Time Capsule • May 4, 2020

A common May devotion to the Virgin Mary is a procession that includes adorning an image of her with a crown of flowers. This photo is from a May procession held at St. Charles School in Arlington around 1930. Note the trolley tracks. The construction of the Key Bridge in 1923 enabled trolley cars to cross the Potomac River, the first step in the development of northern Virginia as a suburb of Washington, DC. Northern Virginia belonged to the territory of the Diocese of Richmond until August 13, 1974, when it became part of the newly formed Diocese of Arlington.(Photo courtesy of the Diocese of Richmond Archives)



The dedication of May to the Blessed Virgin Mary is a centuries-old tradition. Its cultural roots may reach back to the May festivals of two pagan deities: Artemis, the Greek goddess of hunting, wild animals and fertility; and Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers and fertility. (Acts 19:23–40 mentions an Artemis who was worshipped in Ephesus as a mother and fertility goddess; her shrine was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.)

Veneration of Mary included an old, month-long devotion that was called, in Latin, Tricesimum (30 days), and in English, “Lady Month,” which ran from August 15 to September 14. During the Middle Ages, particular days in May came to be associated with the Blessed Virgin, and eventually the whole month. 

The specific reason for this development is unclear but in any case it combined the existing 30-day devotion, veneration of Mary’s motherhood and a calendar period associated with springtime and birth. Specific devotions to Mary throughout May originated in Italy during the late 1700s and from there spread to the rest of the Church.

Since 1945, a Marian feast has been observed on May 31: formerly this was the Queenship (which was transferred to August 22, seven days after the Assumption), and currently the Visitation. Furthermore, May 13 is the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, which commemorates the first apparition of Mary to Portuguese shepherd children (1917).

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