Q: Can you tell me the meaning of a medal entitled Our Lady of Olives?

A: Our Lady of Olives is to be situated within the larger context of the biblical symbolism of the Olive tree. In the Bible, but also in patristic and medieval writings, the olive tree--together with the vine and wheat ears--was considered a symbol of heavenly blessings, prosperity and fecundity in times of peace. The olive tree is also a symbol of spiritual excellence and distinction such as reconciliation with God, rectitude and innocence as well as fruitfulness of good works. This symbolism applied to Mary is a sign of faithful and loving dedication to the Lord but also a symbol of Mary's strength, intercessory power and mercy. Originally borrowed from Sirach 24:19 (Vulgate, or v. 14) the expression oliva speciosa (fair olive tree) changes according to specific meanings: for example, oliva fecunda (fruitful olive), oliva pinguissima (fat, rich olive), oliva mitis (meek olive).

The use of this symbolism is widespread and multifaceted. We find sanctuaries of this title in this country and many others, for example, France, Italy and Spain. Here are some examples of the variety of meaning this symbolism has in Italy.

We were able to track down the following Italian sanctuaries with reference to olives:

  • Olio: Our Lady of Madonna dell'Olio in Blufi, in the diocese of Cefalu (Palermo). The name is related to a well which holds mineral oil reputed to be miraculous.
  • Olivella: S. Maria dell'Olivella, in S. Elia Fiumerapido, near Montecassino in the diocese of the same name. The reference to the olive tree indicates the place where the miraculous image, a statue of 15/16 c. was found.
  • Olivello: Madonna dell'Olivello near the city of Veroli in diocese of the same name. In 1722 the branch of an olive tree buds forth from the fissures in the small chapel or shrine wall. Here lies the origin of the title for this sanctuary.
  • Olivette: N.S. delle Olivette, in Arenzano (Genoa), dedicated to Our Lady of the Annunciation is situated in the midst of an olive grove, hence the name Olivette.
  • Olivo: N.S. dell'Olivo in Brugnato (La Spezia) where Mary appeared on the trunk of an olive tree. The image painted in ca. 1820 shows the Child holding an olive branch in his hand.

Medal of OurLady of Olives
The medal of Our Lady of Olives (at right) is well-known throughout the Church and is of French origin. It takes its origin from a wooden statue of Our Lady which survived the destruction of the Church of Murat (Cantal, France) caused by lightning. This event occurred in 1493 and is the beginning of the devotion to Our Lady of the Olives. She is the protectress against lightning. By virtue of the medal of Our Lady of Olives--so goes the tradition--the persons who carry it are preserved from lightning wherever they be during a storm. But there is a second privilege related to the medal of Our Lady of Olives. It protects women who are about to become mothers and assists them in the hour of birth. There is no certitude as to where the name Our Lady of Olives comes from. The most probably explanation being the reference to the wood in which the statue is carved or maybe the allusion to suffering (Garden of Olives) as is, according to another interpretation, visible in the somber hue spreading over the face and body of the statue. Elsewhere the colors of the Virgin are white and blue. At Murat, because of the reference to the Olives--it is believed--the Virgin's mantle is green. Her feast day is celebrated as the first Sunday in September.

The National Shrine of Our Lady of Olives is located at St. Alphonsus Church, 201 Church Road, Wexford, PA 15090 (Tel 412-935-1151).

Prayer of Our Lady of the Olives

Kneeling at thy feet we pray thee, Virgin Mary, that through thine intercession there may be born a new generation which will unite all hearts and souls in the same faith and charity.

We pray thee, "Divine Olive of Peace," to implore God that harmony may reign between nations, that true liberty be given to all people, that heresies and all bad doctrines condemned by the Pope may disappear.

We pray that all the treasures of the Divine Heart be showered upon all men and that we may be preserved from all harm.

Pray for us and save us. Amen.


Return to Your Questions

Return to The Mary Page

This page, maintained by The Marian Library/International Marian Research Institute, Dayton, Ohio 45469-1390, and created by J.C. Tierney , was last modified Wednesday, 06/06/2012 11:31:36 EDT by Sumithra Kulkarni . Please send any comments to jroten1@udayton.edu.