Her Place in the History of Culture
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 A disappointingly superficial treatment of the most revered female figure in the Western world. Pelikan, of Yale University, undoubtedly one of the outstanding scholars of Christian history, repeats a formula that worked quite well in his most recent book, Jesus Through the Centuries (1985): Follow the chronological development of a religious figure through 2,000 years of high culture and theology, organize your chapters around archetypal categories, and sprinkle liberally with literary quotations and discussions of art and music. Unfortunately, this time his approach misses the mark, for he almost entirely ignores the role of Mary in popular culture. Pelikan fails to acknowledge that even in the early Church Mary's impact on the popular imagination had already outpaced her theological importance. Details of such devotion are largely absent. For instance, Pelikan mentions in passing that a Mariocentric festival may have influenced a prominent fifth-century theologian, but we are told nothing about the festival itself, its rituals, or its participants. It is only toward the end of the book, in the brief chapter entitled ``Woman Clothed with the Sun,'' that Pelikan begins to address such matters as Mary's supposed appearances at Guadalupe, Lourdes, and Fatima. Here he implicitly notes, finally, that Marian miracles have meant more to ordinary folks than all of Mary's appearances in Dante and Milton put together. There are other flaws. After hyping the ``nigra sum'' (``I am black and beautiful'') connection in the introduction, Pelikan devotes only two pages to observing that the Madonna has appeared as a black goddess in many cultures. Some strengths of the book include Pelikan's comprehensive knowledge of Byzantine Christianity (sorely neglected by many scholars), his clear passion for art and music, and his easy writing style. The strengths unfortunately do not compensate for the book's foundational disregard of popular piety. (17 b&w and 16 color illustrations, not seen) (Book-of-the-Month Club/History Book Club selections)

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-300-06951-0
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Yale Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1996