Crowning of the Virgin Mary


History of Crownings

The offering of crowns to adorn images became common practice in the Eastern Churches. In itself it would mean no more than adding such additional splendor to the icon as might also be given by a handsome gold frame. Then the affixing of the crown naturally attracted to itself, like all things dedicated to the use of the Church, was blessed before it was affixed.

At Rome, too, a ceremony evolved out of this pious practice. A famous case is the coronation of the picture of our Lady in Saint Mary Major. Clement VIII (1592-1605) presented crowns (one for our Lord and one for His Mother, both of whom are represented in the picture) to adorn it; so also did succeeding popes. These crowns were lost and Gregory XVI (1831-46) determined to replace them.

On August 15, 1837, surrounded by cardinals and prelates, he brought crowns, blessed them with a prayer composed for the occasion, sprinkled them with holy water, and incensed them. The Regina Cśli having been sung, he affixed the crowns to the picture, saying the form -- "Sicuti per manus nostras coronaris in terris, ita a te gloria et honore coronari mereamur in cślis" -- for our Lord, and a similar form (per te a Jesu Christo Filio tuo...) for our Lady. There was another collect, the Te Deum, a last collect, and then High Mass coram Pontifice. The same day the pope issued a Brief (Cślestis Regina) about the rite. The crowns are to be kept by the canons of Saint Mary Major. The ceremonial used on that occasion became a standard for similar functions.

(Principal source - Catholic Encyclopedia - 1913 edition)


Mary the Crown of Creation

In the Marian Year, 1987, the Holy See (Congregation for Divine Worship) issued a ritual for honoring images of Mary, Order of Crowning an Image of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It describes the honor of crowning as follows:

The queen symbol was attributed to Mary because she was a perfect follower of Christ, who is the absolute "crown" of creation. She is the Mother of the Son of God, who is the messianic King. Mary is the Mother of Christ, the Word Incarnate... "He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High; the Lord will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of His kingdom there will be no end" (Lk 1:32-33). Elizabeth greeted the Blessed Virgin, pregnant with Jesus, as "the mother of my Lord" (Lk 1:41-43). Mary is the perfect follower of Christ. The maid of Nazareth consented to God's plan; she journeyed on the pilgrimage of faith; she listened to God's Word and kept it in her heart; she remained steadfastly in close union with her Son, all the way to the foot of the Cross; she persevered in prayer with the Church. Thus, in an eminent way she won the "crown of righteousness" (II Tim 4:8), the "crown of life" (Jas 1:12; Rev 2:10), the "crown of glory" (I Pet 5:4) that is promised to those who follow Christ.

Order of Crowning an Image of the Blessed Virgin Mary, NCCB, 1987
USCCB publications:


A May Crowning

British writer Joanna Bogle writes of her childhood memory of May Crowning, which seems to imply that the practice, still customary in Catholic parishes and schools in the United States, is disappearing in Great Britain. The following is from A Book of Feasts and Seasons, by Joanna Bogle.

A crowning of a statue of Mary, and a procession in her honor were very popular in parishes in Britain and the USA in the 1950s and could easily be revived. By tradition, blue is Mary's color. At my Surrey convent school the girls taking part in the crowning ceremonies -- usually the year's First Communicants -- wore white veils edged with blue. The crown was carried on a cushion by the youngest girl in the school, and placed on the head of the statue by the oldest.

In its simplest form, the May crowning involves putting a statue of Mary on a pedestal, singing some hymns, and placing a garland of flowers on her head. Other floral tributes are then laid at her feet, and the shrine is kept going all May with fresh flowers.

The flower we call "May" is hawthorn blossom but it is only one of many flowers that bloom in this month. For a crowning ceremony, little girls wear their best dresses and garlands of flowers round their heads and carry posies or baskets of flowers. A boy carries the crown on a cushion to Mary's statue, and the oldest girl taking part does the actual crowning. The other children then troop up and stack their posies around the shrine.

Laying flowers before Mary's statue is deeply embedded in Christian tradition: some Catholic brides used to lay their wedding bouquets before a shrine of Mary after the wedding ceremony, and pray there for a blessing on their marriage.

Joanna Bogle is a Catholic writer and journalist living in London. She is a member of Women for Faith & Family editorial board. She broadcasts with the BBC and with EWTN radio, on which she has a "Catholic Heritage" series featuring places of pilgrimage and of historic interest in Europe.



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