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Mary is known by many different titles (Blessed Mother, Virgin, Madonna, Our Lady), epithets (Star of the Sea, Queen of Heaven, Cause of Our Joy), invocations (Theotokos, Panagia, Mother of Mercy) and other names (Our Lady of Loreto, Our Lady of Guadalupe).
All of these titles refer to the same individual named Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ (in the New Testament) and are used variably by Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and some Anglicans. (Note: Mary Magdalene, Mary of Clopas, and Mary Salome are different individuals from Mary, mother of Jesus.)
Many of the titles given to Mary are dogmatic in nature. Other titles are poetic or allegorical and have lesser or no canonical status, but which form part of popular piety, with varying degrees of acceptance by the clergy. Yet more titles refer to depictions of Mary in the history of art.
There are several stories on the significance of the relatively large number of titles given to Mary. Some titles grew due to geographic and cultural reasons, e.g. through the veneration of specific icons. Others were related to Marian apparitions.
Mary's help is sought for large spectrum of human needs in varied situations. This led to the formulation of many of her titles (good counsel, help of the sick, etc.). Moreover, meditations and devotions on the different aspects of the Virgin Mary's role within the life of Jesus led to additional titles such as Our Lady of Sorrows. Still further titles have been derived from dogmas and doctrines, e.g. the Immaculate Conception.
Mary's cultus or "devotional cult" consolidated in the year 431 when, at the Council of Ephesus, "Nestorianism", which asserted Christ's dual personhood, was anathematized and the Theotokos, or Mary as bearer (or mother) of God, was declared dogma. Henceforth Marian devotion—which centered on the subtle and complex relationship between Mary, Jesus, and the Church—would flourish, first in the East and later in the West.
The Reformation diminished Mary's role in many parts of Northern Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. The Council of Trent and Counter Reformation would intensify Marian devotion in the West. Around the same period, Mary would become an instrument of evangelization in the Americas and parts of Asia and Africa, e.g. via the apparitions at Our Lady of Guadalupe which resulted in a large number of conversions to Christianity in Mexico.
Following the Reformation, as of the 17th century, the baroque literature on Mary experienced unforeseen growth with over 500 pages of Mariological writings during the 17th century alone. During the Age of Enlightenment, the emphasis on scientific progress and rationalism put Catholic theology and Mariology often on the defensive in the later parts of the 18th century, to the extent that books such as The Glories of Mary (by Alphonsus Liguori) were written in defense of Mariology. The 20th century was dominated by a genuine Marian ethusiasm both at the papal and popular levels.
Frequently used titles for Mary in the English-speaking world include
|Mary||Maria||Mariam (Μαριάμ), Maria (Μαρία)||Arabic: Maryām (مريم), Chinese: (瑪利亞), Coptic: Mariam, French: Marie, German: Maria, Italian: Maria, Judeo-Aramaic: Maryām (מרים), Maltese: Marija, Portuguese: Maria, Russian: Marija (Мария), Spanish: María, Syriac: Mariam, Vietnamese: Maria; Marija|
|"Full of Grace", "Blessed", "Most Blessed"||Gratia plena, Beata, Beatissima||kecharitomene (κεχαριτωμένη)||from the angel's greeting to Mary in Luke 1:28;|
|"Virgin", "the Virgin"||Virgo||Parthenos (Παρθένος)||Greek parthenos used in Matthew 1:22; Ignatius of Antioch refers to Mary's virginity and motherhood (ca. 110);|
|"Cause of our Salvation"||causa salutis||according to Irenaeus of Lyons (150–202);|
|"Advocate of Eve"||advocata Evæ||" " ;|
|"Mother of God"||Mater Dei||Meter Theou (Μήτηρ Θεοῦ)||often abbr. ΜΡ ΘΥ in Greek iconography;|
|"God-bearer"||Deipara, Dei genetrix||Theotokos (Θεοτόκος)||lit. "one who bears the One who is God"; a common title in Eastern Christianity with christological implications; adopted officially during Council of Ephesus (431) in response to Nestorianism, which questioned the Church's teaching that Jesus Christ's nature was unified;|
|"Ever-virgin"||semper virgo||aie-parthenos (ἀειπάρθενος)|
|"Holy Mary", "Saint Mary"||Sancta Maria||Hagia Maria (Ἁγία Μαρία)||Greek invocation is infrequent in contemporary Eastern Christianity;|
|"Most Holy"||Sanctissima, tota Sancta||Panagia (Παναγία)|
|"Lady", "Mistress"||Domina||Despoina (Δέσποινα)||related, "Madonna" (Italian: Madonna, from ma "my" + donna "lady"; from Latin domina); also, "Notre Dame" (French: Notre Dame, lit. "our lady");|
|"Queen of Heaven"||Regina Coeli, Regina Caeli||Mary is identified with the figure in Revelation 12:1;|
|"Star of the Sea"||stella maris||attributed to St. Jerome;|
|"Seat of Wisdom"||Sedes sapientiae|
|"Cause of Our Joy"||Causa nostrae laetitiae|
|"Help of Christians"||Auxilium christianorum|
|Image Type||Typical Art Style||Description|
|Byzantine||Mary holds Christ in her left hand and with her right hand she "shows the way" by pointing to Him;|
|Romanesque||Christ is seated in His mother Mary's lap, symbolically the "Throne of Wisdom";|
|Gothic||Based loosely on Byzantine Hodegetria iconography; typically depicts a standing, smiling Mary and playful Christ Child; considered one of the earliest depictions of Mary that is strictly Western;|
|Gothic and Renaissance||The Virgin is depicted breastfeeding the Holy Infant. One of the earliest depictions (if not the earliest depiction) of Mary, is Our Lady nursing, as painted in the Catacomb of Priscilla in Rome, c. A.D. 250; Discouraged by the Council of Trent and rare subsequently.|
|Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque||A regal, celestial Mary is depicted covering the faithful in her protective mantle; first arose in the late 13th century in Central Europe and Italy; depiction is commonly associated with plague monuments.|
|Gothic||Mary is seated in majesty, holding the Christ Child; based on Byzantine Nikopoia iconography;|
|Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque||Mary cradles the dead body of Jesus Christ after his crucifixion; this type emerged first in the 13th century in Germany as an Andachtsbild or devotional icon relating to grief; Italian Pietàs appeared in the 14th century; Michelangelo's Pietà (1498–1499) is considered a masterpiece;|
|Renaissance, Baroque||Iconic Western depiction with many variations; based loosely on Byzantine Glykophilousa ("sweet kisses") iconography; Mary turns her gaze away from the Christ Child as she contemplates His future Passion; Renaissance emphasis on classical ideal types, realistic human anatomy, and linear perspective are evident;|
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|Dogmas and doctrines|
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|Key Marian apparitions|
The Qur'an refers to Mary by the following titles: