Podcast Season 2, Episode 10 – There’s Something about Mary: Early Cult and Veneration of the Virgin with Sabrina Higgins

Dr. Sabrina C. Higgins

On this episode of the podcast, we are joined by Dr. Sabrina C. Higgins, an Assistant Professor in the departments of Humanities and Archaeology at Simon Fraser University. Dr. Higgins is an archaeologist and art historian specializing in the cult of the Virgin Mary in late antique Egypt. She is the assistant director of the excavations of a late antique basilica at Golemo Gradište, Konjuh in the Republic of North Macedonia, as well the co-investigator of the Philae Temple Graffiti Project in Egypt. She is also a founding member of the Peopling the Past team and the project’s webmaster.

Listen in, as Dr. Higgins takes us through the emergence of the cult of the Virgin Mary in the Mediterranean basin with an emphasis on the role of material culture in tracing the diffusion of Marian veneration.

Interested in learning more? Check out this related article by Dr. Higgins:

Higgins, S.C. 2017-2019, “Between Catacomb and Sanctuary: The Creation, Diffusion and Elaboration of the Iconography of the Virgin Mary in Late Antique and Early Medieval Egypt”, ECA 11, 17-35.

Looking for a transcript of this episode? Click here.
Painting of a woman, possibly the virgin Mary, reaching into a well. From Dura Europos, Syria.
Painting from the house church at Dura Europos, Syria, depicting the Virgin Mary (?) at the well (Yale University Art Gallery. Public Domain)
Image of a partially destroyed painting of a seated mother and child with a male figure standing to their proper right pointing upwards.
Image of a seated woman and child from the Catacomb of Priscilla in Rome which is often mistakenly identified as one of the earliest images of Mary (Public Domain)
Drawing of the image of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes from the Wescher Catacombs in Alexandria. Jesus is in the centre, flanked by two apostles and groups of seated and standing individuals on either side of them. An inscription bearing the name 'ayia Mara' is seen to the proper right of Christ.

The Multiplication of the Loaves at Fishes, in which “ayia Mara” is identified by an inscription, Wescher Catacombs, Kom el-Shaqafa, Egypt (Leclercq 1924, Fig. 279. Public Domain)
Round pilgrim token depicting the Annunciation between the Virgin Mary on the left and the archangel Gabriel on the right.
Pilgrim token depicting the Annunciation, Qal’at Sem’an, Syria (© The Trustees of the British Museum)
Photograph of the front of the church of Santa Maria Maggiore.
The church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, one of the earliest churches dedicated to the Virgin, in its modern state after later construction projects (CC BY-SA 3.0 Martin Falbisoner)
Photo of a painting of Mary in a wall niche from a monastery in Egypt. She is standing in the bottom centre of the composition flanked by several men on either side. Christ is in the upper register in a mandorla.
Double Composition featuring Mary Orans in a niche in Chapel XVII, Monastery of Apa Apollo, Bawit, Egypt (Clédat 1904/1906, Pl. 40. Public Domain)
Painting of Mary holding the Christ Child in her lap and nursing Him with her right breast.

Galaktotrophousa (Mary breastfeeding), Room 30, Monastery of Apa Apollo, Bawit, Egypt (Maspero 1931, Pl. 43. Public Domain)

Bolman, E.S. 2001, ‘Joining the Community of Saints: Monastic Paintings and Ascetic Practice in Early Christian Egypt’, in: S. McNally (ed.), Shaping Community: The Art and Archaeology of Monasticism, Oxford, 41-56.

Brubaker, L., M. Cunningham, 2007, ‘Byzantine Veneration of the Theotokos: Icons, Relics, and Eighth-Century Homilies’, in: H. Amirav, B. ter Haar Romeny (eds), From Rome to Constantinople, Studies in Honour of Averil Cameron, Leuven, 235-250.

Cameron, A. 2004, ‘The Cult of the Virgin in Late Antiquity: Religious Development and Myth-Making’, in: R.N. Swanson (ed.), The Church and Mary, Suffolk, 1-21.

Higgins, S. 2012, ‘Divine Mothers: The Influence of Isis on the Virgin Mary in Egyptian Lactans-Iconography’, JCSCS 3-4, 71-88.

Kalavrezou, I. 1990, ‘Images of the Mother: When the Virgin Mary Became “Meter Theou”’, DOP 44, 165-172.

Laferrière, P.-H. 2008, La bible murale dans les sanctuaires coptes, Cairo.

Mathews, T.F., N. Muller, 2005, ‘Isis and Mary in the Early Icons’, in: M. Vassilaki (ed), Images of the Mother of God: Perceptions of the Theotokos in Byzantium, Aldershot 3-11.

Parlby, G. 2007, ‘The Origins of Marian Art: The Evolution of Marian Art in the Western Church until AD 431’, in: S.J. Boss (ed.), Mary: The Complete Resource, London, 106-147.

Preppard, M. 2012, “Illuminating the Dura-Europos Baptistery: Comparanda for the Female Figures”, Journal of Early Christian Studies 20, 543-74.

Shoemaker, S. 2016, Mary in Early Christian Faith and Devotion, New Haven.

Tran Tam Tinh, V. 1973, Isis lactans. Corpus des monuments gréco-romains d’Isis allaitant Harpocrate, Leiden.

Vassilaki, M. (ed.), 2000, Mother of God: Representations of the Virgin in Byzantine Art, Milan.

Zibawi, M. 2003, Images de l’Égypte chrétienne: Iconologie copte, Milan.

Published by Peopling the Past

A Digital Humanities initiative that hosts free, open-access resources for teaching and learning about real people in the ancient world and the people who study them.

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