The Beatles’ “Let It Be” is Not About the Virgin Mary (Or is It?)

I recently looked into the history of the Beatles’ 1970 song, “Let it Be,” after my artist and musician brother-in-law reminded recently of the song’s reference to a “mother Mary” who “comes to me speaking words of wisdom” during my “times of trouble.”

CC0 Public Domain via Publicdomainpictures

CC0 Public Domain via Publicdomainpictures

I was glad to be reminded of the song and it’s connection to “Mother Mary,” because I’d just written a book on the topic of the virgin birth (due out this November)–which includes a chapter on the powerful influence of Mary across the globe. People have often claimed to experience apparitions or appearances of Mary during “times of trouble” or in an “hour of darkness,” whether personally or socially/culturally.

But I found–thanks to high-level and extensive research (Wikipedia)–that Paul McCartney, the author of the lyrics, didn’t have Jesus’ mother in mind when he wrote those words, but his own mother:

McCartney said he had the idea of “Let It Be” after he had a dream about his mother during the tense period surrounding the sessions for The Beatles (“the White Album”) in 1968. According to McCartney, the song’s reference to “Mother Mary” was not biblical. The phrase has at times been used as a reference to the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, McCartney explained that his mother – who died of cancer when he was fourteen – was the inspiration for the “Mother Mary” lyric. He later said: “It was great to visit with her again. I felt very blessed to have that dream. So that got me writing ‘Let It Be’.”He also said in a later interview about the dream that his mother had told him, “It will be all right, just let it be.” When asked if the song referred to the Virgin Mary, McCartney has typically answered the question by assuring his fans that they can interpret the song however they like.

And that’s the magic of art, of course. The song which springs from McCartney’s beautiful dream of his mom, can become an avenue for other deep meanings.

For the entire story, with footnotes, see the Wiki entry.

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About Kyle Roberts

(PhD) is Schilling Professor of Public Theology and Church and Economic Life at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities. Roberts has published Emerging Prophet: Kierkegaard and the Postmodern People of God (Cascade, 2013) and is currently co-authoring a theological commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Eerdmans) and A Complicated Pregnancy: Was Jesus Really Born of a Virgin? (Fortress Press, Theology for the People)