Monday, December 12, 2011

maria lactans

Lately I've been coming across some interesting images of Mary (mother of Jesus) squirting milk at some saint. The first time I saw it, I have to admit that I did a double take, but I wasn't too surprised. Catholicism seems to be full of weirdness like this- people getting swallowed by whales, flowers appearing out of nowhere, statues coming to life and squirting breast milk at you. Nothing out of the ordinary here, you know.

The pictures represent the the story of Saint Bernard. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) knelt one day in front of a statue of the Virgin and Child and asked her, “Show yourself to be a mother.”  While in a dream-like trance, Mary responded by pressing her breast near his lips and nourishing him with her milk.


The story seems to have spread from Spain, and is shown a few different ways: with Mary shooting milk at his mouth (representing an oracle being received), at his eyes (representing clairvoyance), or at his forehead (representing wisdom being received). 


This myth was painted over and over through the years. There is a great gallery of images of Mary as Maria Lactans, the nursing mother, at Fisheaters.


Master Iam van Zwoll, The Lactation of St. Bernard, 1480-1485, engraving.  Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam


What I love about this story is that it shows the power of breast milk, intentionally or not. Mary is a very powerful feminine icon, and when she is shown as Maria Lactans, it gives nursing and motherhood power. I think if anyone ever tries to give you trouble for breastfeeding, you should remind them that Mary breastfed Jesus! In a time when Playboy definitely was not for sale at the castle giftshop, paintings were made that not only showed women nursing, but even shooting milk at the random soon-to-be-saint of their choice. Boo-yah.


Alonso Cano, The Miraculous Lactation of Saint Bernard, c. 1650, oil on panel.  Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid


Artist unknown, 1460


Juan de las Roelas (1560 - 1625)


1 comment:

  1. LOL as a Catholic that helped with sunday school I'm surprised I've never heard this story... but I suppose it may get the kids acting silly so... could see why he might have been skipped over... Very true about Mary being "Maria Lactans" there is a very small but cute little chapel dedicated to her as Maria Lactans. I've been fortunate to not have any one say anything to me other the classes how long do you plan to nurse? or "You're still nursing?" now that my son is 14months old. But he loves the boob and I'm not willing to part with our cuddle time just yet... If he wants to I will but not before than. Thanks for sharing!

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