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Mother of All Lawn Ornaments

Contemplating visions of Mary -- in plaster, stone and plastic


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Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, is said to have miraculously appeared to the faithful on many occasions since her death nearly 2000 years ago. In 1994, her visage even popped up on a grilled-cheese sandwich; its owner sold it on eBay a decade later for $28,000.

But there's no reason to wait for a glimpse on a piece of toast of the woman Roman Catholics refer to as the Blessed Virgin Mary (or BVM) -- images of her abound worldwide, including in Vermont. The most common sightings occur while driving.

For whatever reason, statues of the BVM are popular lawn ornaments among the faithful. She is often cloaked in blue, and is sometimes situated in a grotto -- that is, a half-buried bathtub covered with stones, or a scalloped cove reminiscent of a large clamshell.

Perhaps Mary's ubiquity arises from the Roman Catholic belief that she is an intercessor, a conduit through whom believers can access the power of her divine Son. Christians of all kinds -- Muslims, too -- believe that Mary of Nazareth existed, and that she gave birth to Jesus Christ. But veneration of Mary is primarily associated with the Catholic Church. They've got more than one Mary prayer, but the most common is the "Hail Mary," in which penitents beseech her to "pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death."

You don't have to pray to Mary to see something divine in these odd roadside statues, or in the many similar, more stately sculptures found in local cemeteries. Their haunting allure is undeniable. True, BVM statues are often pockmarked, stained or disfigured by mold. The paint on Mary or her grotto may be peeling. But is that such a surprise? This is supposedly a woman who witnessed her own son's crucifixion, and who bears the psychic weight of a vast multitude of our transgressions. It seems fitting that her otherwise ageless face should be cracked and scarred.

It's even logical that she should appear among cheap, secular baubles and trinkets. It may seem tasteless, but these displays actually emphasize Mary's humanity and humble nature. She was a woman, not a god. She gave birth in a manger.

Seen from different angles, the BVM can seem to have different expressions: resigned, hopeful, pensive, even proud. But unlike the hierarchical church, she never appears to be judgmental. Mary is an approachable emissary, often reaching out her arms and inviting all to come closer. The men who run the church could take a few lessons from this mother.

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