist himself who has produced the image has contributed to make the work of his feeble hands miraculous by his strong sentiments of piety, his loving inspiration, his enthusiastic devotion, his skill in contriving a piece of art so as to arouse confidence and to awaken faith in the well-disposed spectator?

Pious legend furnishes us with the most touching traits from the lives of those devoted artists, who more for love than gain have produced such favored images. These men always endeavored first by holy meditation to form in their own souls a just conception of the original, in order afterwards to express outwardly, though in imperfect form, and in human lines and features, the idea which filled their own souls. Touching and edifying is that legend which relates how a pious and venerable artist produced the world-renowned miraculous image of the Blessed Virgin that graces the noble chapel of the monastery of Marienburg.

The chivalric Order of Knights was especially favored by Mary in its origin and protected by her during its illustrious career. It possessed, among its other sanctuaries, a grand and imposing castle-monastery, with a beautiful church, on the banks of the Rogat, not far from Danzig, in Prussia. This stronghold was the seat of the Grand Master, or Commander-in-Chief, of the whole Order. Both castle and church being dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, the place was known throughout Christendom as the seat of the Knights at Marienburg.

This name, but especially the devotion of the brave knights to our blessed Lady, naturally required that the chief and most prominent ornament of their temple should be a fine statue of Mary.

To an artist of noble birth, and gray with years and honors, was entrusted the duty of producing such a statue. Those who knew him found it difficult to decide whether he excelled in piety or artistic skill. The Grand Master of the Order required at this artist’s hands a large and handsome statue of the Madonna, which was to be worth its own weight in gold. The artist, on his side, asked no other condition than that he should be allowed as much time as he deemed necessary in order to render the work as perfect as possible, as near as possible to the conception which he held in his own mind. Even several years might be necessary.

He did not proceed at once to execute his work. For many a long day he prayed earnestly to the Blessed Virgin that she would enable him to produce a figure worthy of her dignity and sanctity. After much prayer and meditation he found, as it were, engraven on his soul an exquisite image of his patroness, which be determined to embody in marble.

Accordingly he sought far and wide for a piece of the purest and most unblemished stone that could be procured, and then, with further prayer, he set to work with hammer and chisel. At almost every stroke of his hammer he would sing and pray, saying in simple but earnest language:

Dearest Virgin! Mother mild!
Guide the chisel of thy child.

Gradually and quietly the image of Mary began to reveal itself in the lifeless block of marble. Her beauteous features came forth one by one; her soft and flowing hair appeared; her gracefully flowing garments in many a fold; and on her arm rested the divine Infant. Still the sculptor pursued his work, ever praying:

Dearest Virgin! Mother mild!
Guide the chisel of thy child.

At length, when a year or more had passed by, the abbot of the Order came to inspect the progress or the completion of the work. He was delighted and astonished at the expression of dignity and loveliness that beamed from every feature. He marvelled at the soft and graceful folds of the drapery and at the life-likeness of the Virgin’s hair. In his eagerness he inquired of the artist when the statue would be ready to set up in the church. “Not for many long days yet,” he replied with enthusiasm. “Oh, if I could but make it the same as the image within my heart!” So he went on working for months, and even years. each day rendering his work more and more perfect. Nor did he cease at the same time to pray:

Dearest Virgin! Mother mild!
Guide the chisel of thy child.

But at last, one day, in an ecstasy of delight, he cried out: “It is finished!” He then threw himself on his knees and greeted the original of his work with a fervent “Hail Mary.”

He felt that the time had come when he was to be separated from the beloved image of his blessed Lady. It seemed as if his very heart was to be torn from his body. But his prayers to Mary became still more frequent and fervent as he knelt before the beautiful figure, which he had wrought in a two-fold sense both from the cold stone and from his own burning heart. There it stood in all its fair proportions, on the little altar of his studio, while he prayed:

Dearest Virgin! Mother mild!

It seemed to look down upon him with a smile of approbation and gratitude. At this kindly expression of assent the aged sculptor but prayed the more fervently, while his heart beat high with gladness. Then he sank slowly to the ground, his tired arms fell lifeless at his side, and his aching head rested on the altar step where stood his newly finished statue. When his friends came in the morning they found him dead. To the pious artist, first of all, had this work of his own hand become a miraculous image of Mary. For, while he worked, his gentle soul had been prepared to meet its God and to see in heaven the original, the sublime original, of his beloved statue that was henceforth to be the medium of many blessings to future generations. Pilgrims came in eager throngs to see the statue that had been brought into such life-like form by the combined aid of art and prayer. All found, by their own experience, that the Blessed Virgin had indeed heard the artist’s prayer.

Painting

In its representations painting enjoys a wider range than sculpture. By the power of color, and of light and shade, the painter’s pencil succeeds in rendering its subject softer, gentler and more expressive than the stony marble, even under the chisel of the most artistic sculptor. The gentler the subject in the picture, the plainer does this attribute of painting become. Now, the tenderest and most amiable of all subjects whether as regards external beauty of form or internal purity of soul, is the Virgin Mother, especially when contemplated in her sacred relations to her divine Son, Jesus Christ. Although high and noble art has done much to honor and glorify our blessed Lady, she herself and the special lofty enthusiasm that she has awakened in the soul of the artist have contributed far more to refine and elevate art and bring it to a sublime degree of perfection. This is true more especially of painting. Through all the degrees of its beauteous development, and in all the different schools, whether Italian, Spanish, French or German, we find that the pictures of the Blessed Virgin form the first and fairest masterpieces. When we contemplate the pictures of an Angelico Fiesole, of a Michael Angelo, of a Perugino, of a Murillo, of a Holbein, of a Van Dyke and many others, we can hardly withstand a conviction that these artists must have adopted superhuman forms for their models, or else that a superhuman agency must have guided their creative pencils. Indeed, pious legend assures us that such was the ease with Brother Bartholomew della Porta, a renowned painter belonging to the Dominican Order.

Blessed Bonsilius, the first among the seven founders of the Order of the Servants of Mary, began in 1254, the erection of a monastery and a church in honor of the Blessed Virgin. In the latter was to be placed a large and handsome painting of the Annunciation. For the execution of this work an humble monk was chosen. This was Brother Bartholomew, who, in the opinion of many of the best judges of art, was second in the art of painting only to Rafael himself. The humble but enthusiastic artist went to work, painted the complete figure of the angel, and also the figure of the Blessed Virgin, except the face. This last part of his subject he was afraid to touch, believing, in his humility, that he was unworthy and incompetent to give expression to the heavenly mildness and purity, the supernatural beauty and lovableness of the immaculate maiden of Nazareth. Time and time again he would seize his brush and as often would he lay it aside. At last he came to the conclusion that he could not finish his picture. Once again he resolved to gather his thoughts carefully together and to strive in fervent prayer and contemplation to call up before his mind a becoming model of the Virgin’s countenance. While he prayed he fell into a gentle slumber. When he awoke, his wondering eyes discovered on his painting a beautiful face, every feature of which seemed to beam with life and beauty. “A miracle! A miracle!” cried out the astonished Brother Bartholomew. Attracted by his cries, Father Bonsilius and several other monks hastened to the spot. Their joy and wonder knew no bounds as they gazed at the almost divine face of the painting. One and all said: “Surely this is not the work of any human hand. Only an angel could paint such features.” This same is the famous painting that is honored to this day in the beautiful Church of the Annunciation in Florence, and to visit which thousands of pious pilgrims come year after year.

Yet one more there was who understood still better than Brother Bartholomew how to paint the image of the Madonna. This was Rafael Sanzio, perhaps the most renowned of all painters.

Rafael was born on the 6th of April, 1483, at Urbino in Italy. When a boy of eight years he executed some original pictures, under the direction of his father, who was also a very good artist. When but twenty years of age he executed the beautiful painting of the Espousals of Mary and Joseph. The more famous of Rafael’s subsequent pictures of the Blessed Virgin are known as the Madonna of the Veil, Madonna di Foligno, Madonna della Sedia, and the Sistine Madonna. The most exquisite of all his productions is his painting called the Sistine Madonna, which is kept in the gallery at Dresden, where it excites the wonder and admiration of thousands of daily visitors. The Blessed Virgin is represented in a cloud of glory, holding her divine Infant in her arms. The saintly Pope Sixtus and Saint Barbara are seen kneeling in prayerful reverence before them.

Every painting of the Blessed Virgin and of the Holy Family executed by Rafael, carries plainly the impress of a soul inflamed with love for human nature. In his pictures of the Madonna and Child especially, the beauty of each is so noble and pure, the expression so free from every trace of earthly feeling and human passion’ and the grouping so harmonious, while such heavenly inspiration is breathed forth from the canvas, that the whole seems to be the conception of an angelic mind and the production of a creative hand, and impresses us forcibly as an unapproachable and immutable ideal. On this subject Rafael himself speaks as follows to the Count of Castiglione: “When painting our blessed Lady I keep constantly before my mind a certain fixed ideal that exists in the very depths of my soul.”

Rafael lived to be but thirty┬╗seven years old. He died on Good Friday, the 6th of April, 1520, which was also his birthday. In accordance with his own wish a statue of the Blessed Virgin, sculptured in marble, has been set up over the altar that covers his last resting-place. What more fitting memorial could adorn the tomb of the artist who, by his pious skill and holy industry, contributed so effectually to the honor of the Blessed Mother? Even in our own day the art of painting continues to promote honor and love for the handmaid of the Lord. Who has not seen and loved, for instance, the sweet and tender Madonnas executed by the artistic hand of a Deschwanden?

Music

How eminently fitting it is that music, the most fascinating of all the arts, should dedicate its purest and most delicate strains to the honor of Mary Immaculate. Her sublimely chaste character, firing the pure and noble heart of the truly Catholic artist, must necessarily have aroused his brain to the composition of the loftiest harmony and melody. Music stirs and sways the deepest feelings of our nature, gives expression to thoughts and sentiments which words could not express. Hence, in all ages and among all nations, music and song have been used as powerful assistants to devotion in all public worship. What subject of our holy religion is better calculated to awaken lofty aspirations in a God-loving soul deeply imbued with divine faith, or to overflow the heart with profound sentiments of joy, sympathy, hope, gratitude, and admiration and childish confidence than the infant figure of the Son of God reclining on the Maiden Mother’s sacred heart, or the graceful form of that same heroic Mother standing in patient sorrow beneath the cross of her dying Son? Hence it is that those strains of music are the grandest and the most inspiring which sing the glories of the God made man of His chosen Virgin Mother. Hardly ally artist in Christian music can be found who, while consecrating his talent in that divine art to the service of the Catholic Church, has not also contributed his share to the glorification of the Blessed Virgin.

In all ages, and in all languages, our blessed Lady has been celebrated in sacred song. Today the devout client loves to gather up and reproduce and put in lasting form those poetical and musical effusions of antiquity and the Middle Ages as so many precious, bright and sparkling gems. As it would not be possible to give, in this place, even a brief history of the music and hymns that have been dedicated to Mary, I select a few examples from the poets and composers of the German nation.

The glorious Canticle of the “Magnificat,” which Mary herself had sung under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, was chanted in her praise and memory by the faithful in thevery earliest ages of the Catholic Church. According as the different festivals were established in her honor, songs and hymns were gradually composed which were appropriate to the mystery or event commemorated. From time immemorial have there been such hymns, responsories, anthems. antiphons and even whole Masses devoted to the celebration of Mary’s prerogatives and virtues. At the time when Germany was converted to Christianity, a large number of canticles in praise of the Blessed Virgin were in use throughout the Church.

Saint Rotker, a Benedictine monk of Saint Gall’s, who died in 913, sang the glories of the ever blessed Mother of God in seven beautiful canticles which for centuries were sung devoutly in every German church and German home. These hymns were remarkable for the intense devotion that breathed in every word and note. What pious simplicity is expressed in his hymn on the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, “0 Mary, born of David’s royal race.” How sublime and solemn his hymn on the Assumption, “With the glorious Queen of heaven angelic choirs rejoice!”

In the same age, Tutilo and other fellow-monks of Rotker composed and sang devout hymns of invocation to Mary.

The venerable Herman the Cripple, who died in 1054, and concerning whose composition of the “Salve, Regina,” or “Hail, holy Queen,” we shall speak farther on. composed several other hymns on Mary Immaculate. Of these the beautiful “Alma Redemptoris,” like the “Salve, Regina,” is today used in the public service of the Church.

A poem in prose beginning with the words “All hail, bright Star of the Sea,” composed by a contemporary monk of South Germany, of whom we know only his religious name, Henry, enjoyed such a lasting popularity and favor among the clergy that a writer, in quite recent times, tells us that it possessed more musical merit than “six hundred cartloads of the productions of other composers.”

The German people have had hymns in honor of the Blessed Virgin, and have sung them, certainly, for the last eight hundred years. When Saint Bernard preached the Crusades in the German Countries, he and his companions were much pleased and edified with the simple hymns then in use among the people. When the gallant German knights went forth to the Crusades against the enemies of the Holy Land, or when private citizens set out on pilgrimages to Jerusalem or Rome, their journeys were always gladdened by the hearty songs and music of the meistersingers and the minnesingers who sang the praises of the Blessed Virgin. Once, when Count Henry of Rapperswyl, surnamed the Wanderer, was returning home from a pilgrimage in the Holy Land, his ship was overtaken by a dreadful storm in the Mediterranean Sea, and was threatened with speedy destruction. As he stood looking out upon the angry billows, he and his crew sang together with deep devotion, “Gentle Star of Ocean,” etc. At the same time he registered a vow to Heaven that if he should escape out of the storm, he would build a monastery in gratitude to the Blessed Virgin. He fulfilled his vow. In the year 1227 he purchased from the count of Ryburg the town and surrounding country of Wettingen, Switzerland, where he founded a Cistercian abbey under the invocation of “Mary, Star of the Sea.”

But music has created in honor of Mary not only popular hymns, but also lofty classical compositions that only a high musical culture can appreciate. Who can listen to the “Ave Maria” of Leonardo Leo, the “Salve, Regina,” and” Stabat Mater” of John Baptiste Jesi, surnamed Pergolese, to the “Salve, Regina” of Hasse, and to the countless renderings of the glorious compositions to which the “Magnificat” has been set, without feeling himself moved to the very depths of his inmost soul and aroused to the most exalted devotion?

Furthermore many of the best and most eminent artists in music and song, besides doing honor to Mary by their beautiful compositions, have also paid to her the tribute of loving hearts, namely, a sincere practical imitation of her virtues. One of the most renowned of sacred composers was Christopher Gluck, born at Weidenwung in Upper Palatine, July the 2d, 1714. Like many other musicians Gluck had learned the first principles of his profession in the sacred precincts of an abbey church. The pure, fresh voice of the youth, as it floated through the long aisles of the sacred edifice, his natural and easy rendering of the most difficult passages, charmed the souls of the worshipers into ecstatic devotion.

One day the youthful Christopher was leaving the church after having chanted a hymn with most wonderful effect, when he was met at the door by a venerable,gray-haired monk who said to him, “Alas! I have nothing better to offer to my youthful chorister in return for the exquisite pleasure he has afforded me by his singing, than this poor rosary. Take it, however, and keep it in remembrance of old Father Anselm. Promise me, also, to recite your prayers upon it every evening in honor of the Queen of the angelic choirs. The practice will bring you prosperity.” Christopher accepted the simple but precious token and promised, with sincere and pious emotion, to say his Rosary every day.

Christopher soon after went abroad into public life. His career, though prosperous in the main, was also attended with many perils and a few disappointments. Wherever he went, in Italy, Vienna, London, or at the splendid court of Queen Marie Antoinette in Versailles and Paris, he carried with him the precious gift of old Father Anselm and never failed to keep his promise of using it, On the 15th of November, 1787, a sudden stroke of apoplexy brought his brilliant professional life to a sad and unlooked~for end. When his friends came to his room they found the cold, stiff fingers of the dead musician clutching the now worn-out rosary, the never-forgotten gift of the old friar.

Mozart, who died on the 5th of December, 1791, and Haydn, who died on the 31st of May, 1809, both grand princes in the realms of music, revered and honored the Blessed Virgin, as well by their sublimely artistic compositions as by their humble and fervent prayers, especially the prayers of the holy Rosary. This last devotion Mozart practised every day. He would often retire quietly from the most brilliant and fashionable gatherings of admiring friends in order to say his Rosary in some peaceful and remote corner of the house. On the occasion of the grand success of the presentation of his operatic symphony in Paris, Mozart gave expression to his feelings of joy and gratitude by reciting his beads.

Finally, in more modern times, and even in our own clay, fair, fresh garlands of musical flowers have been woven by artistic hands and laid at the feet of the Queen of men and angels. Who has ever listened to the sweet hymns of Father Lambillotte without feeling his heart raised towards the heavenly courts where Mary reigns as Queen? How many thousands of her friends and servants love to hear, and perhaps to sing, the simple melodies of Aiblinger, and find therein hope and consolation!

Poetry

Poetry has perhaps profited more by the divine gift of Christianity than any other department of the liberal arts. The hymns composed by Christian poets are veritable masterpieces. They contain flights of soul never before known to man. In their lines are to be found a ravishing and joyous appreciation of God’s infinite beauty and mercy, and happy, comforting certainty of man’s hope for a future eternity hitherto dark and doubtful. More tender and sweet, if not as sublime and grave, are the tuneful numbers of the poet when he sings of the beauty, dignity and purity of Mary, of her maternal love, her maternal joys, or her maternal sorrows.

Saint Ephrem the Syrian, who died in 318, Saint Gregory of Nazianzen, who died in 390, and Saint John Damascene, who died in 754, enriched the Church in Eastern lands with a wealth of religious canticles, in nearly all of which Mary’s praises are sung in harmonious numbers. In the Church of Western Europe, Pope Saint Damasus, who died in 384, Saint Ambrose, who died in 397, Saint Augustine, and more especially Venantius Fortunatus, bishop of Poitiers, with many other poet-saints, have sung the praises of the Blessed Virgin in the sweetest and tenderest of cadences. From the twelfth to the fourteenth century the rich, broad field of devotion to Mary was fairly covered with the flowers of religious poetry. Her whole life was sung in verse by Werner von Tegernsee, a gifted poet of nature who, after wearing for many years the habit of Saint Benedict, died in 1197. The wandering bards, Rumsland and Walther Von der Vogelweide, from 1190 to 1230 sang Mary’s praises in poems that continued to live among the people long after the death of the composers. Conrad von Wurzburg, who died about the year 1287, constructed from the gems of Mary’s virtues and prerogatives a Canticle of praise containing two thousand verses, called it the Golden Crown, and laid it at Our Lady’s feet.

Of the productions of the fifteenth century, suffice it to mention the sweet and devotional hymn of Saint Casimir, who died in 1433. Today it is well known, and is sung by thousands of Mary’s votaries all over Christendom. It begins,

Daily, daily, sing to Mary,
Sing, my soul, her praises due;
All her feasts, her actions, worship,
With the heart’s devotion true.

Although the devastating storm of the so-called Reformation in the sixteenth century shattered the delicate lyre of many a devout poet, there was no want of classical compositions in honor of the Blessed Virgin, even at that dismal time or since then.

There were the poems of Lopez de Vega, Calderon, James Balde, and, since the days of Chaucer, such gifted souls as Thomas Moore, Mrs. Browning, Longfellow, Aubrey de Vere, Father Faber, Coventry Patmore, Dante Rossetti, have sung her praises in our mother tongue. From day to day the firmament of devotion to the Blessed Virgin is illuminated by many a bright and sparkling poetic ray which, while revealing her virtues and excellence, awakens hope and confidence and new piety in the stormy heart of the troubled Christian pilgrim.

Thus, ever since the earliest dawn of Christianity, the Virgin Mother of Jesus has been celebrated in song as well as in every other department of Christian art. The boundless treasury of her graces, the inexhaustible well-spring of her virtues, and the boundless ocean of her influence in heaven, have been thus portrayed, to the souls of men, in most fascinating and attractive modes.

Happy are you, Christian reader, if, in the possession of a good conscience, you have a pledge that you will one day stand face to face with all these joys and glories in the kingdom where Mary is Queen. Thus may it be.

– text taken from Veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Her Feasts, Prayers, Religious Orders, and Sodalities, by Father B Rohner, OSB, adapted by Father Richard Brennan, LLD, published in 1898 by Benziger Brothers; it has the Imprimatur of Archbishop Michael Augustine, Archdiocese of New York, New York, 22 June 1898