The queenship of Mary, mother of the King of Kings, is a concept with both spiritual and political meaning. “Especially in time of crisis,” as Pius XII wrote, believers take comfort in the faith that Mary “reigns with a mother’s solicitude over the entire world.”
And intermittently throughout the Christian era, leaders have claimed an alliance with the Queen of Heaven to bolster their spiritual or secular power.
As early as the 500s, a fresco in the Roman church of Santa Maria Antiqua (below) depicted Mary as a crowned Byzantine ruler.
During his brief papacy from 705-707, John VII added several images of Maria Regina to Roman churches. By the 1000s, devotion to Mary as Queen had spread through Europe. The hymn “Salve Regina,” attributed to Bl. Hermann of Reichenau (d. 1054), became the anthem of the Crusaders and is still sung often in Catholic services:
Hail, holy Queen, Mother of Mercy, our life, our sweetness, our hope.
In the 1100s, images of the coronation of Mary in heaven began to appear in Catholic churches and manuscripts. On the portal of Senlis cathedral (below), Mary is seated at Christ’s right, already crowned. Echoing ancient devotions to pagan Queens of Heaven, popular devotion to the Virgin as Queen strengthened in Europe as feudal fiefdoms ceded to royal realms with the rise of European monarchy, persisting through the Reformation and the decline of monarchy. In 1636, the Vatican began to authorize canonical coronation of Marian images such as the painting of the Madonna of Miracles in Rome, crowned in 1646.
Inspired by the dramatic cure of a Roman woman with severe tubercolosi, Maria Morbidelli, at Lourdes during the Holy Year of 1933, Servite priest Gabriele Roschini spearheaded a movement to urge the Church to establish a liturgical feast of Mary the Queen, as it had for Christ the King during the Holy Year of 1925.
The group Pro Regalitate Mariae (For Mary’s Queenship) spread from Rome through Italy and around the world, pushing especially for Vatican action in the Jubilee Year of 1950. In 1954, which he declared a Marian Year, Pope Pius XII issued the encyclical “Ad Coeli Reginam,” authorizing the feast of the Queenship of Mary on May 31.
After Vatican II, in 1969, Pope Paul VI changed the feast to an optional memorial on August 22 to improve the liturgical order of Marian feast days. The Feast of the Visitation moved from July 2 to May 31, closer to the Annunciation, while the Feast of Mary’s Queenship moved to the octave of the Assumption, consonant with the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary, in which the final mystery, Mary’s crowning, follows that of her rising to heaven.
Pius XII, “Ad Caeli Reginam,” Encyclicals of Pius XII – The Holy See – The Holy Father, www.vatican.va/holy_father/pius_xii/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xii_enc_11101954_ad-caeli-reginam_en.html
Department of the History of Art, University of Indiana, www.dlib.indiana.edu (picture of Santa Maria Antiqua fresco)
Architecture Religieuse en Occident, architecture.relig.free.fr/images/senlis/ext_tympan_couronnement.jpg (photo of Senlis portal)
“Santa Maria dei Miracoli e Santa Maria di Montesanto, Roma dipinto altare,” photo taken Feb. 27, 2011 and posted by uominipersi to Flickr – Photo Sharing! www.flickr.com/photos/uominipersi/5532997070/ (Madonna dei Miracoli)
http://www.unionecatechisti.it/ UnioneC/Italiano/Bollettino/Boll1950/1955_1_3/art11.htm (testimony about the healing of Maria Morbidelli)
Il Nomade, “Di paese in paese,” Bollettino – L’amore a Gesù Crocifisso, May-June 1950, www.unionecatechisti.it
The Mary Page, University of Dayton, www.udayton.edu/mary
Kenneth B. Moore, O.Carm., “The Queenship of the Blessed Virgin in the Liturgy of the Church,” Marian Studies 3, 1952