Mary, Venus & Lessons In Sacrificial Humility
On the outer wall of the Our Lady of Assumption church in medieval town of Erice, Sicily is a whole row of marble crosses that were embedded there in the early 1400’s.
In the early medieval period, the main church of Erice was at the very highest point of the town, but because people were still practicing pagan rituals to Venus, the Roman goddess of fertility, in the early 1300’s, the church was built on the site of the ancient temple to erase it from memory.
Aside from some large foundation stones, the aforementioned marble crosses were the only decorations from Venus’ temple that were included in the construction of the new church.
I got to thinking about the whole thing after I took a photo of one of the crosses. The church was dedicated to Mary, the mother of Jesus, and this church was built on the site of Venus, the goddess of fertility. I wondered if there was something deeper at work—even deeper than the intentions of those medieval builders.
The worship of Venus that took place in that ancient temple in Sicily would have been filled with a great deal of perversity and fleshly indulgence. Both male and female prostitutes would have worked at the temple, plying their trade and extracting both funds and favors from worshippers who desired fertility and health both for themselves and for their land.
This kind of worship would have cost these ancient worshippers in more than just coin. The cult of Venus was demanding and degrading—financially, physically, sexually and psychologically. Venus had to have her way, or you wouldn’t get yours.
By contrast, the church of Our Lady of Assumption was dedicated to a teenaged girl, who found favor with God, but was given incredible news. As we know, Mary was given the unenviable task of a miraculous conception that would have been impossible to explain to anyone else. She would be the mother of the Savior, the Messiah, but it would cost her more than she would know.
Mary could have said no, but instead she submitted humbly to the will of God, and took on a burden few would ever comprehend. Her humility, strength, submission and sacrifice are worthy of our admiration and emulation.
Mary’s example is in stark contrast to the demands of the pagan goddess that was worshipped on that ancient site in Erice. It is, in fact, in stark contrast to the many false gods that we have constructed in our own culture—materialism, consumerism, hedonism, and so on—that turn us into selfish and self-indulgent creatures.
May you seek the same humility and submission to God’s will that Mary exhibited—dedicated to serving others, denying your own desires in favor of what is best and brightest for the Kingdom of God. May you find purpose and meaning in service, and may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always.