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The Persuasive Power of a Mother’s Breast

March 17, 2013

An interesting paper by Salvador Ryan, The Persuasive Power of a Mother’s Breast: The Most Desperate Act of the Virgin Mary’s Advocacy, discusses the once-popular images of Mary breastfeeding Jesus, or exposing her breast to him, as depicting two forms of Mary’s intercession. I disagree with the “desperation” of his title and thesis, but the two forms of intercession are different in very interesting ways.

The image of the Virgo Lactans (Breast-Feeding Virgin) “which occurs as early as the third century in the catacomb of Priscilla in Rome . . . [became] very popular, particularly in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries,” particularly on tombs(60).

The prominence of this image on tombs is interesting, in that it represents an acknowledgement of the role of the Virgin at the hour of death – namely, keeping her Son at bay while the rigours of judgement were implemented. While Mary holds Christ in her arms He appears subdued and less likely to exercise His judicial office. Mary, therefore, nurses Christ while her devotees pour into Heaven.

The supposition is that Mary’s breastfeeding Christ either distracts him, soothes him, or awakens mercy in him:

Read the rest over at Gaudete Theology.


Readers here might also be more generally interested in Medievalists.net: Where the Middle Ages Begin, where Ryan’s paper is posted. These good folks post a veritable feast of fascinating stuff every weekend as part of #allrequestsunday on Twitter. (It’s been making it hard for me to keep focused on my schoolwork, I must say: So Much Good Stuff To Read!!!)

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