Titles of Mary

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210} , Byzantine icon, possibly 13th or 14th c. now in Rome

Mary is known by many different titles (Blessed Mother, Madonna, Our Lady), epithets (Star of the Sea, Queen of Heaven, Cause of Our Joy), invocations (Panagia, Mother of Mercy) and names associated with places (Our Lady of Loreto, Our Lady of Guadalupe).

All of these descriptives refer to the same woman named Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ (in the New Testament), and are used differently by Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and some Anglicans. (Note: Mary Magdalene, Mary of Clopas, and Mary Salome are different women.)

Some descriptives of Mary are properly titles, dogmatic in nature, while some of them are invocations. Other descriptives are poetic or allegorical or have lesser or no canonical status, but form part of popular piety, with varying degrees of acceptance by Church authorities. There is another class of titles which refer to depictions of Mary in Catholic Marian art and in art generally. A rich range of Marian titles also belong to musical settings.[1]

Historical and cultural context[edit]

The relatively large number of titles given to Mary may be explained in several ways.[2] Some titles grew due to geographic and cultural reasons, e.g., through the veneration of specific icons. Others were related to Marian apparitions.

Mary's intercession is sought for a large spectrum of human needs in varied situations. This has led to the formulation of many of her titles (good counsel, Help of the Sick, etc.). Moreover, meditations and devotions on the different aspects of Mary's role in the life of Jesus have led to additional titles, such as Our Lady of Sorrows.[3] Still further titles have been derived from dogmas and doctrines, such as, the Assumption of Mary, Dormition of the Mother of God and Immaculate Conception.

The veneration of Mary or "devotional cult" was consolidated in the year 431 when, at the Council of Ephesus, the descriptive, Theotokos, or Mary the bearer (or mother) of God, was declared a dogma. Thereafter Marian devotion, centred on the subtle and complex relationship between Mary, Jesus, and the Church, began to flourish, first in the East and later in the West.

The Reformation diminished Mary's role in many parts of Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. The Council of Trent and Counter Reformation intensified Marian devotion in the Western Europe. Around the same period, Mary became an instrument of evangelisation in the Americas and parts of Asia and Africa, e.g. gaining impetus from reported apparitions at Our Lady of Guadalupe, which resulted in a large number of conversions to Christianity in Mexico.

Following the Reformation, baroque literature on Mary experienced unprecedented growth, with over 500 instances of Mariological writings during the 17th century alone.[4] During the Age of Enlightenment, the emphasis on scientific progress and rationalism put Catholic theology and Mariology often on the defensive later in the 18th century. Books, such as The Glories of Mary by Alphonsus Liguori, were written in defence of the cult of Mary.

Dogmatic titles[edit]

  • Mother of God: The Council of Ephesus decreed in 431 that Mary is Theotokos ("God-bearer") because her son Jesus is both God and man: one Divine Person with two natures (divine and human).[5] This name was translated in the West as "Mater Dei" or Mother of God. From this derives the title "Blessed Mother".
  • Virgin Mary: The doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary developed early in Christianity and was taught by the early Fathers, such as, Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria (and others).[6] In the fourth century "ever-virgin" became a popular title for Mary.[7] Variations on this include the "Virgin Mary", the "Blessed Virgin", the "Blessed Virgin Mary", and "Spouse of the Holy Spirit". The perpetual virginity of Mary was declared a dogma by the Lateran Council of 649.
  • Immaculate Conception: The dogma that Mary was conceived without original sin was defined in 1854, by Pope Pius IX's apostolic constitution Ineffabilis Deus. This gave rise to the titles of "Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception" and "Queen Conceived Without Original Sin". The Immaculate Conception is also honored under the titles of Our Lady of Caysasay (Philippines),[8] Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn in Vilnius, Our Lady of Guidance, and Our Lady of Salambao, also in the Philippines.
  • Assumption: The belief that the Virgin Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven upon completing the course of her earthly life was declared a dogma in 1950 by Pope Pius XII in the apostolic constitution Munificentissimus Deus. The titles "Our Lady of Assumption" and "Queen Assumed Into Heaven" derive from this. This dogma is also reflected in devotion to Our Lady of Ta' Pinu on Malta.

In the Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches the Assumption of Mary may be translated as the Dormition of the Mother of God; it is an important feast day, not based on a scriptural canon but affirmed by tradition.

Early titles of Mary[edit]

Madonna and Child among Ethiopian saints, Ethiopia mid 17th c.

"Our Lady" is a common title to give to Mary as a sign of respect and honor. In French she is called "Notre Dame" and in Spanish she is "Nuestra Señora".[9]

English Latin Greek Notes
Mary Maria Mariam (Μαριάμ), Maria (Μαρία) Arabic: Maryām (مريم), Chinese: (瑪利亞), Coptic: Maria (Ⲙⲁⲣⲓⲁ), French: Marie, German: Maria, Italian: Maria, Judeo-Aramaic: Maryām (מרים), Maltese: Marija, Portuguese: Maria, Russian: Marija (Мария), Spanish: María, Syriac: Mariam, Vietnamese: Maria
"Full of Grace", "Blessed", "Most Blessed" Gratia plena, Beata, Beatissima kecharitomene[11] (κεχαριτωμένη) from the angel's greeting to Mary in Luke 1:28;
"Virgin", "the Virgin" Virgo Parthenos[12][13] (Παρθένος) Greek parthenos used in Matthew 1:22; Ignatius of Antioch refers to Mary's virginity and motherhood (ca. 110);
"Cause of our Salvation" causa salutis[14] according to Irenaeus of Lyons (150–202);
"Mother of God" Mater Dei Meter Theou (Μήτηρ Θεοῦ) often abbr. ΜΡ ΘΥ in Greek iconography;
"God-bearer" Deipara, Dei genitrix Theotokos (Θεοτόκος) lit. "one who bears the One who is God"; a common title in Eastern Christianity with christological implications; adopted officially during Council of Ephesus (431) in response to Nestorianism, which questioned the Church's teaching that Jesus Christ's nature was unified;
"Ever-virgin" semper virgo aei-parthenos[12] (ἀειπάρθενος)
"Holy Mary", "Saint Mary" Sancta Maria Hagia Maria[12] (Ἁγία Μαρία) Greek invocation is infrequent in contemporary Eastern Christianity;[15]
"Most Holy" Sanctissima, tota Sancta[16] Panagia (Παναγία)
"Most Pure" Purissima
"Immaculate" immaculata akeratos[12] (ἀκήρατος)
"Lady", "Mistress" Domina Despoina[12] (Δέσποινα) related, "Madonna" (Italian: Madonna, from ma "my" + donna "lady"; from Latin domina); also, "Notre Dame" (French: Notre Dame, lit. "our lady");
"Queen of Heaven" Regina Coeli, Regina Caeli Mary is identified with the figure in Revelation 12:1;

Papal actions[edit]

Copy of Our Lady of Mercy from Lwów Cathedral before which John II Casimir Vasa first made vows to Mary, "Queen of Poland and Lithuania in 1656

Descriptive titles of Mary related to visual arts[edit]

Image Type Typical Art Style Description
Vladimirskaya ikona.jpg

Eleusa icon
"Our Lady of Tenderness"

Byzantine In this 12th c. depiction by an unknown artist, Mary holds her baby's face to her cheek as an expression of maternal tenderness. The evocative pose was copied two centuries later by the great Russian painter Andrei Rublev. The original was saved from destruction several times in its history. After the Russian Revolution it was housed in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, but representations from the Russian Orthodox Church ensured it is once again in a nearby church, where services are held;
Odigitriya Smolenskaya Dionisiy.jpg

"She Who Shows the Way"

Byzantine Mary holds Christ in her left hand and with her right hand she "shows the way" by pointing to Him;
Presbyter Martinus Madonna als Sedes Sapientiae.jpg

Sedes Sapientiae
"Throne of Wisdom"

Romanesque Christ is seated in His mother Mary's lap, symbolically the "Throne of Wisdom";
Toledo Virgen Coro.jpg

"Gothic Madonna"

Gothic Based loosely on Byzantine Hodegetria iconography; typically depicts a standing, smiling Mary and playful Christ Child; considered one of the earliest depictions of Mary that is strictly Western;[21]
Giovenone Madonna del latte Trino.jpg

Madonna Lactans
"Our Lady Nursing"

Gothic and Renaissance The Virgin is depicted breastfeeding the Holy Infant. Our Lady Nursing, as painted in the Catacomb of Priscilla in Rome, c. A.D. 250, is one of the earliest depictions (if not the earliest depiction) of Mary;[22] Discouraged by the Council of Trent and rare subsequently.
Lippo memmi, madonna della misericordia, Chapel of the Corporal, Duomo, Orvieto.jpg

Mater Misericordiae
"Virgin/Mother of Mercy"

Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque A regal, celestial Mary is depicted covering the faithful in her protective mantle; first arose in the late 13th century in Central Europe and Italy; depiction is commonly associated with plague monuments.[23]

of the Virgo Deipara
"Virgin God-bearer"

Gothic Mary is seated in majesty, holding the Christ Child; based on Byzantine Nikopoia iconography;
Michelangelo's Pieta 5450 cropncleaned.jpg

of the Mater Dolorosa
"Mother of Sorrows"

Renaissance Mary cradles the dead body of Jesus Christ after his crucifixion; this type emerged first in the 13th century in Germany as an Andachtsbild or devotional icon relating to grief; Italian Pietàs appeared in the 14th century;[24] Michelangelo's Pietà (1498–1499) is considered a masterpiece;
Antonello da Messina 033.jpg

Mater Amabilis
"Loving Mother"
commonly, "Madonna and Child"

Renaissance, Baroque Iconic Western depiction with many variations; based loosely on Byzantine Glykophilousa ("sweet kisses") iconography; Mary turns her gaze away from the Christ Child as she contemplates His future Passion; Renaissance emphasis on classical ideal types, realistic human anatomy, and linear perspective are evident;
Raphael Madonna della seggiola.jpg

Madonna della seggiola
"Madonna of the Chair"

Renaissance round painting Mary with toddlers Jesus and his cousin, John the Baptist, looking on, painted 1513-1514 during Raphael's Roman period. The unusual non-linear style and colouring is more reminiscent of Titian and Sebastiano del Piombo and bears out their influence. This painting has been greatly admired by many people, including Nathaniel Hawthorne, and by subsequent painters of the stature of Ingres.[25]

Devotional titles[edit]

In the Loreto Litanies Mary's prayers are invoked under more than fifty separate titles, such as "Mother Most Pure", "Virgin Most Prudent", and "Cause of Our Joy".[26]

Other devotional titles include:

Theological Mariology[edit]

Raphael, Madonna and Child, Urbino 1498

With the exception of the Jesus Christ, who is believed to have a twofold nature, both human and divine, (dyophysitism), the Blessed Virgin Mary is considered among many Christians to be the unique human being about whom there is a dogma. She is connected to four different dogmas and numerous Marian titles. Christian invocations, titles, and art bear witness to the prominent role she has been accorded in the history and programme of salvation in parts of Christendom, although this is not shared by many (mainly reformed) Christian churches.

In the Hail Mary prayer, she is addressed as "full of grace" by Archangel Gabriel of the Annunciation speaking in the Name of God. The Nicene Creed, declares that Jesus was "incarnate by the Holy Ghost and of the Virgin Mary, and was made man,". This has given rise to the descriptive, "spouse of the Holy Spirit".

Tradition has it that the Virgin Mother of God was anointed by the Holy Spirit, hence putting her on a par with the anointing of the Kings, Prophets, Judges, and High Priests of Israel, as Jesus Christ is said to have been. This in turn opens the way to titles such as:

In the Roman Catholic and in the Orthodox Churches, the Virgin Mother of God is venerated in a special form expressed in Greek as hyperdulia, that is, secondary only to the adoration reserved for the Triune God. She is venerated and honoured in this way since no other being--whether angelic or human--has greater power than Mary to intercede with God in the distribution of Grace to His children.

Titles associated with devotional images[edit]

Titles of images related to epithets include:

Titles of images related to places of worship include:

Titles associated with apparitions[edit]

Our Lady of the Rosary, Lourdes

Latin America[edit]

A number of titles of Mary found in Latin America pertain to cultic images of her represented in iconography identified with a particular already existent title adapted to a particular place. Our Lady of Luján in Argentina refers to a small terracotta image made in Brazil and sent to Argentina in May, 1630. Its appearance seems to have been inspired by Murillo's Immaculates. Our Lady of Copacabana (Bolivia): is a figure related to devotion to Mary under the title "Most Blessed Virgin de la Candelaria, Our Lady of Copacabana". About four feet in height, the statue was made by Francisco Tito Yupanqui around 1583 and is garbed in the colors and dress of an Inca princess.[30]

Titles in the Orthodox Church[edit]

Theotokos means "God-bearer" and is translated as "Mother of God". This title was given to Mary at the Third Ecumenical Council in Ephesus in 431 AD.(cf. Luke 1:43).[33]

Titles of Mary in Islam[edit]

The Qur'an refers to Mary (Arabic: مريم‎, romanizedMaryam) by the following titles:

  • Ma'suma - "She who never sinned"
  • Mustafia - "She who is chosen"
  • Nur - "Light". She has also been called Umm Nur ("Mother of one who was Light"), in reference to 'Isa
  • Qānitah - the term implies constant submission to Allah, as well as absorption in prayer and invocation.
  • Rāki’ah - "She who bows down to Allah in worship"
  • Sa’imah - "She who fasts"
  • Sājidah - "She who prostrates to Allah in worship"
  • Siddiqah - "She who accepts as true", "She who has faith", or "She who believes sincerely totally"
  • Tāhirah - "She who was purified"

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The History and Use of Hymns and Hymn-Tunes by David R Breed 2009 ISBN 1-110-47186-6 page 17
  2. ^ "Why does Mary have So Many Different Titles?" All About Mary, International Marian Research Institute, University of Dayton.
  3. ^ Tavard, George Henry, The thousand faces of the Virgin Mary 1996 ISBN 0-8146-5914-4 p. 95
  4. ^ Roskovany, A., conceptu immacolata ex monumentis omnium seculrorum demonstrate III, Budapest 1873
  5. ^ by Braaten, Carl E. and Jenson, Robert W., Mary, Mother of God, 2004 ISBN 0802822665 p. 84
  6. ^ Maas, Anthony. "Virgin Birth of Christ." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 10 April 2016
  7. ^ Wuerl, Donald W. and Stubna, Kris D., The Teaching of Christ: A Catholic Catechism for Adults, Our Sunday Visitor Publishing, 2004, ISBN 9781592760947
  8. ^ "In Honor of Nuestra Señora de Guia", De Anda (2009-11-22),
  9. ^ Hargett, Malea. "Marian titles chosen for one out of four churches in diocese", Arkansas Catholic, Diocese of Arkansas, 20 May 2006
  10. ^ Mauriello, Matthew R., "Mary the New Eve," Frei Francisco.
  11. ^ "...Byzantine inscriptions from Palestine...in the sixth [century]....fourteen inscriptions invoke "Holy Mary" (Hagia Maria), eleven more hail her as Theotokos; others add the attribution of "Immaculate" (Akeratos), "Most Blessed" (Kecharitomene), "Mistress" (Despoina), "Virgin" or "Ever-Virgin" (Aei-Parthenos)." (Frend 1984, p. 836)
  12. ^ a b c d e Frend 1984, p. 836.
  13. ^ "Blue Letter Bible" lexicon results for parthenos Retrieved 19 December 2007.
  14. ^ "Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.22.4".
  15. ^ The Titles of Saints, Orthodox Holiness, 18 December 2005
  16. ^ "Universität Mannheim". www.uni-mannheim.de. 3 January 2019.
  17. ^ Reynolds, Brian (2012). Gateway to Heaven: Marian Doctrine and Devotion, Image and Typology in the Patristic and Medieval Periods, Volume 1. New City Press. ISBN 9781565484498.
  18. ^ Pope Pius XII (11 October 1954). "Ad Caeli Reginam". Roman Catholic Church. Archived from the original on 7 October 2010.
  19. ^ "Śluby króla Jana Kazimierza, złożone dnia 1 kwietnia 1656 roku" [King John Casimir's vows made on 1 April 1656] (in Polish). Konferencja Episkopatu Polski i Wydawnictwo Pallottinum. Retrieved 27 April 2013.
  20. ^ Paweł Zuchniewicz [pl]. "Ostatni dokument Jana Pawła II" [The Last Document of Pope John Paul II] (in Polish). Retrieved 29 September 2019.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  21. ^ Madonna. (2008). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 17 February 2008, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online: [1]
  22. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 1 November 2009. Retrieved 24 August 2009.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  23. ^ Jeep 2001, p. 393.
  24. ^ Watts, Barbara. "Pietà". Grove Art Online. Oxford University Press, Retrieved 17 February 2008, http://www.groveart.com/
  25. ^ Zoffany Archived 2014-10-18 at the Wayback Machine, RoyalCollection.org, retrieved 18 October 2014
  26. ^ "The Loreto Litanies". The Holy See. Retrieved 7 November 2011.
  27. ^ Mark Alessio (31 January 2006). "Mary, advocate of the Church and Mediatrix of all graces". catholicism.org. Archived from the original on 9 March 2016.
  28. ^ Duricy, Michael P., "Black Madonnas: Origin, History, Controversy," All About Mary, International Marian Research Institute, University of Dayton.
  29. ^ a b c "Titles of Mary", Regis University
  30. ^ a b c "Latin American Titles of Mary," All About Mary, International Marian Research Institute, University of Dayton.
  31. ^ Paraguay: South America's Lewis Carroll world
  32. ^ Website of Center for the Promotion of Devotion, Sanctuary of Mary of the Rosary of San Nicolás]
  33. ^ a b c "Titles of the Holy Theotokos, Saint Mary", Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, Diocese of Los Angeles


External links[edit]