Accepted Paper:

The embattled virgin: continuities and transformations in Marian imagery in the early Cold War years  


Monique Scheer (University of Tuebingen)

Paper short abstract:

The paper examines the apparitions of Heroldsbach, Germany (1949-52), arguing that the visions reactivated an old tradition of Mary as "Victorious in all of God’s Battles" with virgin-warrior iconography and fused it with protective messages for worshipers who feared war with the Soviet Union.

Paper long abstract:

The period 1945-1955 saw an explosion of Marian apparitions in Europe, when fears of imminent invasion by the Soviet Union were running high. These events discursively straddle a need for protection and a desire to fight back, thereby drawing on older patterns of Mary as patroness and at the same time absorbing the new ideological rhetoric. The apparitions in Heroldsbach, Germany, some 100 kilometers from the ‚Iron Curtain‘ between 1949 and 1952 are an example of this process. At its high point, the cult drew crowds of up to 50,000. This paper will examine these events in the context of a broader contemporary discourse reflecting fears of a nuclear attack and a desire to re-Christianize Europe. It will argue that the visions invoked a long tradition of Mary as "Victorious in all of God’s Battles" and thus reactivated a virgin-warrior iconography the Church had preferred to submerge under the dominant imagery of the suffering mother. The communities needed an active Mary now. Her primarily protective function for local worshipers was easily fused with more global objectives of the Church Militant, imbuing the familiar vision of the Immaculata of Lourdes with the attributes of the Woman of the Apocalypse, supported by armies of rosary-praying believers. It is this Virgin who leads a variety of organizations (Legio Mariae, the Blue Army, Rosary Crusades etc.) into spiritual battle, which had begun against secularism in the early 20th century and by mid-century was more strongly (though not exclusively) directed at the threat of Communism.

Panel Reli008
Cold War Marian politics and prophecies