Mother of God


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A History of the Virgin Mary

Miri Rubin

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A sweeping, ambitious study of the Virgin Mary’s emergence and role throughout Western history

How did the Virgin Mary, about whom very little is said in the Gospels, become one of the most powerful and complex religious figures in the world? To arrive at the answers to this far-reaching question, one of our foremost medieval historians, Miri Rubin, investigates the ideas, practices, and images that have developed around the figure of Mary from the earliest decades of Christianity to around the year 1600. Drawing on an extraordinarily wide range of sources—including music, poetry, theology, art, scripture, and miracle tales—Rubin reveals how Mary became so embedded in our culture that it is impossible to conceive of Western history without her.

In her rise to global prominence, Mary was continually remade and reimagined by wave after wave of devotees. Rubin shows how early Christians endowed Mary with a fine ancestry; why in early medieval Europe her roles as mother, bride, and companion came to the fore; and how the focus later shifted to her humanity and unparalleled purity. She also explores how indigenous people in Central America, Africa, and Asia remade Mary and so fit her into their own cultures.

Beautifully written and finely illustrated, this book is a triumph of sympathy and intelligence. It demonstrates Mary’s endless capacity to inspire and her profound presence in Christian cultures and beyond.

Miri Rubin is professor of history, Queen Mary University of London. She lives in Cambridge, UK.

“Miri Rubin shows us the many meanings the Virgin Mary had for people over the centuries in the West and beyond. A miracle of scholarship and great storytelling!”—Natalie Zemon Davis, author of Women on the Margins

"Miri Rubin's Mother of God is an intellectually exuberant tour-de-force. Like the great cloak that in some medieval images billows out from the Virgin, enclosing her rapt worshipers, this book reaches out to embrace a startling range of human dreams, fears, and hopes across many centuries."—Stephen Greenblatt, Harvard University

“This is a book to fascinate the social historian. Here is wide learning, elegantly expressed. A brilliant and enlightening study of the religious imagination.”—Sr. Wendy Beckett, author of Sister Wendy on Prayer

Mother of God is a breathtaking work of scholarship, surely the finest account of Mary’s impact on world culture from biblical up to modern times. Miri Rubin captures Mary’s profound appeal—as mother and virgin, chaste and fertile, chosen and modest, life-giver and mourner—and as an inspiration to countless artists, writers, and believers. It’s a remarkable achievement by one of the most gifted historians at work today.”—James Shapiro, Columbia University

“Rubin is adept at keeping the reader turning the pages. She has a gift of the bon mot.”—History Today

"Rubin brings to this work a panoramic view of Mary's impact on the evolution and growth of Christianity, especially Catholic Christianity. . . . Rubin's study goes a long way toward helping readers understand Mary and deserves a wide readership."—Publishers Weekly

"In this magisterial work, medieval historian Miri Rubin traces Mary's rise to global prominence from the time of the early Christian empire to the 16th century. . . . Rubin's book is lavishly illustrated . . . depicting the shift in representations of Mary through history. . . . Extensively researched and written for a wide audience."—From the citation for the April Selection of the Catholic Book Club
Recommended by America magazine's Catholic Book Club


“Miri Rubin captivatingly elucidates the history of one of the world’s greatest narratives.”—The Rumpus 

"In some 500 pages [Miri Rubin] unrolls the diversity as well as the continuity of meanings that different ethnic, national and religious groups have continued to find in the Jewish mother of Jesus. . . . Written for a wide audience, Mother of God is rich and readable, with clear explanations, poems and prayers, and is illustrated with many lesser-known images of Mary, particularly from the British Isles."—Sally Cunneen, America

"All in all, this is a book to dip into and enjoy for its lavish and exuberant portrayal of the woman who emerged from the shadows of the New Testament text to pay a formative role in the shaping of Western art, culture, and religion."—Tina Beattie, Commonweal

"This book is a pleasure to read—beautifully written, engaging, and thought provoking. . . .Rubin's book will undoubtedly remain the most useful panoptic study of Marian devotion for years to come."—Bridget Heal, Catholic Historical Review

"This is a significant work that introduces students of the Virgin Mary to a wide range of primary material and recent research. . . . It is Rubin's global perspective that sets [this book] apart from earlier milestones of Marian meta-histories." —Katja Vehlow, Angelican and Episcopal History

"The most comprehensive and detailed account of the devotional response to the Virgin Mary at varying social and cultural levels through the centuries. . . . Unparalleled in scope, clarity, and scholarly reach, the book immerses readers in many forms of private and public veneration. . . . The story and history of Mary's unique holiness, her sacred and emotional presence, the awe and mystery of her, has never been told so well."—Timothy C. Miller, Magill's Literary Annual 2010

"This book is an important new landmark in the study of Marian piety."--Stephen J. Shoemaker, American Historical Review

"Rubin's book is and will long be indispensable to future work on this most prominent of global religious figures."--Cleo McNelly Kearns, Speculum 

"The strength of her volume lies chiefly in those well-chosen texts, reinforced by her ability to sketch brief profiles of major contributors to doctrine in each period. . . . Rubin's fuller scholarly analysis and richer references will provide firmer grounding."—Larry Silver, Sixteenth Century Journal

"Rubin uses a wide range of sources. . . painting a much more detailed and vivid picture of the figure of Mary than has been available until now. Rubin also sets the Marian figures she discusses in cultural context more adequately than we have formerly seen. . . . Mother of God is a highly readable and informative book. With a topic so vast, Rubin has organized her copious material in a way that assists the reader in comprehending the enormously varied—even contradictory—roles and meanings ascribed to this figure."—Margaret R. Miles, Journal of Religion
ISBN: 9780300164329
Publication Date: March 16, 2010
560 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
29 color illus.

Sales Restrictions: For sale in North America only