The Lady We Claim as Our Own
All that We Have: The Image of the Virgin Mary in the Daily Mass Chapel
Published on February 9-10, 2013 in the Parish Bulletin of Saint Andrew Catholic Church, Harrodsburg KY
On the left side of the western wall of the Chapel is a painting of the Blessed Virgin Mary clothed in a blue dress with tight sleeves buttoned at the wrist and, over this, an ample blue mantle kept from slipping off the shoulders by a tasseled cord attached to two jewels on its border. Both her mantle and the neckband of her dress are bordered with precious stones between two rows of pearls. Behind her hangs a cloth of honor: a rich white damask ornamented with gold flowers and scrolls with Saracenic letters. On her head rests a glorious diadem adorned with lilies and roses and above them are stars like those in the crown of the woman clothed with the sun in the Book of Revelation (12:1). The Virgin is portrayed as the Queen of whom the Church sings in the psalm (45:10) for the Solemnity of the Assumption: the “queen [who] stands at [the Lord’s] right hand, arrayed in gold.”
That same psalm presents a promise from the Lord to the Lady whom “all generations shall call…blessed” (Lk. 1:48): “I will make your name renowned through all generations; thus nations shall praise you forever” (Ps. 45:18). So, for generations the Church has revered Her who is “blessed…among women” (Lk. 1:42) for the singular honor of being the Mother of God.
Mary’s long fair hair falls in wavy masses over her shoulders. With both hands she holds a richly illuminated book, opened to an unknown passage on which she is apparently meditating. Her serene posture of prayer recalls the Blessed Mother in the Gospel who “kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart” (Lk. 2:19; cf. Lk. 2:51).
The arches above her have an inscription in Latin that says: + H[a]ec e[st] speciosior sole + sup[er] o[mn]em stellaru[m] disposic[i]o[n]e[m] luci c[om]pa[ra]ta i[n]ve[n]it[ur] p[ri]or ca[n]dor e[st] e[n]im lucis [a]etern[a]e + spec[u]l[u]m s[i]n[e] mac[u]la Dei (“She is fairer than the sun and surpasses every constellation of the stars. Compared to light, she takes precedence. For she is the refulgence of eternal light, the spotless mirror of the power of God.”).
Jan van Eyck inscribed the same text on the borders of two of his other works: The Virgin and Child with Canon van der Paele (ca. 1434-1436) and the Dresden Marienaltar (ca. 1437). He had borrowed this gleaming description of the Blessed Virgin from the Book of Wisdom (7:29, 26). The verses come from Solomon’s song of praise to Lady Wisdom. But later generations of Christians also found in those ancient words of that wise king a fitting tribute to the Lady and Mother whom we as the Church now claim as our own: Notre Dame.
Both this painting of Our Lady and that of Saint John the Baptist are framed in dark cherry, the same type of wood that was used to build the presider’s chair, the ambo, and the altar in the Daily Mass Chapel. These images were blessed for public veneration on February 2, 2013, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord.