How did the Virgin Mary, about whom very little is said in the Gospels, become one of the most powerful and complex religious figures in the world? To arrive at the answers to this far-reaching question, one of our foremost medieval historians, Miri Rubin, investigates the ideas, practices, and images that have developed around the figure of Mary from the earliest decades of Christianity to around the year 1600. Drawing on an extraordinarily wide range of sourcesincluding music, poetry, theology, art, scripture, and miracle talesRubin reveals how Mary became so embedded in our culture that it is impossible to conceive of Western history without her.
In her rise to global prominence, Mary was continually remade and reimagined by wave after wave of devotees. Rubin shows how early Christians endowed Mary with a fine ancestry; why in early medieval Europe her roles as mother, bride, and companion came to the fore; and how the focus later shifted to her humanity and unparalleled purity. She also explores how indigenous people in Central America, Africa, and Asia remade Mary and so fit her into their own cultures.
Beautifully written and finely illustrated, this book is a triumph of sympathy and intelligence. It demonstrates Mary’s endless capacity to inspire and her profound presence in Christian cultures and beyond.
At first glance, it would seem that attempts to write histories of biblical characters must be hampered by the sparsity of extracanonical writings that inform our understandings of the Bible's people. But sometimes an individual rises from the pages of Scripture to take on a role so central, so important to Christendom's self-understanding that legend and devotion supersede historical verities. Rubin, professor of history at Queen Mary University of London, brings to this work a panoramic view of Mary's impact on the evolution and growth of Christianity, especially Catholic Christianity. Mary emerges in this study as a multifunctional Swiss army knife of spirituality, variously used as a model of motherhood, an object of devotion and a focal point of conflict among Christian believers. But she also serves as a useful tool to help all believers "reflect on the uses of the feminine in private yearnings and public supplications." In the end, Mary is as complex as is Christianity itself. Rubin's study goes a long way toward helping readers understand Mary and deserves a wide readership. 32 color, 8 b&w illus. not seen by PW. (Apr.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.