‘Mary, Mother of God’ Envisions the Blessed Mother’s Life
Illustrated coffee-table book offers intriguing details.
MARY, MOTHER OF GOD
In Search of the Woman Who Changed History
By Grzegorz Górny and Janusz Rosikon
400 pages; $34.95
Mary, Mother of God: In Search of the Woman Who Changed History is the latest lavishly illustrated book by the team of Grzegorz Górny and Janusz Rosikon. Their other coffee-table-style books include Witnesses to Mysteries about the relics of Christ, Guadalupe Mysteries and Fatima Mysteries.
This newest work is an honest attempt to see what life might have been like for Mary, beginning with her childhood, marriage to Joseph, the time during Jesus’ public ministry, and the events of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, as well the days of the early Church, and later going with St. John to the house in Ephesus.
A plethora of photos further brings the story to life.
A Marian Life
Naturally, the authors don’t have any direct accounts to rely on, but they reconstruct various details mostly by using historical and extra-biblical sources, including the Protoevangelium of St. James, which they repeatedly credit. They also bring in a few ideas from mystical writers but in a way that does not stray from the Gospels themselves. For instance, readers learn the details of Mary’s birth, about her parents St. Joachim and St. Anne and how they brought Mary to the Temple, and what the young girl did in the Temple, such as being the weaver of the Temple veil covering the Holy of Holies. All these details work to deepen Mary’s connection with the Gospel events.
A caveat should be included for readers regarding the description of St. Joseph’s life and family before marrying Mary and then a bit later in the timeline. Over the centuries, St. Joseph scholars and major saints have disproven the theory presented here.
One interesting section addresses the layered spiritual meanings and lessons of the Wedding at Cana. One important part hinges on the known Jewish customs of the day concerning the wine and its meaning at a wedding. The intervention of Mary and Jesus reminds us that their presence, even today, foretells of a truly successful marriage.
Quite a long chapter follows the route of the Holy Family to Egypt, beginning with the stops they made, places they lived, wells they drank from, and even trees they rested under. Nearly all of this “revelation” is derived from ancient Coptic legends and places where they had stopped. There are descriptions and pictures of churches that remain pilgrimage sites centuries later. Everything is woven into what life was like for them at the time. In one church, a photo shows a stone relic on which is believed to be the footprint of the Child Jesus.
The same kind of detailed narrative brings to life the Gospel account of losing Jesus in Jerusalem when he was 12 — everything from possible reasons for how that could have happened to the spiritual implications is covered.
The authors interview several experts and quote others. They bring in philosopher Jacques Maritain with a beautiful explanation of the connection of the three persons of the Holy Family becoming the archetype and model of the Church that was born after Pentecost. They turn to St. John Henry Newman and to Mariologist Edward Sri, too.
For the chapter on “Life With the Holy Family,” readers gather that Mary also had to deal with mundane matters that were indispensable for the function of any family — shopping, cooking and washing — and was the ideal spouse “best reflected in the poem In Praise of a Good Wife from the Book of Proverbs (31:10-31).”
Delve into the term “Brethren” while reading. Learn what it means in Middle Eastern and Asian countries to help clarify the use of “brethren” in the Bible and necessarily in the Protoevangelium of St. James. For a very enlightening section about the translations of “virgin,” the authors visited a foremost Greek-Hebrew-Latin scholar for the explanation.
This book offers pieces of artwork, from paintings to sculptures, that illustrate and enhance the story. Most pages contain two, even three, images — offering readers a vast array.
For instance, the plentiful use of photos of Giotto’s frescos in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, Italy, shows readers how the artist speculated about Mary's life.
Some little-known scenes, such as an early Leonardo da Vinci painting of the Annunciation, and colorful scenes by Gerard David, a 16th-century Dutch painter, are quite illustrative of the Virgin and Child with the angels. Another is a painting by Dutch artist Juan de Flandes of the Resurrected Jesus appearing to his mother.
At the same time, Rosikon’s photos of places the authors visited during their research highlight Rome, Israel, Egypt and elsewhere. In Jerusalem, there are pictorial highlights most people might not normally see, such as the Church of St. Anne. And in Egypt, among the pictures are Coptic churches and shrines associated with the Holy Family.
Photos of archaeological sites give a vivid picture of where pigeons and turtledoves were kept for worship in the Temple. They are paired with a lengthy description of what Joseph and Mary would have gone through during the Presentation.
The pictures include those of some relics associated especially with Mary, such as two rings venerated as her wedding ring, the Holy Crib in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, and garments believed to be clothing belonging to Mary that are now in the custody of various churches in Europe. The detailed history of all the relics is fascinating.
Several pages highlight the Holy House of Loreto, including its extensive history and authentication. Additional photos bring to life a recently discovered, well-preserved first-century house in Nazareth. Also, there is much about the house at Ephesus, where some say Mary lived until her assumption. A picture of the oldest known Marian icon is a bonus. And possibly the oldest known Marian prayer found in the mid-20th century and dating to the second to third century is included. It sounds somewhat like a “younger” version of a favorite centuries-old Marian prayer.
Speaking of centuries, the final chapter highlights 2,000 years of ever-growing devotion to Mary, spotlighting the Rosary, scapular, hymns composed in her honor, icons and major shrines and much more.
This book is best pored over at leisure, slowly, one chapter at a time, to mull over the descriptions, details, narrative, and pictures partnering with the text. As readers remind themselves that several detailed parts are only speculations based on archeological discoveries and some extra-biblical sources, the book surely encourages meditating on and contemplating the life of the “Woman Who Changed History.”
Our Lady will always be part of our personal history as we pray, in that earliest forerunner of the Memorare to come:
We fly to Thy protection,
O Holy Mother of God,
Do not despise our petitions
But deliver us always
From all dangers.
O Glorious and Blessed Virgin,
Beneath your compassion,
We take refuge, O Holy Mother of God:
Do not despise our petitions in time of trouble:
but rescue us from dangers,
only pure, only blessed one.