Our Lady of New York: Why Gotham is Mary's City

(photo: Photo credit: John Cunniff, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Many people, Catholic or not, are unaware that the city of Los Angeles is dedicated to and named after the Virgin Mary. On September 4, 1781, Spanish governor Felipe de Neve, with the assistance of two Franciscan priests, gave the village its official name, El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Angeles del Río de Porciúncula which translates to mean "The Village of Our Lady, the Queen of the Angels of the Porziuncola River." Porziuncola, is a small church in the village of Santa Maria degli Angeli, (Italian: St. Mary of the Angels…there's an obvious pattern here) located two miles north of Assisi, Umbria, Italy; the place where the Franciscan movement started. The word porziuncola is an Italian word meaning "a small portion of land" and refers to the fact that a Benedictine abbot of Monte Subasio gave the chapel to St. Francis of Assisi in 1208 on condition that the saint made it the motherhouse of his order.

This is admittedly a magnificent spiritual history of the name of the city of Los Angeles and it gives the impression that Angelinos are more dedicated to Our Lady than are New Yorkers. I have one thing to say to those who think that New Yorkers would take the backseat to anyone when it comes to dedication to the Blessed Mother:


Despite Los Angeles being dedicated to the Virgin Mary in name, the Big Avocado only has 23 out of its 104 churches actually dedicated to her honor. The Big Apple, however, a city that has never been associated with sanctity or godliness, has 92 churches set aside for Mary.

I examined the names of all of the churches in both dioceses that make up New York City (because of Brooklyn's previous history as a separate political entity, New York City is the only city in the world divided into two dioceses) and counted the ones both directly dedicated to her as in Our Lady, Help of Christians or to one of her monikers and sobriquets such as the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption, Holy Rosary or Visitation. I didn't include churches dedicated to the Holy Family nor to All Saints though technically I could have included them on technical grounds. When all the data was compiled, I found there were 37 Marian churches in Manhattan, Bronx and Staten Island (Archdiocese of New York) and 55 in Brooklyn and Queens (Diocese of Brooklyn) for a total of 92 in all five boroughs of New York City. That is, about 30-percent of the City's churches are dedicated to her. Brooklyn has the most number of churches dedicated to Mary in the City but more than fifty-percent of Queens' churches are dedicated to her which is ironically appropriate considering the name of that borough. But this is only half of the story as the Archdiocese of New York is comprised of seven additional counties north of the Bronx. Westchester has the most number of churches dedicated to Mary in the upstate counties of the Archdiocese of New York. If one adds up all of the Marian-dedicated churches in both dioceses, one finds that 149 out of 563 churches are dedicated to her. All-in-all, approximately one-third of the churches in the combined dioceses are dedicated to Blessed Virgin.

Unsurprisingly, two of the dioceses' largest street festivals, one in East Harlem (Archdiocese of New York) and the other in Williamsburg (Diocese of Brooklyn) are dedicated to Mary in her appellation of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The celebrations arose in the Italian-American communities in those neighborhoods. Every year, on July 16, the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and for two weeks afterwards, nearly one million people attend the City's two festivals dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. The image used in the Harlem feast is specifically coroneted by pontifical authority. Its crown is made of gold and is adorned with precious stones. The statue's dress is made in India and valued at $8000.

The feasts are still celebrated with the Procession of the Giglio, a three ton 65-foot tall tower topped by a statue carried by a team of 100 male parishioners in the streets in honor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Local news broadcasts and newspapers regularly report on both festivals every year. The feasts are both a celebration of Italian culture and of the community's love for the Mother of God. The two are intimately connected because, as every Italian knows intuitively from birth, to get to the Son, one must go through the Mother.

The Mexican community in New York City have brought their devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe to New York City in recent years including an enormous parish celebration on West 14th Street in Manhattan and a parade on December 12.

Our Lady's Garden, also known as the Bonnefont Cloister Garden, at The Cloisters Museums in Inwood, Manhattan is another example of a sacred space dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The hortus conclusus or "enclosed garden" is taken from Song of Songs 4:12:

You are an enclosed garden, my sister, my bride, an enclosed garden, a fountain sealed.

Thus the walled garden is a metaphor for Mary who is the love and union between Christ and His Church, the mystical marriage between the Word of God and the Church as the Bride of Christ. In addition, Gabriel's Visitation to Mary has traditionally been understood as having taken place in a garden which is, again, reminiscent of the Garden of Eden.

There are very few chapels dedicated to Our Lady of China, the 1900 apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Donglu, China, but New York City has several; one in Flushing, Queens and the other in Chinatown Manhattan. In 1928, Pope Pius XI, Archbishop Celso Costantini, Apostolic Delegate in China and the other bishops of China, declared the Chinese people dedicated to Our Lady of China. In 1941, Pope Pius XII set the day as an official feast of the universal liturgical calendar. In 1973, after the Vatican II Council, the Chinese Bishops conference, upon approval from the Vatican, placed the feast day on the vigil of Mothers' Day (the second Sunday of May).

In addition, The Protection of the Holy Virgin Cathedral on 59 East 2nd St. is a Greek Orthodox church dedicated to Mary. In addition, there are five Anglican churches throughout New York City dedicated to her.

New Yorkers have even dedicated Mount Saint Mary Cemetery, a cemetery within the City's boundaries, in Mary's honor. In addition, two others dedicated to her lie immediately outside of New York City limits in neighboring Diocese of Rockville Centre which New York Catholics are interred (i.e., Queen of All Saints Cemetery and Queen of Peace Cemetery.)

Even a cursory drive through New York City's outer boroughs will reveal that Mary is still the most popular saint to which lawn shrines are dedicated especially in Queens and Staten Island. And throughout the City, Marian processions are coming back into vogue as are rosary prayer groups and other Marian devotional societies.

So there you have it: in New York City, Mary is Queen. 149 Marian-dedicated churches built to accommodate 1,600,000 Catholics in Brooklyn and Queens and 2,500,000 in the Archdiocese of New York. By any standard, Catholicism is the most dominant religion and the most prominent Christian denomination in New York City.

4.1 million Catholics can't be wrong; New York City is Mary's city since more churches are dedicated to her here than in any other city in the world including Europe in which whole cultures are more often associated with a devotion to her. The churches dedicated to her in the City stand as constant reminders of New Yorkers' love of Mary are ever around us.


Churches Dedicated

to Mary

Total # of Churches







Staten Island














Churches Dedicated

to Mary

Total # of Churches





9 (plus 2 chapels)



1 (plus 2 chapels)






3 (plus 1 chapel)






27 (plus 1 chapels)



57 (plus 6 Marian chapels)




Churches Dedicated

to Mary

Total # of Churches

New York City



Upstate New York







Our Lady of Mt. Carmel - 456 E 116th St New York, NY 10029-1604 - (212) 427-2196 - http://www.mountcarmelofeastharlem.com/

Our Lady of Mt. Carmel - 275 N 8th St, New York, NY 11211 - http://www.olmcfeast.com/

Mount Saint Mary Cemetery, 172-00 Booth Memorial Avenue, Flushing, NY 11365

Our Lady of China Chapel, 14010 34th Ave, Flushing, NY 11354-3042 - (718) 961-0714 - www.olc.faithweb.com

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