Q: What is the origin of the custom to place a crown on Mary's head?
A: The crowning of Mary's head with a crown as iconographical motif (painting, sculpture) can be traced back to the middle of the twelfth century (Reading Abbey, London, 1130/40; Quenington Church, Gloustershire, 1140/1150). In these English sculptures but also known in other countries Christ crowns his mother after her assumption into heaven. However, the beginning of the crowning of a Mary sculpture or image is much older, or more precisely we have at least one much older example, that of Pope Gregory III (731-741) who donated a golden diadem to crown a holy image located at St. Peter's, which represents not only Mary but also Christ and other saints.
It would be exaggerated to consider this rather isolated case as the beginning of a solidly established custom. Examples of crownings are more numerous and become singularly traditional in the fourteenth century (Essen, Germany; Boerglum, Sweden). The Servite Order customarily crowned well-known Marian images (miraculous images and statues) on Holy Saturday since the second half of the fourteenth century. The custom spread during the Counter-Reformation (beginning of Seventeenth Century) thanks to the initiative of Girolamo Paulucci de' Calboli da Forli (1552-1620), Capuchin, and Count Alessando Sforza Pallaviccino who established a foundation entrusted to the Vatican (chapter of St. Peter) for the financing of the crowning of Marian images. This chapter established criteria for the crowning of images, namely the image had to be of venerable age and of miraculous character, meaning the object of a miracle recognized by the bishop. Aside from these official crownings, many local customs developed. In 1982, Pope John Paul II reorganized the rite for the crowning of images (see The Mary Page http://www.udayton.edu/mary/resources/crowning.html ). The custom of crowning Marian images with wreaths is much older than the well-known May crownings. They are related to bridal wreaths and have their origin in medieval courtly love rituals. A wreath of red (mother) and white (virgin) roses was put on Mary's head and amounted to a declaration of love. The wreath of roses is one of the historical roots of our rosary. Over time, the wreath of flowers transmuted and became a wreath of prayers. The wreath of flowers with which Mary is crowned in May highlights a special connection with spring, new life and Mary's resplendent beauty.
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