The secular view of the world holds that there is not provably anything spiritual or religious affecting the day-to-day. This is not necessarily an agnostic or atheistic viewpoint, but it is neutral, and it is effective as an underpinning of pluralistic or democratic societies. Our American Founding Fathers, most of whom were influenced by deism (which proposed that human reason, when applied to the glorious world in which we all live, might well imply a Creator, or God, but one that does not interfere with the laws of the universe and processes of man), saw the wisdom in separating Church from State, the spiritual from the secular. Let’s all live together, they said, and worship as we might.
The great Hebrew heroes include Moses and David. Muhammad is paramount for Muslims. Other religions in our melting pot anoint other figures. Christians believe that Jesus, the Son of God, arrived upon earth just over 2,000 years ago to redeem fallible man.
Let’s talk about Mary.
Not everyone needs a brother or sister or savior, or accepts that a savior has arrived historically or will do so one day. But everyone once had a mother. We all need the mother figure, and if any con- firmation of this basic fact is required, it lies in the great respect shown “Mary” or “Miriam” by other religions. Jesus does not necessarily figure as a vessel of salvation for Muslims and Jews, but He is held in high regard, and the young woman who gave birth to Him and raised Him is praised. Whoever she was, she must have been substantial, smart and strong. She must have been a fine mother.
LIFE’s special issue, Mary: Blessed Art Thou Among Women, includes journalistic writing and analysis by Robert Sullivan, a Roman Catholic whose “Meditation on Mary,” was a cover story that appeared in LIFE magazine in 1996 won the Wilbur Award as the best article on a religious topic published in the United States in the previous year.
The issue also tells the Mary story in images. There were no cameras back then, and even with the possibility of miracles, finding photographs of Mary is a challenge, but a fun challenge. And in the past century and a half, when cameras have indeed been on the job, the apparitions, pilgrimages and cults that have manifested in her name are many.
Here, then, is a sampling of the images that appear in LIFE’s special issue devoted to Mary.