‘May With Mary’ in the Vatican Gardens

PHOTO ESSAY: Throughout the month of May, the Vatican Gardens is open to pilgrims from around the world for a special tour in honor of the Blessed Mother.

A statue of Santa María la Antigua in the Vatican Gardens.
A statue of Santa María la Antigua in the Vatican Gardens. (photo: Bénédicte Cedergren)

ROME — Created last year in collaboration with the Vatican Museums, the “May With Mary” pilgrimage includes 10 stops at some of the most important images and statues of the Madonna in the Gardens, which are all replicas or miniatures of existing sanctuaries across the world.

Offered every Wednesday and Saturday, the tour led by Sister Emanuela Edwards of the Missionaries of Divine Revelation allows pilgrims to immerse themselves in the beauty of the Vatican Gardens by walking through the various Marian images, which have all been gifted to or from popes, found throughout the Vatican's beautiful grounds.

Sister Emanuela Edwards of the Missionaries of Divine Revelation
Sister Emanuela Edwards of the Missionaries of Divine Revelation(Photo: Bénédicte Cedergren)

“There are about 27 images of Our Lady that adorn the Vatican Gardens, which reflect the many ways in which the Holy Fathers wanted to honor our Blessed Mother throughout the centuries,” Sister Emanuela, head of the Educational Activities Office of the Vatican Museums, told the Register.

“Because we have apparitions of Our Lady from all parts of the world in the Vatican Gardens, we are reminded of the many ways in which Our Lady has tried to tell people to come back to her Son.”

The Marian grottos, frescos and statues featured in the “May With Mary” tour are connected to the devotions of people across the globe who have turned to the Queen of Peace in times of war and struggle. For this reason, the pilgrims stop at each shrine to pray for this same intention: peace.

“Given the state of our world today and the call from our Holy Father, being so incessant for peace, we have decided this year to offer the pilgrimage for peace,” Sister Emanuela explained. “At each sanctuary of Our Lady, we say a Hail Mary for peace, and throughout the visit, I underline where and how Our Lady has intervened in the story of humanity to bring about peace.”

Our Lady of the Watch (Italy)

According to tradition, on Aug. 29, 1490, the Virgin Mary appeared to a peasant, Benedetto Pareto, near Genoa in Italy and asked him to build a chapel on a local mountain.

The Italian name of the shrine is Madonna della Guardia, meaning “Our Lady of the Watch.” The shrine is so called because in the Middle Ages, the mountain on which the shrine is built was a strategic observation station for monitoring the movement of armies and ships.

Our Lady of the Watch
Our Lady of the Watch(Photo: Bénédicte Cedergren)

“Genoa is also the place where Pope Benedict XV came from,” Sister Emanuela pointed out. At the time, because of the unresolved dispute between Church and state in Italy, “the popes couldn’t leave the Vatican, and so the people of Genoa sent a part of Genoa to the Holy Father, to give him consolation.”

“Just as mountains were used in antiquity to watch over the city, so Our Lady of the Watch is here in this high point of the Vatican, to look over the Holy Father and all who come to visit the gardens.”

Our Lady of Lourdes (France)

Between Feb. 11 and July 16, 1858, the Virgin Mary appeared to 13-year-old Bernadette Soubirous in the Massabielle grotto near her home. According to Bernadette, the Lady she saw was a young woman of 16 or 17 clothed in a white robe and a blue sash, with yellow roses covering her feet and a large rosary on her right arm. On March 25, she told the young, poor and uneducated girl: “I am the Immaculate Conception.”

Since 1858, thousands of pilgrims have come to Lourdes every year, seeking a cure for their illnesses and asking for the intercession of Our Lady.

“This grotto was a gift for Pope Leo XIII, who was very devoted to Our Lady and who wrote a Marian encyclical every year of his pontificate,” Sister Emanuela explained. “Also, he was involved in the Roman question and couldn’t leave the Vatican during his pontificate. Because he couldn’t visit Lourdes, the bishop of Tarbes made this wonderful grotto, and it was brought here into the Vatican so that the Pope, although being here, could visit the grotto of Lourdes.”

Our Lady of Lourdes
Our Lady of Lourdes(Photo: Bénédicte Cedergren)

“Many of the Holy Fathers have been particularly devoted to this grotto,” Sister Emanuela shared, noting that Pope Benedict XVI would often come here to pray the Rosary. Something unique about it, she added, is that the altar in the grotto is the actual altar that was placed in the Massabielle grotto after the apparitions. It was gifted to the Vatican in 1965 by Pope St. John XXIII.

Another “curious thing,” Sister Emanuela continued, is that Our Lady “doesn’t have a rosary with the typical five decades. She has a rosary with six decades, because in that place in France, where Our Lady appeared, there was a practice of saying an extra decade for the holy souls. So when Our Lady appeared to speak to a young girl of that place, she appeared with a rosary that she recognized.”

Our Lady of Guadalupe (Mexico)

According to tradition, the Virgin Mary appeared five times to Mexican peasant St. Juan Diego and his uncle, Juan Bernardino, in December 1531. She identified herself as “the Mother of the True God” and instructed St. Juan to have the local bishop build a church on the site. As a sign for the bishop, she left an image of herself imprinted miraculously on his tilma, a poor-quality “cactus-cloth” garment.

“The moment we see on the statue,” Sister Emanuela pointed out, “is the moment when Juan Diego finally arrives to see the bishop, and he lets his tilma fall down. The roses, as you can see, fall to the ground, and on his tilma we see an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which is miraculous in many ways.”

Our Lady of Guadalupe
Our Lady of Guadalupe(Photo: Bénédicte Cedergren)

“Our Lady, who we can call the first evangelist, is quite rightly celebrated as the patron of the Americas since she appeared to convert the whole of the Americas,” Sister Emanuela also said, pointing out that “Our Lady appeared with the look of the Indigenous people of that place because she is the Mother of All Nations.”

“At a time when we’re praying for peace, I think it’s very important to remember that Our Lady appeared as an Indigenous person to remind us that she is the mother of everyone and, therefore, that we are all in the great family of God.”

Our Lady of Fátima (Portugal)

One of the best-known modern apparitions of the Virgin Mary occurred in Fátima, Portugal, in 1917, on the 13th day of each month for six months, when Our Lady appeared to three Portuguese children: Siblings Sts. Francisco Marto and Jacinta Marto and their cousin Venerable Lúcia dos Santos.

Our Lady of Fatima
Our Lady of Fatima(Photo: Bénédicte Cedergren)

“On this statue, we can see Our Lady, who bends over towards the shepherd children,” Sister Emanuela said, noting that the halos around the Virgin Mary’s head are “an allusion to the Miracle of the Sun” that occurred during her final apparition on Oct. 13, 1917. The statue also has the date “13 May 1981” engraved on it, in memory of the attempted assassination of Pope St. John Paul II, who claimed that “a Mother’s hand” had deflected the bullet.

“Our Lady appeared in Fátima with a peace plan for the world, to call people back to the Gospel, and to consecrate themselves to her Immaculate Heart,” Sister Emanuela emphasized, underlining that Pope Francis followed the Fátima appeal by consecrating the cause of peace to the Queen of Peace.

“When war between Russia and Ukraine broke out, Pope Francis consecrated the world to Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart. It is very beautiful to think that even today Our Lady’s message resonates in the lives of these Holy Fathers, who have listened to the call of our Blessed Mother and acted just as she said.

“And so we invite all our guests to pray for peace in the world and in these war-torn places, exactly as Our Lady asked of the three Shepherd children long ago in Fátima.”

Santa María la Antigua (Panama)

“This is a statue inspired from a devotion that started in Seville, but which later got taken to Panama, of which she [Santa Maria la Antigua] is the patron. You can see that Our Lord looks like a little man. This is because, in the Middle Ages, they wanted to show that although he was a child, Jesus was still God.”

Santa María la Antigua
Santa María la Antigua(Photo: Bénédicte Cedergren)

“With one hand he is blessing, but in the other hand, he holds a robin red breast,” Sister Emanuela pointed out. “This a reference to the homilies of St. Isidore of Seville, who told the story of how a robin came to visit Christ while he was on the cross. The robin tried to remove the thorns from his head but instead injured himself, and that is how he got his red breast.”

“Our Lady is holding a rose because she is the Immaculate Conception. The rose doesn’t have any thorns: It is as it would have been in paradise, before original sin.”

Other Statues/Images in the Gardens

Our Lady of Częstochowa (Poland): At the heliport stands a statue of the Queen of Poland, donated by the Pauline Fathers to Pope St. John Paul II, so that Our Lady could greet him as he traveled to and from the Vatican by helicopter.

Our Lady of Czestochowa
Our Lady of Czestochowa(Photo: Bénédicte Cedergren)

Nuestra Señora de Luján (Argentina) — Our Lady of Luján

Our Lady of Luján
Our Lady of Luján(Photo: Bénédicte Cedergren)

La Madonna del Divino Amore (Italy) — Our Lady of Divine Love

La Madonna del Divino Amore
La Madonna del Divino Amore(Photo: Bénédicte Cedergren)

Virgen de los Treinta y Tres (Uruguay) — Virgin of the Thirty-Three

Virgen de los Treinta y Tres
Virgen de los Treinta y Tres(Photo: Bénédicte Cedergren)

Nuestra Señora de Caacupé (Paraguay) — Our Lady of Caacupé

Nuestra Señora del Caacupé
Nuestra Señora del Caacupé(Photo: Bénédicte Cedergren)

Nuestra Señora del Rosario de Chiquinquirá (Colombia) — Our Lady of the Rosary of Chiquinquirá

Nuestra Señora del Rosario de Chiquinquirá
Nuestra Señora del Rosario de Chiquinquirá(Photo: Bénédicte Cedergren)

Virgen del Rosario (Guatemala) — Virgin of the Rosary

Virgen del Rosario
Virgen del Rosario(Photo: Bénédicte Cedergren)

Santissima Virgen de El Quinche (Ecuador) — Most Holy Virgen of El Quinche

Santissima Virgen del Quinche
Santissima Virgen del Quinche (Photo: Bénédicte Cedergren)

Nuestra Señora de Los Angeles (Costa Rica) — Virgin of the Angels

Nuestra Señora de los Angeles
Nuestra Señora de los Angeles(Photo: Bénédicte Cedergren)

Nuestra Señora Reina de la Paz (El Salvador) — Our Lady Queen of Peace

Nuestra Señora Reina de la Paz
Nuestra Señora Reina de la Paz (Photo: Bénédicte Cedergren)

Virgen del Carmen (Chile) — Our Lady of Mount Carmel

Virgen del Carmen
Virgen del Carmen (Photo: Bénédicte Cedergren)

Our Lady of Peñafrancia (Philippines) — Our Lady of Peñafrancia

Our Lady of Peñafrancia
Our Lady of Peñafrancia (Photo: Bénédicte Cedergren)

Our Lady of Mercy

Our Lady of Mercy
Our Lady of Mercy(Photo: Bénédicte Cedergren)