The Swoon of Our Lady

The Blessed Mother, being helped by the Holy Women after collapsing at the foot of the Cross. Model for a larger sculpture by Antonio Begarelli. Photographed in the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, by Fr. Bryan Jerabek.

The Blessed Mother, being helped by the Holy Women after collapsing at the foot of the Cross. Model for a larger sculpture by Antonio Begarelli. Photographed in the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, by Fr. Bryan Jerabek.

In late medieval piety a tradition developed which held that when Our Lady encountered her Son during his procession to Calvary, she swooned upon seeing his suffering. A similar tradition is that she collapsed at the foot of the Cross.

Some people (theologians, saints, average folks) have taken issue with this pious tradition – not found in divine revelation – indicating that it was not fitting that the Mother of God should have fainted before the suffering of her Son, to which she had freely consented and in which she participated. Here, for example, is what St. Alphonsus Liguori wrote about it:

Mary, at the sight of her Son, on His way to Calvary, did not faint, no, for it was not becoming, as Father Suarez remarks, that this Mother should lose the use of her reason; nor did she die, for God reserved her for greater grief: but though she did not die, her sorrow was enough to have caused her a thousand deaths.

In any case, in places like the Holy Land and Italy there are churches to be found that were dedicated to the “swoon” or “fainting” of Our Lady (in older English, the “spasm”, coming from the Latin spasmus), and it certainly was the subject of art, the above photograph being just one example.

You and I probably would have collapsed if, with open and compassionate hearts, we had encountered our suffering Lord on his way to Calvary; as it is, we can barely handle our own sufferings, which are infinitely tiny in comparison!

Lord, have mercy on us! Blessed Mother, pray for us and stand by us as we bear with our crosses!

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