A Saint Fashions a ‘Crown’ for Mary
BOOK PICK: ‘Crown of the Virgin: An Ancient Meditation on Mary’s Beauty, Virtue and Sanctity’
Crown of the Virgin
An Ancient Meditation on Mary’s Beauty, Virtue and Sanctity
By St. Ildephonsus of Toledo
Translated by Father Robert Nixon
TAN Books, 2021
144 pages; $24.95
To order: tanbooks.com
This new book, beautifully bound to reflect Our Lady’s royal role, is both new and yet centuries old. It is the first English translation of a Latin work, Libellus de Corona Virginis, or “The Little Book on the Crown of the Virgin.”
And what a brilliantly beautiful translation this is, thanks to Benedictine Father Robert Nixon. It’s melodic prose at its finest. Each short chapter becomes a symphony of sentences, all in praise of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The book’s subtitle, An Ancient Meditation on Mary’s Beauty, Virtue and Sanctity, sets the metaphor as the original author, St. Ildephonsus of Toledo, a Spanish abbot and seventh-century renowned bishop, fashions a lyrical crown of jewels, stars and flowers for Our Lady.
Because Mary is beautiful beyond compare, St. Ildephonsus highlights the beauty of her virtues, graces, attributes, holiness, magnificence, motherly help and concern for her children. To “decorate” it, he chose 12 brilliant “jewels,” six dazzling stars and six fragranced flowers to place in her crown. Among them, topaz, the Morning star, Sirius, the lily, sapphire, Arcturus, the Star of the Sea, jasper, rose, ruby, the sun, moon, sunflower, and amethyst. The saint explains the reasons for his choices and how they royally honor and reflect Mary’s person.
While Ildephonsus of Toledo might not be a household name to us, he certainly was in his own time and in the years that followed. With his great learning and eloquence, he stood out as a preeminent defender of the dogma of the perpetual virginity of Mary, the Mother of God, writing a monumental book on the subject, correcting those in error and even driving out of the country heretics who continued to deny this dogma.
So fervent was his Marian defense and devotion that it is recorded the Blessed Mother appeared to him by the altar and gave him the gift of a chasuble.
St. Julian, who succeeded him as bishop, said Ildephonsus “was brilliant in his ingenuity of speech and fluent in his eloquence.” Through his English translation, Father Nixon certainly makes that description clear.
Passage after passage captivates a reader’s mind and heart, prompting reverent reflection. Take this “jewel” for the crown:
“This sapphire resembles the tranquil skies, which when struck by the rays of the sun, shine forth with a burning, azure luminescence. And this gem is a most fitting adornment to your gracious crown. For you, O gracious Lady, are most splendid and serene, most pure, sincere and delightful. You are the immaculate perfection of beauty and of grace, and the pinnacle of incomparable loveliness!”
Or again, among the reasons he places the sun in Mary’s “royal diadem,” Ildephonsus eloquently pictures “the warming sun which causes the earth to flourish with springtide verdancy — so you make souls once barren to become fruitful. For who is able to moisten the dry heart like you? Or who is able so to warm the mind, frozen with despair or cynicism? All the good things, which God's supreme Majesty has decreed to bestow on us, he has decreed to bestow through your intercession and agency. He has committed to your maternal hands the entire treasuries of his golden wisdom, the precious gemstones of his virtues, and the glowing ornaments of his graces. Through you — radiant as the sun, as gentle as the dawn — the fruits of blessings spring forth from their divine source.”
The constant series of virtues, attributes or descriptions becomes a lyrical litany to Our Lady: “You are truly the Mother of virtue, the destroyer of sin, the secret key to the celestial Kingdom, the radiant mirror of chastity. Hail, O lovely Virgin! — you who are the nexus between heaven and earth, prefigured by the patriarchs, foretold by the prophets, proclaimed by the apostles, expounded by the holy doctors!”
That motif also finds each chapter ending with a beautiful prayer, some in poetic form. The prayer for the rose in Mary’s crown, includes this: “Heal my taste, that I may taste thy sweetness; renew my smelling, that I may experience thy fragrance. Inflame my heart with thy most holy wisdom, that I may contemplate thee with wonder, love thee with fervor, venerate thee with true devotion, and cling to thee with fidelity!
“Stand by me, O Lady, while I pray to you devoutly, and mediate upon you, and read about you, and speak of you, and anxiously send up my sighs to you. For your perfume refreshes me. The thought of you brings me comfort, and your sweetness restores me. Your very presence consoles me. And your guidance faithfully leads me along the narrow path and straight road which leads to the divine light of heaven. Amen.”