By H. MARTIN GILLETT Author of 'Famous Shrines of Our Lady'
AT the very outset of this Year of Our Lady, the Bishop of Northamp!oi has announced that he hopes to arrange for the solemn crowning of the statue of Our Lady of Walsingham on August 15.
One of the titles bestowed by sur Catholic forefathers upon Our ..ady of Walsingham w a s 'Heavenly Empress." Henry VIII. :ealous of all that might brook his sway, even though he himself had once knelt in homage to this allbenign Empress whom Christendom from an early age had delighted to call Queen, Queen of Angels, Queen of Martyrs, Queen of all the glorious Company of Heaven, could not endure the crown she wore and so allowed it to be snatched away. And her shrine, the little holy house whence so many races poured was laid level with the ground, condemned to oblivion.
The theme of Our Lady Crowned, direct outcome of the acceptance of her glorious Assumption, is manifest in the art of West and East alike. The noble example in the great apsidal mosaic in St. Mary Major, in which she is being crowned by her Son, shows Our Lord as holding an open book with the inscription: Veni eleeta men et portant in tronum meant . . . (Come, my Chosen One, and I will set thee upon my throne).
This mosaic is ascribed to the period of Nicholas IV (1228-92) but Prof. Carlo Cecchelli has shown that it repeats the theme of a prototype of the earlier basilica of Pope Sixtus III. That this is probable is shown by the remarkable survival on the lowest surface of a palimpsest mural in S. Maria Antigua, of the late fifth century, of a portrait of Our Lady seated upon an imperial throne, with regal crown and majestic robes.
THE Queenship of Our Lady was no less popular in England, whether in small ivories, such as that now in the Louvre (61 in.; c. 1040) or in monumental tympana such as that (c. 1050) in the church at Fownhope, Herefordshire.
As the centuries progress we find Our Lady Crowned in every field of art; in murals, as at Canterbury; in bosses, as at Exeter; on ceilings,
as at St. Albans. .
English art may well have led the world in such but, nevertheless, reflected only what was held in common by the Christian world.
Likewise, throughout the Middle Ages there occur notices innumerable of the presentation of crowns to Our Lady's images, often of great value, hut so far none of these represent any ceremonial act of crowning. Dr. W. L. Hildburgh, F.S.A., in a thesis presented to the Society of Antiquaries in 1939, demonstrated the probability that our 14th century alabaster-carvers depicted only what they had seen performed in contemporary religious drama. It is certain that, at the end of the Coventry Assumption Play, Our Lady was crowned by her Son. And at Leicester, where in the 15th century a statue of Our Lady was solemnly borne, beneath canopy and with music, from St. Mary's Church to St. Margaret's, there she was crowned each year and set within a shrine. This would seem to he the earliest record of any such crownings in England.
IT is stated that the custom of crowning Our Lady's images in gratiiude, and as a special mark of esteem for a particular shrine, originated with a holy Capuchin of Bologna, Fm Gerolamo di Forli, one of Our Lady's great apostles (1552-1620), who caused special hymns to be composed for each occasion.
At his instance the Madonna di St. Luca, just outside Bologna, was crowned (1603) by Archbishop Antonio Paleotti, with crowns giver by the illustrious Chelli family. Once started, this custom sprea.S rapidly.
At first coronations were performet: at the instance of powerful patrons. thus Carlo Dona caused Our Lad; of Mercy at Savona to be crownes in 1655 and Our Lady of Ghiara, decree of the city council, in 1672. Yet in 1603, remote from the influ. ence of Fm Gerolamo, the city o Brussels sent a superb crown to Ou; Lady of Montaigu, which was imposed with ceremony.
Papal ceremonies SOON it was found fitting that in certain instances these coronations which imposed a particular character upon the shrine so honoured, should be performed by the Pope himself. who was accustomed to crown the Emperors of the Holy Roman Empire.
Thus in 1620, Pope Paul V crowned Our Lady of °rope, and in 1690 Pope Alexander VIII crowned Our Lady of Montenero.
Two of the most famous of these Papal coronations were that of Our Lady of Mercy at Savona, by Pope Pius VII, in gratitude for his release from captivity, in 1815, and that in 1924 of the new statue of Our Lady of Loreto (made to replace the original destroyed in a fire) in the Sistine Chapel by Pope Pius Xl.
But by degrees, these Papal coronations had of necessity to be delegated, and the right of decision in such cases became vested in the Vatican Chapter, i.e., the Chapter of St. Peter's, Rome.
This privilege was at first restricted to the more famous images of Our Lady within the city of Rome; thus it was by decree of the Vatican Chapter that the Madonna della Strada was crowned in 1638, and St. Maria in Portico in 1650.
Shrines in France
OPE PIUS IX with his own hands crowned many statues. His coronation of Our Lady of Good Counsel in 1864 is probably the last occasion on which a Pope has crowned Our Lady outside the Vatican.
After the "imprisonment" of 1870, all such Papal coronations were performed by decree of His Holiness and by indult of the Vatican Chapter.
In the name of Pope Pius IX more statues of Our Lady have been crowned than in any other pontificate, and particularly in France. There, in addition to the major shrines of Lourdes, Chartres, Le Puy and Our Lady of Victories, Paris, the most notable in each province was chosen and honoured, to the number of 40.
Since then, other shrines in France have been accorded Papal coronation, perhaps 80 in all.
In this, France has been exceptionally honoured. In other countries —Austria, Belgium, Germany, Holland, Malta, Spain, Switzerland— outstanding shrines have been granted indult% by the Vatican Chapter; but only shrines which have hitherto been granted indulgences by the Holy See and only shrines of exceptional historic or devotional importance.
The most important coronations of Our Lady in recent years have been those of Our Lady of the Rosary at Pompeii at the instance of Pope Pius XI, and of Our Lady of Fatima by Cardinal Aloisi Masella, as Legate of the present Holy Father, in 1946.