The Patroness of the United States

It’s Independence Day! Time for us Americans to celebrate the founding of our country with fireworks, burgers and hot dogs, and… a special devotion to the Immaculate Conception?

That’s right!

The Patroness of America is the Immaculate Conception, which is another name for our Blessed Mother, the Virgin Mary. This particular name references to the image of her as referenced in the book of Revelation:


Revelation 12

1 A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. 2She was with child and wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth. 3Then another sign appeared in the sky; it was a huge red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on its heads were seven diadems. 4Its tail swept away a third of the stars in the sky and hurled them down to the earth. Then the dragon stood before the woman about to give birth, to devour her child when she gave birth. 5She gave birth to a son, a male child, destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod. Her child was caught up to God and his throne. 6The woman herself fled into the desert where she had a place prepared by God, that there she might be taken care of for twelve hundred and sixty days.

So, how did she become the patroness of the United States?

On May 13, 1846, the United States bishops unanimously chose the Immaculate Conception as the patroness of the United States. Which might seem typical to us now, but I should point out that at this point in history, while many of the faithful believed in the Virgin Mary as the Immaculate Conception (indeed, the artwork that I am going to feature below was made centuries beforehand in 1675), it had not yet been infallibly proclaimed by the pope as being officially part of dogma yet. So, they were jumping

The bishops wrote this in their letter:

“We take this occasion to communicate to you the determination, unanimously adopted by us, to place ourselves and all entrusted to our charge throughout the United States, under the special patronage of the holy Mother of God, whose Immaculate Conception is venerated by the piety of the faithful throughout the Catholic Church. By the aid of her prayers, we entertain the confident hope that we will be strengthened to perform the arduous duties of our ministry, and that you will be enabled to practice the sublime virtues, of which her life presents the most perfect example.”

Pope Pius IX approved this choice of patroness in 1847… and later, in 1856, infallibly pronounced the Immaculate Conception as part of official dogma. (About time!) In fact! It is thought that this petition might have been one of the major catalysts to prompt the pope into declaring the Immaculate Conception as official dogma! (Go America!)

The National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, located in Washington, D.C., began its building process in 1914. Then, as a gift, Pope Benedict XV ordered a mosaic of the Immaculate Conception to be made for the main shrine in 1919. Apparently, it took a while for the order to get through because a couple of year after that in 1923, Pope Pius XI chose this image to be made into the mosaic, in what would eventually be known as the Trinity Dome, which would be completed in 2017.

Take a look at the original artwork, picked by Pope Pius XI, that the mosaic was inspired by:

The Immaculate Conception of Aranjuez, by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo
The Immaculate Conception of Aranjuez, by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, c. 1675. Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain.

Now, take a look at the mosaic which was eventually completed:

Trinity Dome with a Crucifix, Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, Washington, D.C., United States.
Trinity Dome with a Crucifix, Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, Washington, D.C., United States.

Now, there are definitely a lot of differences between this and the original picture. It seems as though the artist of the mosaic took several different art traditions and blended them together! For instance, there’s the addition of Mary stepping on the serpent, which comes from other artistic renditions. And, of course, the way the angels are portrayed is different. Which sort of makes sense… it would be impossible for the artists to fully capture the softness of Murillo’s painting in mosaic. Plus, the way that Our Lady’s hands are outstretched to us is quite different!

Yet it is still a beautiful way to honor Our Lady!

Anyway! For those of you who are Americans, hope you have a lovely holiday!

May Our Lady, the Immaculate Conception, watch after the United States of America!

And may God always bless America!

Karina Tabone

Karina Tabone is a wife, mother of four, author, blogger, and lover of Christian artwork. She's the author of the Illustrated Rosary series, which pairs every prayer of the Rosary with beautiful religious artwork. She likes also milkshakes, sunshine, and mystery novels. Follow her on Twitter at @illustr_prayer.

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