Image of Mary has changed over time, Cunneen says

Amy Pint

Audience members listened attentively as slides of the Virgin Mary filled the screen before their eyes. Sally Cunneen, author of two books about Mary, shared her ideas of how Mary’s identity has changed over the centuries Monday night in the Sun Room of the Memorial Union.

“Some tried to tear [Mary] from her Jewish roots,” she said. “What ambivalence she must have felt.”

Cunneen talked about how scriptures have developed the image of Mary. “The Odes of Solomon say, `She brought forth like a strong man with desire,'” she said. “These ideas evoked a powerful woman.”

Mary was an icon to many for protection, Cunneen said, which is why people in Belgium put cannonballs by Mary’s statue during the French Revolution. Many slides also showed Mary as a thin, black woman, a departure from the more common image of Mary as “white with pink cheeks.”

“Some say the greatest miracle workers are black,” she said. “Most artists say their statues are black because of candles or olive oil around her. It’s somewhat mysterious and not fully answered.”

Today, people seek out an image of Mary that reaches across gender and race lines, Cunneen said.

“The human aspect has made her a credible image today, and she tells us to pay attention to our own annunciations so we can credit our own lives,” she said.

Cunneen said the Catholic faith looks to Mary for petitions, but not as a god.

“There is a definite strong sense within the Catholic faith of the idea of patrons,” she said. “Some people might be scared to pray to God, so we pray to saints. The mainstream Catholic believes Mary will take it to her son. It’s very traditional – what people know and believe. Catholics have always surrounded themselves with friends and prophets of God. If you pray to Mary thinking she’ll do it all for you, you’re on thin ice.”

Student audience members said they thought the lecture was beneficial.

Ann Staniger, junior in graphic design, said she could relate to what Cunneen was saying.

“I wanted to enhance my own religious knowledge,” she said. “A lot of what she said did hit home to what I thought. Being an art major, having the artistic presentation added a lot to it.”

Anthony Bateza, senior in zoology, also said he’s glad he came to the event.

“I found it very enlightening,” he said. “We don’t hear about Mary in the Lutheran church, and it’s interesting to learn a different perspective. I see the Immaculate Conception and now know the meaning behind it.”