Mary Our Queen

In the 1970 calendar, the feast of Immaculate Heart of Mary was moved from August 22 to June in order to show its alignment with the Sacred Heart of Jesus; the feast of the Queenship of Mary was transferred from May 31 to that date. Whether or not this was a good idea,1 it does give us another reason to meditate on Our Lady’s role as Queen of us all — which role, just as Christ’s Kingship is bound up with devotion to His Sacred Heart, is, after all bound up with devotion to her Immaculate Heart.

In 1954, Pius XII wrote his epochal encyclical, Ad Caeli Reginam, on the Queenship of Mary. Therein, the Pontiff explicitly linked this Queenship with the Kingship of her Divine Son, and emulating Pius XI in 1926, instituted the just mentioned feast. He summed up his teaching thusly: “Whoever, therefore, reverences the Queen of heaven and earth‑and let no one consider himself exempt from this tribute of a grateful and loving soul — let him invoke the most effective of Queens, the Mediatrix of peace; let him respect and preserve peace, which is not wickedness unpunished nor freedom without restraint, but a well-ordered harmony under the rule of the will of God; to its safeguarding and growth the gentle urgings and commands of the Virgin Mary impel us.”

This concern with Peace was only natural in a generation that had just lived through two horrendous world wars and a horde of smaller ones. This is why successive Popes have lent their voices to the UN and EU, as well as a host of similar regional ventures — ventures, which, however, like the governments that form them, often indulge in unsavoury tactics, issues, and goals. But even at that their best-intentioned, these organisations focus on the political, military, economic, social, ethnic, and cultural causes of conflict.

UNESCO, for example, defines a “culture of peace” thusly: “the culture of peace and non-violence is a commitment to peace-building, mediation, conflict prevention and resolution, peace education, education for non-violence, tolerance, acceptance, mutual respect, intercultural and interfaith dialogue and reconciliation.” But while better, no doubt, than bloody conflict, such a peace cannot be long lasting because it is indeed “freedom without restraint,” rather than “well-ordered harmony under the rule of the will of God.”

To understand better the Queenship of Mary, we must understand Queenship itself; this is difficult for modern American Catholics. Part of it is because our current experience of Queens is restricted primarily to our knowledge of women like Elizabeth II, ex-Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, or Queen Margrethe II of Denmark: all worthy ladies in their way to be sure, but hardly images of Catholicity — it is odd that we hear little of such current Catholic Queens, renowned for their piety, as Sofia of Spain or Fabiola of Belgium. Historically, we remember the first Elizabeth’s furious persecution of our faith (though we tend to forget Queen Anne’s defence of the Catholics of Maryland). So to understand Mary’s Queenship we first need to recall what Catholic Queenship really means.

The first example we have of it in the West is of course Constantine’s mother, St. Helena the Empress, whose feast we observed in August, but whom the Byzantines honour, with her son, on May 21. Nurturer of and conscience to her son, she also acted as a guide and inspirer to the Christian people as a whole, bravely seeking and finding the Holy Places in Palestine, and initiating pilgrimages to them. The Empress found the site of the Holy Sepulchre; to this day she is venerated there. But Helen was not content with this achievement: she found and built churches at the sites of the Nativity, Gethsemane, Nazareth, and literally scores of other sites around the Holy Land. She turned her palace at Trier, Germany into a church preserving Christ’s Seamless Garment, enshrined the relics of the Three Kings at Hagia Sophia in Constantinople (from whence they traveled to Milan and then Cologne), built the first basilica of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme in Rome, and brought the Scala Santa to the Imperial City. Her son laid her remains, resting in an extraordinary sarcophagus, into a beautiful mausoleum. The latter is in ruins and the former in the Vatican Museum; but her relics are lovingly enshrined in Santa Maria in Aracoeli, the civic church of Rome. Not only Catholics of all rites revere her — so too do the Eastern Orthodox, Coptic, Armenian, Syriac, Ethiopian, and Assyrian churches.

Her example was followed by a number of later Empresses: Galla Placidia, St. Pulcheria (held as a saint by both Catholics and Orthodox), Irene, and Theodora II. All of these did what they could to help their husbands and sons attempt to prop up the Empire, support the Church, and fight for orthodoxy as it was threatened by the various heresies and schisms that assailed it in those days.

In Western Europe, things were different. The Germanic peoples settled on the lands of the dying Western Empire were either pagan, like the Franks and Anglo-Saxons, or else Arian. In addition to the regal duties so well exemplified by the Empresses just mentioned, Catholic Queens had to serve as true mothers to the nations then being born. As Dom Gueranger wrote in his entry on St. Clotilde, wife of Clovis:

History tells how the founders of Empires have ever had the terrible prerogative of impressing upon nations the distinctive character, disastrous or beneficial, which, through length of ages, continues to be theirs. How often does not that want of counterpoise to the preponderance of power, make itself only too evident, in the impetus given rather to destroy than to build up! And wherefore? Because ancient Empires never had a Mother; for, this noble title cannot be applied to those women who, under the name of heroines, have transmitted their names to posterity, merely inasmuch as they rivalled the ambition and pomp of conquerors. To Christian times was it reserved, to behold introduced into a people’s life, this element of Maternity, more salutary, more efficacious in its humble gentleness, than that which springs from the talents or vices, from the power or genius of their first princes.

Time was needed to subdue the savage instincts of the warriors of Clovis, and to fit his sword to the noble destiny that awaited it, in the hand of a Charlemagne, or of a St. Louis. With good reason has it been said that the honour of this labour is due to the Bishops and the monks. But to be more accurate and to prove a deeper insight of the ways used by Divine Providence, it were well, perhaps, to pass less lightly over the woman’s part, for such indeed there was, in the work of conversion and of education, which made the Frankish nation become the eldest son of the Church. Clotilde it was, who led the Franks to the Baptistery of Rheims, and presented to Remigius, the proud Sicambrian transformed, far less by the exhortations of the holy bishop, than by the force of prayer, the prayer of that strong woman elected by God to bear away this rich spoil, from the camp of hell.

Nor was the wife of Clovis the only such Queen Mother God gave the Franks — Ss. Radegonde (foundress of the Abbey of the Holy Cross) and Bathilde complete the trinity of regal motherhood. Such queenly sanctity crossed the English Channel: the Frankish St. Bertha of Kent — who was given an old Roman chapel for her priest to offer Mass in — welcomed St. Augustine of Canterbury and helped him convert her husband and his people. Speaking of the influence of St. Margaret of Scotland, Dom Geuernger tells us that “The whole kingdom became one family, whereof Margaret was called the Mother; for Scotland was born by her to true civilisation.”

Such efforts produced innumerable Queenly saints during the Ages of Faith, all of whose lives deserve careful attention: the Empresses Adelaide, Theophanu, and Cunigunda; Ss. Begga, Jadwiga of Poland, Tamar of Georgia, Agnes of Bohemia, Elizabeth of Hungary, Elizabeth of Portugal, Hedwig of Silesia, Isabelle of France, Jeanne de France, Joana of Portugal, Jolenta of Poland, Kinga of Poland, Ludmila of Bohemia, Mafalda of Portugal, Margaret of Hungary, Margaret of Savoy, Matilda of Ringeheim, Olga of Kiev, Ragnhild of Talje, Teresa of Portugal, Sancha of Portugal, Matilda of Canossa, and, of course, our own Queen Isabel of Christopher Columbus fame. All extremely different ladies, they practised chastity to the best of their abilities, cared for their husbands and children, and on some occasions, had to fight or play politics. In all of these, every one without exception, looked to the Virgin as both their example, their solace, and their helper.

With the Protestant revolt and the “birth of the modern era,” the Faith faced new challenges. Catholic Queens emerged who added the defence of the Faith to the duties marked out by their predecessors — in a word, they were forced to become heroines, often losing comfort and sometimes their lives to the struggle. Of such a calibre were Mary of Scots, Christina of Sweden, Maria of Modena, Maria Clementina Sobieski, and Marie Antoinette. Louis XIII’s consort, Anne of Austria, was a shining example of what a Catholic Queen should be: foundress of the royal abbey of Val-du-Grace, benefactress of countless shrines, protectress of the Compagnie du Saint-Sacrement, she showed herself valiant alike against rebels and at prayer. The devotion to the Sacred Heart as we know it received powerful support from Queens Mary of Modena, Marie Leszczyńska, Catherine Opalińska, and Maria I of Portugal, as, much later, did Empress Eugenie. Modern times required just as much fortitude from royal ladies, as the lives of Maria Cristina di Savoia, Empress Zita, and Elena of Savoy show.

But wonderful and saintly as most of these Queens were, their greatness was but a reflection of that of their great role model, the Queen of Heaven — whose coronation as Queen we meditate upon in the 15th mystery of the Rosary. Over the past few centuries, innumerable renowned images of the Virgin have been crowned by ecclesiastical authorities in token of this reality. She relates to each class of her subjects in a very particular way. In the Litany of Loreto she is invoked as Queen no less than thirteen times, and each of these royal titles bears examining.

But various Catholic peoples have also claimed her in a special way as Queen of their particular nation, and that is the way in which we shall look at her now. By blood, of course, Mary is a descendant of King David, as was her cousin and spouse, St. Joseph. Through them, Jesus was the heir to David’s Kingdom. Shrines of Marian significance are scattered throughout the Holy Land: Abu Ghosh, Nazareth, Ein Kerem, Bir Cantisma,

Cana, Mary’s Tomb, and the Abbey of the Dormition, to name the major ones. Of course, you cannot separate the Mother from the Son, so there are certainly Marian overtones at Bethlehem, the Holy Sepulchre, and the Way of the Cross. But it was not until 1927, under the British Mandate, that the local Catholics officially declared Our Lady to be Queen of Palestine. At that time, when tensions between Muslims, Christians, and Jews in the Holy Land were already mounting, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Louis Barlassina originated the Feast of Our Lady of Palestine; to honour Rome’s approval of the feast in 1933, the Patriarch had a shrine built in the name of the Queen of Palestine at Deir Rafat. Not only is Our Lady beloved of the Palestinians under this title, the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre has made the prayer to her a keystone of their spirituality, and her day one of their major feasts worldwide. Not just the Christians there, but all across the globe who want to see the Faith preserved in the land of its birth should cultivate a devotion to the Queen of Palestine.

No less divided than Palestine/Israel to its south is Lebanon — home to a nearly even number of Christians and Muslims. Among the non-Catholic Christians are Antiochian Orthodox, Syriac Orthodox, and Armenian Apostolic; the Catholics number Latins, Syriac Catholics, Armenian Catholics, Melkites, and, most numerous of all, Maronites. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Definition of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception, the Maronite Patriarch of Antioch and the Apostolic Delegate agreed to the creation of a Marian shrine at Harissa, near Beirut. It would be dedicated to Our Lady, Queen of Lebanon. A statue under this title was made in Lyons, France, and shipped to its new home, construction of which began in 1908. In 1954, it was decided to build a large basilica to house the statue; this was begun in 1970, and completed despite the bloody civil war that paralysed the country into the 1990s. Today it is thronged with pilgrims throughout the month of May — many of whom pray desperately to their Queen to prevent the conflicts ranging around the tenuous peace of the country from lapping over the borders.

While the Faith has been in the Near East since its foundation, it owes its origins in China to 16th century missionaries. Despite being such a young church, however, Chinese Catholicism has already awarded the Virgin the title of Queen of China. There are three memorable shrines in the country under this name. In 1870, in response to their deliverance from local rebels, the Shanghai Jesuits resolved to build a great church outside the city, dedicated to Our Lady Help of Christians, whose feast was inaugurated by Pope Pius VII in gratitude for having been able to return to Rome after the fall of Napoleon. This became the basilica of Our Lady of Sheshan, housing a miraculous image of the same name. In 1900, during the Boxer Rebellion, European Missionaries, 3000 native Catholics, and 40 French and Italian sailors successfully withstood a two-month siege by the rebels in Beijing’s Beitang Cathedral; subsequently the Vicar Apostolic, Mgr. Favier commissioned a picture of the Madonna and Child in Chinese Imperial robes. At the same time, the Catholics of the town of Donglu prayed for and received preservation from the ravaging Boxers. They credited their deliverance to the apparition of Our Lady that appeared — and they dedicated the new church they built to Our Lady as Queen of China. In 1924, at their first synod, the Bishops of China petitioned Rome for approval of the title of Our Lady, Queen of China; this Pius XI did four years later. In 1941, Pius XII promulgated the feast of Our Lady of China for May 2. The Communist takeover of the Mainland in 1949 signaled a new and continuing persecution of the Church in China. But apparently, Mary appeared again at Donglu in 1995, giving hope to her Chinese subjects but precipitating a closure of the shrine by the government. In 2008, Benedict XVI promulgated a prayer to Our Lady of Sheshan for the suffering Church in China, and asked all Catholics across the globe to use it on May 24, the traditional date of the feast of Our Lady, Help of Christians. Despite all odds, the Catholics of China still look for eventual relief from their burdens by their Heavenly Queen — and so should we!

Many Catholic European nations, beset by enemies of the Faith, have placed themselves directly under the Virgin’s protection — some going so far as to give her high rank in their armed forces. The lands at various times under the rule of the House of Habsburg have been noteworthy in this area. When Don Juan of Austria — illegitimate but recognised son of Emperor Charles V and brother of Spain’s King Philip II — led the fleet of the Holy League into the battle of Lepanto in 1571, he carried with him an image of Our Lady of Butarque. Admiral Giovanni Andrea Doria, his second in command, carried in his flagship a copy given him by King Philip of a recent Marian apparition in the King’s domain of Mexico: Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose namesake image in Spain had been venerated for centuries. After their glorious victory, Don Juan Petitioned his brother to make both images of the Virgin Captains General of the army. This the King did; but Admiral Doria brought his copy of the Guadalupe image back to Italy, where it is venerated to this day.

Inspired by their Spanish cousins’ example, the Habsburgs of Austria gave their forces — beset by Protestants and Turks — over to the protection of the Virgin, with similar results. The jubilant Emperor Leopold I dubbed Our Lady Generalissima Austriacae and Magna Mater Austriae — “Supreme Commandress of the Austrians” and “Great Mother of Austria,” declaring that she was his Liege Lady and Sovereign over all the lands which he ruled. His forebear, Ferdinand III, erected a Mariensaule, a “Marian Pillar” in the great square Am Hof in Vienna — and its inscription is quite to the point:


From that era to this, the shrine of Mariazell has been the centre of devotion to the great Mother of the Austrians — and to the last reigning Emperor, Bl. Charles and his son Otto. Fitting, the German state of Bavaria, where Otto lived so long in exile, had learned through a long history to invoke the Blessed Mother as Patrona Bavariae.

But the Queenship of Mary is held also among other of the Habsburg peoples — and with the Magyars, the Virgin was hailed as the Magyarok Nagyasszonya — “Great Lady of the Hungarians — long before a Habsburg ever wore the country’s Holy Crown. Indeed, in Hungarian pictures of the Virgin she often wears that very crown herself. The reason for this is that when St. Stephen of Hungary — first to wear the Crown and the man who made Hungary Catholic — was dying without direct heirs, he left his nation directly to the Virgin. Thus Regnum Marianum, “Kingdom of Mary,” has been one of the country’s popular names ever since, and has been taken as its title by one of the county’s best known Catholic movements.

Poland too hails the Virgin as Regina Poloniae. The root of the local devotion goes back to two highly venerated icons — the world famous Lady of Czestochowa and her sister of Lichen, both of whom are referred to as “Queen of Poland.” The first named has been preserved for centuries at the monastery of Jasna Gora or “Bright Mount.” There she was in 1655, when — in an era of Polish history dubbed the “deluge” — Russian and Swedish armies swept over the land, driving King John II Casimir into exile. But a few fortresses held out — Jasna Gora in particular withstood a three month siege (November of 1655 to January of 1656). The defenders owed their bravery to the presence of the icon; the horror of the Polish people at the threat to their beloved black Madonna led to a popular resistance that expelled the invaders and allowed the King to return. In gratitude, he swore the “Oath of Lwow” in which he named the Virgin “Queen of the Polish Crown and other of his countries.” The Virgin’s title was renewed in 1813, when a Polish soldier, wounded at the Battle of Leipzig, received a vision of an image of Mary he was to find. He did so; she was enshrined at Lichen, and visions and miracles have clustered around her ever since — she too is called “Queen of Poland.” This Queenship was reemphasized for the Poles when, on August 15, 1920, they were able to defeat the Soviet Army in the “Miracle of the Vistula.” Since then (save for the Communist interlude), the Feast of the Assumption in Poland is also the “Day of the Polish Army” — the cathedral of the Military Diocese is dedicated to “The Virgin Mary Queen of Poland.”

Just as Austria and Hungary were linked for centuries by both monarchs and Marian devotion, so too were both the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Here as well, although the political connection has long been snapped, the shared offering of sovereignty to the Virgin remains. In 1717, their joint Parliament declared the Virgin of Czestochowa to be “Queen of Poland and Grand Duchess of Lithuania.” In 1994, Bl. John Paul II, on a visit to the shrine of Our Lady of Siluva, called her “Queen of Peace;” the locals already called her “Queen of Lithuania.”

Modern Estonia and Latvia were conquered for the Faith by the Order of the Brothers of the Sword in the Livonian Crusade of 1207. Their newly conquered region they called the Terra Mariana as a tribute to her whom they had invoked against the pagans they fought. They in turn were merged with the Teutonic Order, who had similarly conquered East Prussia. Although the Reformation conquered both Estonia and Latvia and drove Marian devotion underground, starting in the 20th century independence-minded Estonians once again began to call their country “Terra Mariana” — so much so that in 1995 the newly-free country created a state decoration by that name.

England was long called “Mary’s Dowry,” until the Reformation; the 20th century restorations of the Marian shrines at Walsingham and elsewhere led many to pray and hope that the title could be regained. In Ireland, the appearance of Mary at Knock in 1874 was dubbed “Queen of Ireland” — a title that in recent years many of the elite in Ireland seem to want to deprive her of of. Let us hope that the consecration of the country to the Immaculate Heart of Mary will halt or reverse that effort.

The French have long hailed Our Lady as “Queen of France” — as one of their favourite Marian hymns reminds us. Countless shrines and historical events remind us of this fact. Pope Urban II, who launched the Crusades, said that “the Kingdom of France is the Kingdom of Mary.” But it was Louis XIII, in thanksgiving for his wife giving birth to the future Louis XIV — after 20 years of childless marriage — who consecrated the nation to Our Lady of the Assumption by his famous vow. Except for the years of the French Revolution, the feast of the Assumption has been marked by processions throughout the country as the King commanded. Since that time, as Dom Gueranger rather caustically remarked, “The Assumption then will always be the national feast of France, except for those of her sons who celebrate the anniversaries of revolutions and assassinations.”

Spain, which after all fought for eight centuries to free her soil from the Islamic yoke, very naturally gravitated toward the more militant aspects of Our Lady’s Queenship. Following the example set by the Habsburgs in the wake of Lepanto, several of her Kings have given various images of the Virgin military rank in token of Mary’s intercession at several battles: so those of Zocueca, Esperanza de Malaga, Remedios de Frengenal, Canto de Toro, de los Reyes de Seville, and del Pilar were all given the rank of Captain General in the Spanish Army. Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception is the patroness of the Spanish Infantry, while Leon’s Virgen del Camino is a General in the Spanish Air Force, of which branch Our Lady of Loreto is patroness. In 1928, King Alfonso XIII crowned the Spanish Virgin of Guadalupe Queen of Spain and of Hispanic America.

The same energy that led the Spanish to conquer the Moors also sent them over the Ocean. Two of the orders who came in large numbers to help evangelise the New World were the Discalced Carmelites and the Mercedarians. Both founded churches and monasteries throughout Latin America — and in the latter were images of the side of the Virgin they venerated: Our Lady of Carmel and Our Lady of Mercy. Under one or the other of these names, Mary is Queen of and/or General of the Army in Argentina (Tucuman), Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Guatemala, and Peru. Mexico is a unique case: while Our Lady of Guadalupe was accounted protectress and general for and of the rebel armies, Our Lady of Remedios was taken as general by the Royalists. Emperor Maximilian attempted to reconcile the two by making the Basilica of Los Remedios an Imperial shrine, and giving the name of Guadalupe to his highest order of knighthood. In 1946, Pius XII named the Virgin of Guadalupe Queen of Mexico and Empress of the Americas.

So where does that leave us Norteamericanos? Well, of course, we can always invoke the Virgin’s Imperial Majesty as residents of the Western Hemisphere, and her universal Queenship as human beings. But the patroness of the United States is Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, to whom we have built the palatial National Shrine. Given our national history and culture, however, can we imagine ever invoking her as Queen of the United States? Still, the other nationalities who invoke her Queenship over them directly have done so to seek her mighty protection against civil unrest or foreign invasion for the most part. Given what we Americans — and above all, Catholic Americans — face in the years ahead, perhaps it would be wisest for us to do just that.

  1. Editor’s Note: In the new calendar, the feast of the Immaculate Heart was also downgraded to an “optional memorial,” which results in its being frequently ignored. This does not seem to accomplish what Jesus expressed to Sister Lucy as His will: “I desire that devotion to the Immaculate Heart of My Mother be placed alongside devotion to My Own Sacred Heart.”