Her White and Blue
All that We Have: The Image of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Daily Mass Altar
Published on August 10-11, 2013 in the Parish Bulletin of Saint Andrew Catholic Church, Harrodsburg KY
An image of the Blessed Virgin Mary is enshrined in the central niche at the back of the altar in the Daily Mass Chapel of Saint Andrew’s. It is based on an oil on canvas painting (ca. 1660-1670) of La Inmaculada Concepción (The Immaculate Conception) by the Spanish Baroque artist Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617-1682). That painting is now housed at the Detroit Institute of Arts.
The image portrays Mary as a young maiden borne on a cloud by the cherubim and clothed in her traditional white and blue. Her white dress has long been regarded as a symbol of her virginity, her blue mantle her status as the Queen of Heaven. The crescent moon at her feet reminds us that she is the woman clothed with the sun in the Book of Revelation (cf. Rev. 12:1-2). With her hands crossed on her bosom, she turns her face towards Heaven. She seems to be asking why it was that she had been singled out to be the Mother of our Lord: “How can this be?” (Lk. 1:34). At the same time, her contemplative countenance draws the viewer to look, not at her but, to what is above: the mysteries of Her Son that are celebrated daily upon this altar.
It is said that, when it was established in 1858, the Rev. Joseph Thomas Ryan, OP (1819-1877), had hoped to name the parish “Saint Mary” in honor of the Blessed Mother. But, the Right Rev. Martin J. Spalding (1810-1872), then the Bishop of Louisville (1850-1864), decided to name it instead after Saint Peter of Verona (1205-1252), the protomartyr (first martyr) of the Dominicans, the religious order to which Fr. Ryan belonged.
According to the oldest sacramental register at the parish (dated from 1905 to 1965), Saint Andrew’s also had a mission called Saint Mary’s in Fenwick, now Thompsonville, Kentucky, from 1907 to 1919. It seems that this was the same Church of the Assumption in Thompsonville that, according to the Catholic almanacs from that period, was a mission of Saint Rose Protopriory in Springfield, Kentucky. Based on our parish register, most, if not all, of the Sacraments administered there were for Black Catholics from Washington County. The Church there apparently was built in 1895 and was razed in 1972.
In 1989, the first Bishop of Lexington, the Most Rev. J. Kendrick Williams (1988-2002), entrusted Saint Andrew’s with the care of another mission named Saint Mary’s. This is the Church in Perryville (in Boyle County) that was first established in 1968 as a mission of Saints Peter and Paul Church in Danville.
Thus, the image of the Blessed Virgin enshrined in the altar represents not only the devotion of our parish and its founder to the Mother of God but also the two missions named in her honor that we have had the privilege of ministering to throughout our history.