The commentary of the cover

Mary, Mother of the Church by Pierre-Marie Dumont

Simon Marmion († 1489) was a painter attached to the court of the dukes of Burgundy Philip the Good († 1467) and Charles the Bold († 1477). Celebrated in his time, he was one of the most eminent proponents of the Early Netherlandish school. However, with the loss or destruction of the majority of his works, his renown has been lost to posterity. He nonetheless remains known by a select few for his exceptional talent as a miniaturist, as witnessed by the illustration from a book of hours that adorns the cover of your Magnificat. Marmion here implements in striking fashion a technique popularized centuries later by photographers using “macro” lenses. The artist zooms in on the figures of the Pentecost in extreme close-up. By flattening the perspective, he compresses the distance not only between the Apostles but the distance between the scene and the observer as well: a symbol on the one hand of the unity between members of the Church in a single body and, on the other hand, the inclusion in that unity of the worshiper who contemplates this work. And in no better way could the artist suggest that this body, the body of Christ, was born of the Virgin Mary through the action of the Holy Spirit.

This miniature beautifully complements Pope Francis’ decision that, for the first time on May 21, 2018, and henceforth on every Monday following Pentecost, the Universal Church shall celebrate the memorial of the “Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church.” On that day, which inaugurates our pilgrimage through Ordinary Time, let us recall that Mary’s motherhood of her Son establishes her motherhood of the Church, which in turn implies her spiritual motherhood of every Christian.


The Pentecost from the Huth Hours (c. 1480), ms. 38126, f. 45v, Simon Marmion (1425–1489), British Library, London, UK. © Bridgeman Images.