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Mary Wearing a Bishop's Pallium. Gallery of Images

Mary Wearing a Bishop's Pallium

Gallery of Images, no 1

From the 6th century we find in many Churches representations of Mary wearing the episcopal pallium.

pallium

The pallium was originally a Greek dress, the omophorion, which was also introduced to Rome, and probably worn to denote status. However, it acquired new significance as an ecclesiastical dress. In its particular Christian shape and decorated with crosses, it became the distinctive sign of papal and episcopal priestly power.

The pallium, as we know it now, is a circular band worn over the shoulders, with two pendants, one hanging down in front and one behind. The pallium is made of white lamb’s wool. Its pendants usually have tresses. Square black crosses decorate the pallium in various places. Originally the top part was a short mantle, held together with pins so that the pendant hung out in front. Originally the pendants were long. Later they became shorter.

What is the significance of the pallium?

It is very significant that throughout the early centuries Mary was portrayed as wearing the pallium.

  • The pallium was the symbol of the highest priestly ministry. It could only be worn by the Pope or by a bishop who received the privilege from the Pope.
  • The pallium was only worn when the bishop was exercising his supreme priestly functions, such as at the Eucharist and other solemn liturgies.

This can be proved from letters written by Pope Gregory the Great (540 - 604 AD). Since the 9th century the pallium has only been given to Archbishops.

For more details about the pallium and its history, click here.


Click for enlargement!

Mary wearing the pallium

1. Mosaic in the Oratory of San Vincenzo near the Lateran Baptistery in Rome, dated 6th century.

Mary wears the white pallium over a dark chasuble.

Mary is here portrayed as a ‘High Priest’, interceding with God for people, which is one of the highpriestly tasks mentioned in Hebrews 5,1. Intercession and mediation are among the priestly functions ascribed to Mary by the Fathers of the Church.

Credit. The image can be found in The Madonna by Adolfo Venturi, Burns & Oates, London 1902, p.4. For a larger size picture (153 Kb), please click here or on the smaller image.


Mosaic in Parenzo, Croatia

2. Mosaic in the oratory of San Venanzio, in the Lateran, dated 642 AD.

The mosaic was made under Popes John IV and Theodorus, both Greeks by birth (640-649 AD), and the representation shows some Greek influence. Mary wears the white pallium over the chasuble, but the top part is covered by her maphorion (her veil), which also carries a cross as if to remind us of the cross on the pallium underneath.

Again, Mary is portrayed as a ‘High Priest’, interceding with God for people, which is one of the highpriestly tasks mentioned in Hebrews 5,1. Intercession and mediation are among the priestly functions ascribed to Mary by the Fathers of the Church.

Credit. The image can be found in Legends of the Madonna by Anna Brownell-Jameson, Hutchinson & Co, London (no date), p. 85. For a larger size picture (130 Kb), please click here or on the smaller image.


Mosaic in Parenzo, Croatia

3. Mosaic in the Basilica of Parenzo, Croatia, dated 540 AD.

Both Mary and Elizabeth wear a pallium under a chasuble. The Fathers of the Church attached great value to the fact that both women belonged to a priestly family. They often hail the fact that Mary was of priestly descent. Note also that Mary was believed to have baptised and confirmed John the Baptist in Elisabeth’s womb on this occasion: she was therefore exercising her priestly ministry.

Credit. This photograph was made in Croatia itself by Dr. P.M.E. Hogervorst-van Kampen in August 1997. For a larger copy of the mosaic (240 Kb), click here or on the smaller image.


Click here to enlarge!

4. Bass-relief sculpture in Santa-Maria-in-Porto, Ravenna, 6th or 7th century..

This sculpture is a mixture of East and West. The inscription over the sculpture is a Greek abbreviation for meter theou, mother of God. The representation has been influenced by the Greek tradition of the so-called Virgin Platytera, the praying Virgin. In the East it usually shows the image of Christ in a window on her chest. The top mantle is obviously meant to be Mary’s maphorion, the Greek equivalent to the Roman pallium. There are crosses all over Mary’s dress, a feature derived from the ecclesiastical pallium.

Again, Mary is portrayed as a ‘High Priest’, interceding with God for people, which is one of the highpriestly tasks mentioned in Hebrews 5,1. Intercession and mediation are among the priestly functions ascribed to Mary by the Fathers of the Church.

Credit. The image can be found in Legends of the Madonna by Anna Brownell-Jameson, Hutchinson & Co, London (no date), p. 83. For a larger size picture (130 Kb), please click here or on the smaller image. Another image of the sculpture can be seen here (from Sub Matris Tutela by Christa Belting-Ihm, Carl Winter, Heidelberg 1976, plate XVIa).


Click for enlargement!

5. Mosaic in Archbishop’s Chapel, Ravenna, 11th century (?)..This painting hangs over the altar of the archiepiscopal chapel at Ravenna. The mosaic originally came from the apse of the Basilica Ursiana. Again we have the white pallium over a dark chasuble.

Mary is here portrayed as a ‘High Priest’, interceding with God for people, which is one of the highpriestly tasks mentioned in Hebrews 5,1. Intercession and mediation are among the priestly functions ascribed to Mary by the Fathers of the Church.

Credit. The image can be found in Sub Matris Tutela by Christa Belting-Ihm, Carl Winter, Heidelberg 1976, plate XVIb. For a larger size picture (190 Kb), please click here or on the smaller image.


Click here to enlarge!

6. Mosaic in the dome of the basilica at Torcello, 12th century.

Mary is carrying the child Jesus on her left arm. It has obviously been influenced by the Greek icon tradition of the Hodegetria Madonna. However, there are two manifest differences. There are crosses on her chasuble and on her veil - in the Greek equivalent, on Mary’s maporion, we normally find stars. And the white pallium with cross is visible just below her left hand.


Credit. The image can be found in The Madonna by Adolfo Venturi, Burns & Oates, London 1902, p.9. For a larger size picture (195 Kb), please click here or on the smaller image.


Painting from Italy

7. Painting from the Church of the Madonna del Serbo Campagnano, 13th century.

Mary is sitting on a throne, probably here representing a bishop’s throne. She is holding the child Jesus on her left hand and pointing to him with her right hand. A decorated white pallium extends down from under her chasuble.

Another interpretation by some authors is that Mary is wearing the Dalmatic of a deacon. This is based on the shape of the chasuble. The Fathers hailed Mary as a ‘deacon’, which is all the more significant as in that time women deacons served the Church as validly ordained ministers. Also in later tradition Mary has at times been considered a deacon, see e.g. M.J.Scheeben. However, Mary’s sitting on a bishop’s throne and the pallium argue against this interpretation.

Credit. The image can be found in Romanesque Painting by Juan Armand, Weidenfeld & Nicholson, New York 1963, p. 46. For a larger size picture (220 Kb), please click here or on the smaller image.


Click here to enlarge!

8.Fresco in Santa Maria Antica, Rome, 14th century?

Mary is seated on what looks to be an episcopal throne, with the child Jesus resting on her knees. She wears an elaborate chasuble, decorated with gems. The pallium is just visible under her left hand.

The fresco is badly damaged and its age is difficult to determine.

Credit. The image can be found in Le Triomphe de la Vierge-Église by Marie-Louise Thérel, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris 1984, fig. 96. For a larger size picture (185 Kb), please click here or on the smaller image. To see the image in its wider context, click here.




A word of thanks, and an appeal

I would like to thank the following persons for their help: the community of Poor Clare Colletines in Harwarden, Wales, Gt. Britain; Colette Joyce pastoral assistant in Borehamwood parish, nr. London; Dr. P.M.E. Hogervorst-van Kampen, Noordwijk, the Netherlands; and Drs. A. Wijngaards, Arnhem, the Netherlands.

I kindly request anyone else who knows of images of Our Lady wearing priestly vestments, or illustrations of Mary Virgin Priest, to let me know where these can be obtained. If at all possible, scan the image in colour and send it to me as an attachment to email. Please, retain detailed information about reproduction and publication. This will help me give the correct credits and obtain permission to show them on the net, when necessary and possible. Thank you!

Go to Gallery of Images, no 2.

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