Has any of you seen an image of Our Lady with wings? To tell you the truth, I can say that I saw one only four years ago for the first time in my life. After lengthy reflection I concluded that the Madonna’s wings could symbolize the word of God, and that the Winged Madonna is the image of the Church that listens to the word. Listening to the word is also a central theme of Advent.
I will begin in a roundabout way. In the city of Rio de Janeiro stands the world-famous statue of Christ – “Christ the Redeemer” – which stands on the mountain of Corcovado. That monument is 38 meters high, including the base. However, a statue of Our Lady as high as 41 meters stands in the neighboring Ecuador, and unfortunately, it does not enjoy so wide a recognition. It is called “The Virgin of Panecillo” after the name of the mountain on which it is erected (www.virgendelpanecillo.com).
This statue of Our Lady is inspired by another image that is worshipped in the city of Quito since the 18th century and is located in St. Francis church in Ecuador’s capital. That Baroque sculpture is usually called “Legarda’s Virgin” (after the name of its sculptor), “Virgen of the Apocalypse” ( from what it depicts) or “The Dancing Madonna” (because of the lithe and dynamic pose of the figure of Mary), and “Winged Virgin of Quito” (because it has wings).
The Virgen of Quito is one of the popular images of the “Immaculate Conception”, but it has very important modifications of the Immaculate Conception. First of all, it is an image of the “Woman Clothed with the Sun” of the 12th chapter of the Revelation. This is why it is crowned with twelve stars. In the usual images of the Immaculate Conception the Virgin crushes the head of the Dragon. In the Virgin of Quito, on the other hand, the Dragon is chained. It is a clear allusion to Rev 20, 1-2: “Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the Dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years”. Another Apocalyptic element of the Quito image is the wings of the Virgin. Although the Immaculate Conception images are for the most part inspired by the 12th chapter of the Book of Apocalypse (Revelation), artists and sculptors almost never present Our Lady with wings that the Woman receives in order to flee from the Dragon: “But the woman was given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness”. In the Bible, the wings symbolize the divine protection, and in this text, they also should be understood in this way.
However, the wings cannot be thought of as something material, as the Dragon is not material, neither is the threat material that he presents. So, the wings have to be seen in a spiritual way. A possible solution to that mystery was Inspired by me seeing a picture painted in Russia about two years ago that has a Latin name of “Mater Verbi Dei”. The artist’s name is Alevtina Venrghenovskaya. The name of the icon is an allusion to no. 27 of the Apostolic Exhortation, “Verbum Domini”, in which Pope Benedict XVI speaks of Mary as “Mother of the Word of God”. In the icon there are two Biblical quotes one to the left and the other to the right of Our Lady; one of the quotes is in Hebrew, and the other is in Greek.
They symbolize the Old and the New Testaments. We could, in some symbolic way, treat these inscriptions as wings that were given to the Woman of the Revelation.
And now it is time to ask the most important question: is it possible to see the wings of the Woman as the Word of God – the Old and the New Testaments? There are quite a number of examples in history that can support this statement. It is confirmed by Andrew of Caesarea, a Father of the Church of the 6th century, in his “Commentary on the Apocalypse”; and by the Venerable Bede in his “Commentary on Revelation”. Really, it is right to see in the wings, that save the Woman, the word of God. Jesus Christ calls Satan “a liar and a father of lies” (Jn 8, 44), and we can escape lies with the help of the word of truth, that is, the word of God.
The Woman of the Revelation is, first of all, the Church, the community of believers in the Risen Lord. Every generation lives in its proper time and conditions. And every generation experiences, in various forms, the conflict between the divine and the worldly, between the Kingdom of God and the anti-kingdom, between the values that give life and disvalues that lead to death. To see this conflict in a clear prophetic way and to stand on the side of the Kingdom is not always an easy task. There are martyrs who give their life for the Kingdom in our developed world at the beginning of the 21st century.
Now, as it has always been in history, the Church is giving light for Messiah, and this brings about the pain of delivery and constant threat. In order for us not to be lost, in order for us to correctly choose the Church – the community of believers – receives the wings of the word of God. This word is unique, because it is inspired by God and enables us to see many things from the perspective that only He can give us. With the help of the wings of the word we became like eagles who from the height of their soaring see things in a different way, are capable of seeing things hidden behind the horizon, and give a new hope, especially in situations that seem completely hopeless.
Dariusz Pielak born on 30.03.1965 in Poland. In 1985 he joined the Society of the Divine Word. During the seminary he did the experience of OTP in Argentina in a community of life inserted in popular environments of Greater Buenos Aires. After finishing the seminary he worked in Spain and did a licentiate in biblical theology there. Since 2003 he has been working in Russia teaching at the seminary and attending the parish of St. Olga in Moscow. He also devotes himself to deepen the themes related to the spiritual history of Arnold Janssen.
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