Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Our Lady, the Jealous Bride?

Now man, have mind on me forever
Look on thy love thus languishing;
Let us never from other disserver...
Take me for thy wife and learn to sing...
(The Virgin in a poem from the 14th century)

Giovanni di Paolo, Coronation of the Virgin, c 1455

One of the more interesting aspects of Marina Warner's Alone of All her Sex is the evidence she has found for devotions to the Virgin that became repressed during and after the Counter-Reformation. There is the repression of the devotion to the Madonna of Mercy and the Madonna's Milk; the traditional image of the conception of the Virgin when Sts. Joachim and Anne meet at the Golden Gate is banned in the 17th century. Especially interesting is the devotion to the Virgin as the bride of clerics and celibate men. According to Warner, this portrayal probably developed from the turn of the troubadours to more religious themes, and the Virgin as the "Highest Lady." There are images of her (both in painting and literature) placing a wedding ring on a young man's hand to indicate that she is his bride. Even more amusing and fascinating are accounts of the Virgin as a haughty, jealous bride who holds herself higher than all other women and who demands vengeance on any young man who would dare to spurn her for an earthly lover.

From Warner's book (pp 156-7):

In one of the fourteenth-century
Miracles de Notre Dame par Personnages, a young canon who had promised to serve the Virgin forever is told by his uncle that he has inherited a great fortune and must marry a girl his uncle has chosen. He remonstrates that he wants to take orders and serve Dieu et nostre dame but the girl turns out to be a paragon of weath, connections, and beauty. He gives in. On his wedding night, the Virgin summons John the evangelist and several angels, and in the haughty tone of a severely vexed suzerain announces she has some business on earth with [the young man].

How can this be, since I am who I am,
That you are leaving me for another woman?
It seems you're badly underrating
My worth and my beauty...
You must be drunk
To give your whole heart and all your love
To a woman of this earth?
And to leave me, the Lady
Of Heaven? Tell me true, where is the woman
With greater goodness and beauty than I?

She tells the cleric that since he has been unfaithful, he shall burn for it in hell. [The young cleric runs away, and his family finds this letter the following morning, that the Virgin was]

So jealous
Of him because she had made him a bed in heaven,
And he had unmade it by his great crime.

The young wife follows her husband and becomes a nun; the Virgin appears and takes the hero with her to heaven.


Arturo Vasquez said...

I love the Virgin, and I understand the profound earthiness that these anecdotes articulate, but I am still glad that these aspects of Marian piety fell out of favor. They still seem a bit creepy to me.

Arturo Vasquez said...

I meant the idea of being married to the Virgin. That is kinda creepy.

Sam Urfer said...

Heh, and it's said that the Church *added* to Marian devotion...

AG said...

I've noticed that Catholics in some places (on the internet) have become quite vexed at the new Mary musical at the Vatican: http://www.ewtn.com/vnews/getstory.asp?number=89138

Compared to prior Marian portrayals (including the topic of this post), that is really quite tame, no?