What Mary Wore: Belts and Veils from Mary’s Closet

In honor of the Marian feast this week, I thought I’d take a peek inside the Virgin Mary’s closet.  Sometimes you’d think, from looking at pious representations of the Mother of God, that she was a real fashionista. 

Actually, when you think about it, living in such a warm climate, Mary must have had at least a few tunics.  But haven’t the artists taken her style just over the top? 

Why Did Mary Wear Blue?

First, there’s that closet full of tunics!  Classical artists like Botticelli, Raphael and DaVinci frequently depict Mary wearing a red tunic topped by a blue mantle.  The Flemish High Renaissance painter Jan Gossaert uses the red/blue scheme in some works, but also envisions her in blue over blue, with a white veil.  And of course, there are the apparitions in which Mary wore white (at Lourdes and Fatima, for example); while at Guadalupe, she wore the vibrant colors of Mexican royalty.

Actually, the colors in Mary’s many costumes are not random selections from her walk-in closet—they are aflame with political symbolism.  Renaissance painters chose red because it was the color worn by influential Jewish women of her time.  Later, scholars decided that red too closely signified a loose or unchaste, “scarlet woman” and that Mary should instead wear blue.  And Dan Lynch, in his article “The Amazing Truth About Our Lady of Guadalupe,” explains how the image of Our Lady is actually an Aztec Pictograph which was read and understood quickly by the Aztec Indians:

  1. THE LADY STOOD IN FRONT OF THE SUN — She was greater than their dreaded sun-god “Huitzilopochtli”.
  2. HER FOOT RESTED ON THE CRESCENT MOON — She had clearly vanquished their foremost deity, the feather serpent “Quetzalcoatl”.
  3. THE STARS STREWN ACROSS THE MANTLE — She was greater than the stars of heaven which they worshipped. She was a virgin and the Queen of the heavens for Virgo rests over her womb and the northern crown upon her head. She appeared on December 12, 1531, for the stars that she wore are the constellation of stars that appeared in the sky that day!
  4. THE BLUE‑GREEN HUE OF HER MANTLE — She was a Queen for she wears the color of royalty.
  5. THE BLACK CROSS ON THE BROOCH AT HER NECK — Her God was that of the Spanish Missionaries, Jesus Christ her son.
  6. THE BLACK BELT — She was with child for she wore the Aztec Maternity Belt.
  7. THE FOUR-PETAL FLOWER OVER THE WOMB — She was the “Mother of God.” The flower was a special symbol of life, movement and deity — the center of the universe.
  8. HER HANDS ARE JOINED IN PRAYER — She was not God but clearly there was one greater than Her and she pointed her finger to the cross on her brooch.
  9. THE DESIGN ON HER ROSE-COLORED GARMENT — She is the “Queen of the Earth,” for she is wearing a map of Mexico telling the Indians exactly where the apparition took place.

English Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, in his poem “The Blessed Virgin Compared to the Air That We Breathe,” compared the air’s blueness to the Virgin’s transparent acceptance of God’s will: 

Blue be it.  This blue heaven—

the seven, or seven times seven,

hued sunbeam shall transmit

perfect, not alter it. 

So God was God of old. 

A Mother came to mould….”

But What About the Belt?

In the news recently were reports of as many as 3 million Russians queueing up to kiss a glass-covered reliquary that they believe holds the Virgin Mary’s belt.  The relic arrived in St. Petersburg on October 20, beginning a month-long tour of Russian cities.  When it arrived, Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin was the first to venerate the holy relic, which is usually housed in a Greek Orthodox monastery on Greece’s Mount Athos.  Many Russians believe that the relic, considered important within the Orthodox Church, can mystically help to overcome infertility or problems with pregnancy.

Similarly, the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico wears a black belt which was distinguishable as an Aztec Maternity Belt.  It remains until today the only apparition in which Our Lady appeared as she was during her pregnancy.  One of the amazing results of the apparition was that within a short time, infant sacrifice was ended in Mexico.

And at Fatima, Mary wore only a pristine white gown; but at Lourdes, still another outfit:  Her white tunic was cinched at the waist with a long, flowing light blue sash.

And Mary’s Veil – the “Sancta Camisia”

In the Cathedral of Chartres, southwest of Paris, is a holy relic called the “Sancta Camisia,” the “holy veil.”  A crumpled, faded cream-colored cloth, it’s protected in a glass reliquary.  Tradition holds that the Sancta Camisia is the veil of the Virgin Mary—in fact,it’s the veil she wore when she gave birth to the Christ Child.

Was the Sancta Camisia really worn by Mary?  Scientific study has confirmed that the veil dates to the first century.  It was presented to the Cathedral at Chartres in 876 by Charles the Bald, grandson of Charlemagne, upon his return from Jerusalem.  It was nearly destroyed by fire in 1194, but the Bishop of Chartres rescued it just in time.

Is it really Mary’s veil?  I don’t know—but despite efforts to refute the claim during the Protestant Reformation and the French Revolution, pilgrims still come to see it, to kiss the glass and to offer a fervent prayer.

The photos of Chartres Cathedral are from our pilgrimage with members of Legatus in September 2002.

  • Fr.Thomas Thekkumthottam osb

    There is a veil of Our Lady, believed to be of course, in the famous St. Mary’s Church, Manarcad, near Kottayam, Kerala, South India. This relic seems to have come from Edessa where it was brought by one of the apostles, probably st.Thomas. Mention of this veil in South India can be seen in the writings of the visionary Bl.Ann catherine emmerich. This church is an Orthodox Church of the Syrian Jacobite Christians. frthekkumthottamosb@yahoo.com

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