How often have you seen an artwork where Mary, Jesus’ mother is visibly pregnant? We saw two such images of a pregnant Mary in the Cathedral of Évora . Our tour guide Maria told us representations of Mary where she is visibly pregnant are rare. So it is significant the biggest cathedral in Evora, Portugal has two. The one in the main part of the Cathedral of Évora dates back to the 1400s. The gothic statue of a visibly pregnant Mary is the only example found within Portugal. Couples wanting to have a child, and grandparents wanting to have grandchildren often come to pray at this image of Mary.
The cathedral was built on the site of a mosque from the time of the Moorish occupation and it may be the early priests hungry for converts from the local pagans thought they might appeal to their ritual worship of fertility goddesses by focusing on a fertile Mary. Our guide Maria told us Mary is a very important religious figure here in the Alentejo area of Portugal.
Maria said it seems every girl born in the Alentejo area of Portugal has some form of Mary as one of her given names. Maria is the most popular one and even boys are frequently given the name Maria as a second name.
In St. Francis Church in Evora we saw a statue of Mary with seven knives stuck into her chest four on the right and three on the left. This depiction of Mary illustrates the seven times Mary experienced deep sorrow because of Jesus. The first is recorded in Luke 2:35 when Jesus is a baby and the old man Simeon in the temple tells Mary the grief she will experience because of her son will pierce her like a sword. Mary will also be terrified for her child’s safety when she and Joseph must flee to Egypt and again when she loses Jesus in Jerusalem when he is twelve.
The next three sorrows all have to do with Jesus’ crucifixion -seeing him walk to Calvary, hung on the cross and having his side pierced. The final sorrow is witnessing his burial.
Both the statues of the pregnant and sorrowing Mary reminded me of something I read long ago in Michele Landsberg’s book Women and Children First. She says you don’t know real fear till you begin to fear what might happen to your child. She writes…..“it is at the very moment we give birth, that we first begin to truly understand and fear death.” I think that fear for your child never leaves a mother’s heart.