Monday March 14, 2016

Our Lady of the Olive Trees

The print in the exhibit refers to the collegiate church of Murat in the region of Cantal in south-central France. Known for its cake made of olives and cheese, the Cantal is an agricultural region and has different types of climates, none of them particularly suited to grow olive trees. The reference to olive trees is probably due to the fact that the statue of Our Lady is made of olive wood. Though legend attributes the statue to King Saint Louis, it is historically established that the church built in 1357 was dedicated to Our Lady of the Olive Trees. The black color of the statue may be the result of a fire that destroyed the church, but not the statue, in 1493. It is noted in chronicles through the centuries that Our Lady of the Olive Trees was invoked as protector of the sick, of future mothers and against abortion, not least against thunderstorms. All these intentions appear in the prayer appended at the bottom of our print. The symbolic values given to this Marian title highlight peace (Mary is the olive tree of peace), she is a powerful protector, fertile and exquisite. Our Lady is the olive tree of grace.

Many of these characteristics are found in both Testaments of the Bible, in the writings of the Church Fathers, and those of medieval theologians. The olive tree is the symbol of covenant and unity between God and the human race. Prophecies are frequently pronounced under the olive tree; important gatherings are held in the shadow of its branches. Sirach 24:19 qualifies the olive as speciosa; she is rare, very special and beautiful, not to forget of rich fecundity. In times of peace (symbol of the olive tree) the tree becomes the symbol for a plentitude of grace, which in turn is an allusion to the time of redemption, the time of the Church.

– Father Johann G. Roten, S.M., Director of Research and Special Projects

Visit the exhibit Epinal: Popular Art for Mind and Heart in the Marian Library Gallery to see 33 Images of Epinal, categorized into nine themes, from the Marian Library collection.

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