Today (August 22, 2013) is the Feast of Queenship of Mary and The Immaculate Heart of Mary, on the Roman Catholic calender. The feast day is widely celebrated in Catholic circles, but many others are confused by the feast day, and even some Catholics fail to understand the significance and reasoning behind the event. Worse, many critics of Catholicism take issue with Catholic depictions of the Virgin Mary wearing a crown, pointing to it as evidence that the Catholic Church “worships Mary”. Others will take it one step further and claim such descriptions of Mary are something that Catholics “made up” in medieval times, without any scriptural basis. Is that true about the Queenship of Mary? No, but unfortunately many people think it is. Let's a take a look at how this feast day really originated.
The date of August 22nd for the Queenship of Mary only goes back to 1954, when it was established by Pope Pius XII. It was moved so it would occur directly following the Feast of the Assumption the previous week. This is because the events go hand in hand: after the Virgin Mary was bodily and spiritually assumed into heaven, she was honored as Queen of Heaven and Earth. While the current date may be a fairly new thing, the Christian teaching that the Virgin Mary is a Queen goes back to antiquity.
The Bible actually alludes to the idea on several occasions: Song of Songs (4.8) and Psalms (44.11-12) mention that the mother of the messiah will be a Queen, and do not say so in a literal sense, but a spiritual one. In the New Testament, the Virgin Mary is referenced as the woman clothed with the sun who gives birth to Christ. Revelation 12:1 adds: “with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was with child." The Annunciation narrative in the Bible also gives us basis for Mary being a Queen. In the story, the angel Gabriel tells her that her Son will be King over the house of Jacob forever. As the mother of a King, Mary is elevated to Queen. This does not change the fact that Mary was still a mortal woman and born into a ordinary human family. Numerous examples can be found when we look at modern day royalty here on earth. For example, in the United Kingdom, Prince William's wife, Kate Middleton, wasn't born into royalty or had any royal blood in her ancestry. But as the wife of the crown prince, her son is expected to one day be King, and she will have the title of Queen Mother when he does. In many ways, the Virgin Mary is the “Queen Mother” of Christianity.
Since the early days of Christianity, mainstream Christians have recognized the Virgin Mary as being Mother of the Church, and Queen of Heaven and Earth. The title Queen is used to indicate the final state of the Virgin in heaven: seated beside her Son, the King of glory. In the fourth century, St. Ephraim called Mary “Lady” and “Queen.” Likewise, the "crown" of Mary has been mentioned since the 6th century, known as "corona virginum". Later Church fathers and doctors continued to refer to Mary as "Queen", and reference her crowning. Indeed, the phrase "Queen of Heaven", (or Regina Coeli in Latin) for Mary goes back to at least the 12th century. Hymns of the 11th to 13th centuries also address Mary as queen: “Hail, Holy Queen,” “Hail, Queen of Heaven,” “Queen of Heaven”, etc. The Dominican rosary and the Franciscan crown as well as numerous invocations in Mary’s litany celebrate her Queenship. Indeed, it was only long after the protestant reformation that other Christians began to reject these traditional titles and honors for the Virgin Mary.
On the other hand, while this was always mainstream Christian doctrine, actual artwork depicting the Virgin Mary being crowned in heaven didn't come along until later. Since the early centuries, Mary was sometimes shown being crowned by one or two angels. The Coronation of the Virgin began to be a popular subject in Christian art from the 13th to 15th centuries, especially in Italy. Since the 18th century, it it has become common in Roman Catholic churches to represent the Feast of Queenship of Mary. Depictions have evolved over the years. Sometimes Jesus alone is shown crowning her, sometimes Jesus is accompanied by God the Father and the Holy Spirit (in the form of a dove) crowning her. In early versions of the artwork, Heaven is depicted as an high court, staffed by saints and angels. In later versions, Heaven is more often seen as in the sky, with the figures seated on clouds. Since the artwork is always representing something that occurred in Heaven, rather than a physical event that happened on earth, it is difficult to depict using human references.
Today, the event is still often enacted in popular pageants called May crownings, performed by human figures representing heavenly subjects. Parishes and private groups often process and crown an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary with flowers. The Coronation of the Virgin as Queen of Heaven and Earth is also the fifth Glorious Mystery of the Rosary. Because of the biblical references, a statue of the Assumption of Mary is typically crowned with 12 stars.
In summery, I hate to disappoint the naysayers, but Queenship of Mary is neither a “medieval Catholic invention” nor an “unbiblical concept that worships Mary”. Like many Catholic traditions, it has developed and been passed down for centuries from the earliest Christians. Hopefully, my article provides a bit more historic context so readers can understand the basis and importance of this feast day. Hail Holy Queen!