May Devotions to the Blessed Virgin Mary refers to special Marian devotions held in the Catholic Church during the month of May honoring the Virgin Mary as "the Queen of May". These services may take place inside or outside. May devotions have been a regular feature of Catholic life.[1]

May Altar in Ireland, - Religious imagery of Mary as Queen of May, work of artist Clare O Hagan


The origin of the conventional May devotion is still relatively unknown. Herbert Thurston identifies the seventeenth century as the earliest instance of the adoption of the custom of consecrating the month of May to the Blessed Virgin by special observances.[2] It is certain that this form of Marian devotion began in Italy. Around 1739, witnesses speak of a particular form of Marian devotion in May in Grezzano near Verona. In 1747 the Archbishop of Genoa recommended the May devotion as a devotion for the home.[3] Specific prayers for them were promulgated in Rome in 1838.[4]

According to Frederick Holweck, the May devotion in its present form originated at Rome where Father Latomia of the Roman College of the Society of Jesus, to counteract infidelity and immorality among the students, made a vow at the end of the eighteenth century to devote the month of May to Mary. From Rome the practice spread to the other Jesuit colleges and thence to nearly every Catholic church of the Latin rite.MLA citation.[5] In Rome by 1813, May devotions were held in as many as twenty churches. From Italy, May devotions soon spread to France. In Belgium the May devotions, at least as a private devotion, were already known since 1803.

May devotions

Some of the devotions are accompanied by pilgrimages. The last devotion on May 31 is often followed by a solemn procession, during which a statue of the Virgin Mary or a portrait is carried back into the church. Some May devotions may take place outside in a forest or a dedicated special place. Before Vatican II, May devotions were more popular.

There is no firm structure as to the content of a May devotion. It includes usually the singing of Marian anthems, readings from scriptures, a sermon, and or presentation by local choirs. The whole rosary is prayed separately and is usually not a part of a Marian devotion, although Hail Mary's are included. The devotion, was promoted by Jesuits and spread to Jesuit Colleges and to the entire Latin church and since that time it has been a regular feature of Catholic life.[6]

In his 1965 encyclical, Mense Maio, Pope Paul VI identified the month of May as an opportune time to incorporate special prayers for peace into traditional May devotions.[7]

Family devotions

Marian devotions may take place within the family, around a "May Altar" consisting of a table with a Marian picture decorated with many May flowers. The family would pray together the rosary. This specific devotion has been supported be several popes including Pope Pius XII in his encyclical Ingruentium Malorum:

Mary, Queen of May

By his encyclical Ad Caeli Reginam, Pope Pius XII, recognizing traditional precedents, proclaimed the "Queenship of Mary".[9]

While May devotions may differ in various countries, the Marian title Queen of May exists identically in several countries as manifested in Marian songs. In English speaking countries such as England, Ireland and the USA, a Marian hymn uses the following text: Hail Virgin, dearest Mary! Our lovely Queen of May! O spotless, blessed Lady, Our lovely Queen of May. Your children, humbly bending, Surround your shrine ...[10] Another well-known Marian "Queen of May" song ends with the words:

In German-speaking countries, the equivalent word is Maienkönigin: Mary, Queen of May, we come to greet you.You see us at your feet. (Maria Maienkönigin,. wir kommen dich zu grüßen. O holde Freudenspenderin,. sieh uns zu deinen Füßen.) [12] Another similar song greets Mary, the queen of May, who is greeted by the month of May.[13]

May crownings

May crowning is a traditional Roman Catholic ritual that occurs in the month of May of every year. In some countries, it takes place on or about May 1, however, in many United States Catholic parishes, it takes place on Mother's Day. An image or likeness of the Blessed Virgin Mary is ceremonially crowned to signify her as Queen of Heaven and the Mother of God. The practice is also maintained in the same fashion by some Anglo Catholic Anglicans.

A number of traditions link the month of May to Mary. The Coronation of the Virgin became a popular subject in art. Alfonso X, king of Castile wrote in his "Cantigas de Santa Maria" about the special honoring of Mary during specific dates in May. Eventually, the entire month was filled with special observances and devotions to Mary. The tradition of honoring Mary in a month-long May devotion is believed to have originated in Italy, but spread eventually around the Roman Catholic world in the 19th century together with a month-long devotion to Jesus in June and the Rosary in October.

Crowning the icon

In Eastern churches, crowning Mary was associated with adding ornamentation to an icon of Mary, sometimes as simple as adding additional gold trim. Perhaps in homage to this, Pope Clement VIII added two crowns to the icon of Mary with the Infant Jesus in the Saint Mary Major Basilica in Rome. The crowns were eventually lost, but were replaced by Gregory XVI in 1837 in a rite that was to become the standard practice for crowning.

Today, May crownings occur in many Roman Catholic parishes and homes with the crowning of a statue of Mary. The ceremony traditionally takes place with young girls dressed in dresses carrying flowers (traditionally hawthorn) to adorn the statue. One of the girls (often the youngest) carries a crown of flowers or an actual golden crown on a cushion for placement by the May Queen (often the oldest girl) on the statue. The flowers are replaced throughout the month to keep them fresh.

"Flores de Mayo" (Flowers of May)

In the Philippines and other countries, Mary is greeted with the Flores de Mayo (Flowers of May). The Faithful collect colorful flowers to decorate the Parish Church altars and aisles.[14] "Flores De Mayo" is celebrated in many towns. The communities congregate in the afternoons to pray the rosary, offer flowers to the Virgin Mary, and share homemade delicacies and snacks. Children and adults wearing their Sunday best, sing and dance to welcome the rains that will water the new crops.[14]

In the Philippines, the celebration is marked with a parade called the Santacruzan, where young ladies are chosen to represent certain historical (such as St. Helena) and traditional figures, called "reynas" (examples of these titles are "Reyna Elena" and "Reyna Emperatriz"). They parade through the town, escorted by young men or boys (for example, St. Helena is escorted by a young Constantine), under mobile arches heavily decorated with local flowers or other decorations meant to denote bounty.

Mary Gardens

Main article: Mary garden

Floral imagery from scripture and nature has been applied to Mary in the writings of the Church Fathers and in the liturgy, providing the foundation in tradition for the subsequent naming of hundreds of flowers for Mary's life, mysteries, virtues, excellences and divine prerogatives in the popular religious folk traditions of the medieval countrysides - as recorded by botanists, folklorists and lexicographers.[15]

See also


  1. ^ -
  2. ^ Thurston, Herbert. "Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 1 May 2013
  3. ^ Küppers, Kurt. Marienlexikon, Vol 4, p. 244-246, Augsburg
  4. ^ Maiden and Mother: Prayers, Hymns, Devotions by Margaret Miles 2001 ISBN 0-86012-305-7 page 87
  5. ^ Holweck, Frederick. "Special Devotions for Months." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 1 May 2013
  6. ^
  7. ^ Pope Paul VI, Mense Maio, Encyclical Of Pope Paul VI On Prayers During May For Preservation Of Peace, April 29, 1965
  8. ^ Ingruentium Marlorum 13
  9. ^ Pope Pius XII, Ad Caeli Reginam, Encyclical Of Pope Pius XII On Proclaiming The Queenship Of Mary
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ "Maria, Maienkönigin, dich will der Mai begrüßen. O segne ihn mit holdem Sinn ..." - 23k
  14. ^ a b
  15. ^ Stokes, Jr., John. "Mary's Gardens"