Off the road

COLD WAR MARY. A layered tale.

In January 2021, the first-ever study connecting the Cold War to the field of popular religiosity and Marian devotion was published.

The back cover of the book reads: “One hardly known but fascinating aspect of the Cold War was the use of the holy Virgin Mary as a warrior against atheist ideologies.”

(click on thumbnail to enlarge the pictures)Marian medal inspired by President Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” speech to the United Nations on December 8, 1953. Depicting an “O Mary” prayer for protection. She appears from an atomic cloud protecting the earth upon which is engraved the word “Pax”. The reverse presents the angel warrior St. Michael, engaged in successful battle against the devil. [Amsterdam, Meertens Institute]

To realize this book various types of archives that had rarely been used in Cold War research were consulted. Multi-archival and media sources were used, including various gray-sources, booklets, pamphlets etcetera, often locally but rarely catalogued or acquired by libraries. As also newspapers, magazines, police reports, visionary writings, leaflets, etcetera, but also websites were important sources. And sometimes authors depended only on just a few or even a single source.

Interesting is the story of the book entitled Pentagon of the Empire of Mary  that could only be retrieved and described through a lucky antiquarian find. The aim of that project was to realize a protective devotional movement for the Empire of Mary. The Pentagon refers to the headquarters of the spiritual resistance and struggle against atheism in the village of Oirschot in southern Netherlands. This Dutch Catholic Cold War project was almost wiped from collective memory when the Church itself ordered all related documents to be erased.

Mass crowd for the Bronx miracle, November 12, 1945. Up to 25,000 devotees gathered that even­ing. In the foreground, nine-year old visionary Joseph Vitolo, seeing “Our Lady of the Universe”, prays before a statue of Mary. [Collection of William A. Christian Jr.]

But Cold War Mary is so much more. As the contributions in the volume are written by authors-scholars with backgrounds in the fields of (Cultural) History, Ethnology/Anthropolgy and Relgion/Theology.  In their work and research most of them show an interdisciplinary approach. And that’s why Cold War Mary shows us layered stories.

Practical Information:

Cold War Mary. Ideologies, Politics, and Marian Devotional Culture, edited by Peter Jan Margry, KADOC-studies on  Religion, Culture & Society, € 55,00, ISBN 9789462702516, Leuven University Press

List of Contributors: Michael Agnew (McMaster University), Marina Sanahuja Beltran (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona), William A. Christian, Jr. (Independent, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria), Deirdre de la Cruz (University of Michigan), Agnieszka Halemba (University of Warsaw), Thomas Kselman (University of Notre Dame), Peter Jan Margry (University of Amsterdam / Meertens Institute), Katharine Massam (University of Divinity, Melbourne), David Morgan (Duke University), Konrad Siekierski (King’s College London), Tine van Osselaer (University of Antwerp), Robert Ventresca (Western University Canada), Daniel Wojcik (University of Oregon) and Sandra L. Zimdars-Swartz (University of Kansas)


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