Thursday, August 25, 2016

Miracle Stories of the Middle Ages
Caesarius von Heisterbach als Novizenmeister

The legend of Our Lady of Mercy giving shelter under her outstretched cloak seems to have originated with the Cistercians c. 1230 in a collection of miracle stories entitled Dialogus Miraculorumrecorded by Caesarius of Heisterbach. One story tells of a Cistercian monk mystically transported to heaven.  St. Dominic and several of the first friars he gathered to found the new Order were originally Cistercians.  It is possible the Cistercian monk in this story refers to St. Dominic before the Order of Preachers was founded.  

The monk was enraptured to behold the heavenly host of angels, apostles, prophets, martyrs, holy men and women and people of all diverse types singing and praising God’s glory, when he noticed there was not a single Cistercian among them. Seeing the Queen of Heaven he asked her where his brothers were and why he did not see any of them in heaven.  Our Lady replied, “They who are of the Cistercian Order are most familiar and pleasing to me.  I keep them hidden here under my arms.”  Stretching out her arms she showed him an innumerable multitude of his fellow monks, lay-brethren, and nuns together under her mantle. Triumphant and thankful he came back to life and told the abbot what he had seen and heard.

The abbot repeated the vision to all of his fellow abbots and they told it to all the monks to increase their love of the Blessed Mother.  Caesarius confessed himself to be too unskilled a scribe to write all that ought to be written in praise of the Blessed Mother whose graces surpass all the Saints. He asked his readers to make up for his insufficiency so that the things which he has written would bear fruit and increase devotion.  Medieval readers took liberty with the story and recast it many times with their own family and friends sheltered under Mary’s protection.

(Heisterbacensis 1851), p. 79

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Mary, Mother of Mercy

The Dominican Family under Mary's Mantle by Thoma Swanson, OP

Catholic devotion to Mary as Mother of Mercy flourish in Europe from the tenth century onward and spread to the Americas.  The most common way of portraying the Mother of Mercy is as a protective mother with a group of people taking shelter under her outstretched cloak. This image is called known by many names.  In Latin she is Mater Misericordiae and in Italian Madonna della Misericordia (Our Lady of Mercy). In Germany she is commonly known as the Schutzmantelmadonna (Sheltering-cloak Madonna) and in Spain the Virgen de la Merced (Virgin of Mercy) or Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes (Our Lady of Mercy).  In France she is the Vièrge au Manteau (Virgin of the Cloak) or Vierge de Miséricorde (Virgin of Mercy). 
The people taking shelter under her cloak are depicted on a much smaller scale compared to her and they represent diverse members of Christian society, kings, queens, popes, religious, saints, and ordinary people.  Several families, confraternities, guilds, convents, abbeys, and monasteries have commissioned statues or paintings of Our Lady of Mercy with the figures taking shelter under the mantle representing whatever group commissioned the work of art.  This 2005 watercolor painting by Dominican Sister Thoma Swanson watercolor hangs in the De Porres Center in St. Mary of the Springs, Columbus, Ohio.  It shows several Dominican saints and martyrs along with the dog from the dream of St. Dominic's mother, Blessed Jane of Aza, representing the light of Truth setting the world on fire.