Our Lady, Star of the Sea
The title was used to emphasize Mary's role as a sign of hope and as a guiding star for Christians, especially gentiles, whom the Old Testament Israelites metaphorically referred to as the sea, meaning anyone beyond the "coasts", or, that is to say, sociopolitical, and religious (Mosaic law), borders of Israelite territory. Under this title, the Virgin Mary is believed to intercede as a guide and protector of those who travel or seek their livelihoods on the sea.
This aspect of the Virgin has led to Our Lady, Star of the Sea, being named as patroness of the Catholic missions to seafarers, the Apostleship of the Sea, and to many coastal churches being named Stella Maris or Mary, Star of the Sea. This devotion towards Our Lady with this ancient title is popular throughout the Catholic world.
Stella Maris "sea-star" is a name of α Ursae Minoris or Polaris, the "guiding star" (also "lodestar", "ship star", "steering star", etc.) because it has been used for celestial navigation at sea since antiquity. The name is applied to the Virgin Mary in Saint Jerome's Latin translation of the Onomasticon by Eusebius of Caesarea, although this is in fact a misnomer based on a transcription error. The Hebrew name Miryam, meaning drop of the sea, was translated by St Jerome into Stilla Maris, but at some later stage a copyist transcribed this into Stella Maris, and this transcription error became widespread.
Paschasius Radbertus in the ninth century wrote of Mary, Star of the Sea, as a guide to be followed on the way to Christ "lest we capsize amid the storm-tossed waves of the sea." At this time too the plainsong hymn "Ave Maris Stella" ("Hail, Star of the Sea"), became increasingly popular.
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In the twelfth century, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux wrote: "If the winds of temptation arise; If you are driven upon the rocks of tribulation look to the star, call on Mary; If you are tossed upon the waves of pride, of ambition, of envy, of rivalry, look to the star, call on Mary. Should anger, or avarice, or fleshly desire violently assail the frail vessel of your soul, look at the star, call upon Mary."
Pope Pius XII in his encyclical, Doctor Mellifluus, also quoted Bernard of Clairvaux in saying; Mary ... is interpreted to mean 'Star of the Sea.' This admirably befits the Virgin Mother.. (for) as the ray does not diminish the brightness of the star, so neither did the Child born of her tarnish the beauty of Mary's virginity.
The idea of Mary as a guiding star for seafarers has led to devotion to Our Lady, Star of the Sea in many Catholic coastal and fishing communities. Numerous churches, schools and colleges are dedicated to Stella Maris, Our Lady Star of the Sea, or Mary, Star of the Sea.
Stella Maris Monastery, the foundation house of the Carmelite order was established on Mount Carmel, Israel, in the early thirteenth century. The abbey was destroyed several times, but a refounded Stella Maris monastery is still considered the headquarters of the order.
The star on Mary's robe alludes to her epithet of Stella maris, the Star of the Sea. The Walters Art Museum.
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- Richard Hinckley Allen, Star Names and Their Meanings (1899), p. 454.
- Maas, Anthony (1912). "The Name of Mary". The Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved 21 December 2012.
- Hom. II super "Missus est," 17; Migne, P. L., CLXXXIII, 70-b, c, d, 71-a. Quoted in Doctor Mellifluus 31
- Bernard of Clairvaux quoted in Doctor Mellifluus 31