Mary and the Cathedral: a ★★★★★ book review

As a Protestant, I don’t spend too much time thinking about Mary. When I do, it is often in the Advent, Christmas season, reading of Mary’s Annunciation, her Magnificat, the Holy Family at the manger, and the things she treasured in her heart. Certainly, I  knew she was special (there is something about Mary), but Marian devotion, despite its prevalence in the historic and global church, has always been conceptually opaque to me.

Visions of MaryThis was Rev. Jill Geoffrion’s experience too when as a lifelong Protestant, she endeavored to locate and photograph each of the Chartres Cathedral’s 175 images of Mary (Preface, xix). As a professional photographer, a Chartres guide, workshop and retreat leader, and author of seven books on the Labyrinth (inspired by her work with the Chartres Labyrinth), she is well acquainted with the sacred space that is Chartres. Catholic colleagues at the Cathedral answered her questions about the theology of Mary in Catholic church history.

Visions of Mary: Art, Devotion, and Beauty at Chartres Cathedral  showcases the fruit of Geoffrion’s discovery. Her photographs of Mary at Chartres include images of Mary in stainglass, on guilded silk, sculpted relief and sculpture.

Geoffrion’s photos are cataloged and organized in five chapters. In Chapter 1, Geoffrion shares images that reflect a biblical theology of Mary, images which depict her role as Mother of Jesus (e.g. at his nativity and her influence on him at the wedding of Cana). Chapter 2 depicts images of Mary that reflect her role as Theotokos—the Mother of God. Chapter 3 explores Mary as the Mother of the Church, depicting scenes of Mary at Christ’s passion, the empty tomb, and her intercession for the church. Chapter 4 explores how Mary is the Mother of us all, showcasing images of Marian devotion. Finally, Chapter 5 explores the ongoing significance of Mary in the Twenty-Fist Century (depicting some of the newest Marian pieces).

Each of Geoffrion’s beautiful photographs is accompanied by a page-long-explanation of the work depicted, and what it reveals about Mary’s historic and theological significance in the Catholic tradition.  Visions of Mary is published by Mount Tabor Books, an imprint of Paraclete Press focusing on ecumenical scholarship on the arts and literature, liturgical worship and spirituality.

Geoffrion’s photographs, as well as the art of Chartres itself, are quite stunning. I came away from this photo tour with a greater appreciation for the depth of devotion and reflection on Mary captured in its art. Geoffrion’s Protestant background allows her to approach Marian art and devotion with a gentle hand, describing it without being heavy-handed on application. This is perfect for an ecumenical book on Mary. And it is beautiful. I give this five stars and recommend it if you have been to or plan to travel to Chartres Cathedral. It will certainly enhance your appreciation for all you will discover there! – ★★★★★

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book from Paraclete Press in exchange for my honest review.

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