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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3 Responses to The Swoon of Our Lady

  1. Bob McCoy says:

    Father
    Before I had read two sentences I was thinking the same thing that the critics said as I read further, although not as elegantly as St. Alphonsus Liguori. I think we do a great disservice to our love and respect of the Blessed Mother by perpetuating these sort of traditions without scriptural basis which were likely begun to sell something. While the Blessed Mother was human, she by all descriptions was a strong woman who I suspect had some insight into the events at hand. However her faith in God’s providence was so strong and so complete that this sort of portrayal to her as a ‘weak sister’ I think is insulting and not something I would want to perpetuate.

    • If Jesus sweat blood, is it too much for the Blessed Mother to have fainted? I say this not because I think that this devotion is one that should be maintained (I don’t), but rather because I do not think that it is wholly without merit either. And I think it’s a bit cynical to suggest that such a devotion would have been started for commercial purposes.

    • I would also urge caution with respect to the unscriptural argument. Not everything that we believe or do has a clear scriptural basis.

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