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All About Mary

Immaculate Conception Emblems

Although defined as dogma (1854), the Immaculate Conception is one of those mysteries of Christianity which remain endlessly mysterious, meaning overabundant in significance and inexhaustible as a theme of pious contemplation. Approaching this mystery with the scalpel of cold reasoning only, often leads to its destruction. Generations of Christians in the past understood the danger of domesticating what was ultimately intended to be an expression of God's wonderful and gratuitous love for Mary and through her for each one of us. They sought ways to represent the Immaculate Conception which would circumscribe rather than define the mystery, and therefore used the language of poetry and art.

Hergiswald church exterior photograph

In the sixteenth-eighteenth centuries emblems were an important visual vehicle to express some of Mary's virtues and privileges, in particular that of the Immaculate Conception. The emblem is a symbol which consists of a visual representation of the symbol (pictura) and a mostly Latin inscription (motto, inscriptio). Frequently an explanatory epigram was added. The emblems here presented are from the Hergiswald church in the vicinity of Luzern, Switzerland. The church is small but well known in the region as a Marian shrine and is frequently visited by pilgrims. In 1654 Kaspar Meglinger painted the wooden ceiling. In fact, he filled the ceiling with what is considered as the most extensive and extant program of Marian emblematic. There are altogether 321 emblems which all relate to Mary's person and role.

Hergiswald church interior ceiling

We have selected twelve of them which highlight in a special way Mary's Immaculate Conception. As can be seen, there are many aspects to this mystery:

  • Mary is a perfect reflection of God's light
  • She is entirely centered on Christ, her Son
  • She is the one who crushes the head of the dragon
  • In her God's own Son became human
  • She makes God visible as "Bride of the Spirit"
  • She is eminently graced
  • She is the threshold between Old and New Testament
  • She is a guide and signpost to Christ

These are but some of the countless symbols celebrating Mary's eminent gracefulness. They are the result of loving and assiduous meditation on Mary's role in Christ's life and ours.

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