The Master of the Collins Hours
Le Sacerdoce de la Vierge
title means "The Priesthood of the Virgin." This unusual
puts the Virgin Mary in the garb of a priest at Mass, standing at an
altar with a Gospel Book in
her right hand. Her left hand holds that of a child, who tugs
at her garment with his right. (We take the child to
be Christ, though his halo does not have the usual cross on it.)
of the image may be understood in the words on the banner next to
the kneeling donor: "Digne vesture au prestre souverain," "Vestment
worthy of the sovereign priest." In the French, "priest" is
grammatically masculine, so it refers to Christ, not Mary; she is the
"vestment" worthy of bearing the Son of God, who will be both priest
and victim in the
sacrifice of Calvary.
Gospel Book that Mary carries in the image supports this incarnational
theme. The gospel is God's Word, just as Christ
is the eternal "Word made flesh" of John 1. Mary "carries"
both. Moreover, the French word "carry" also means "wear," so in
wearing the priestly garments she is again "carrying" the Sovereign
Priesthood that is her son.
tugging at the priestly vestment has a double value. It "humanizes" him
in giving him a gesture common to children that we
know in daily life. But it also represents the eagerness of the
Son of God to take up his destiny as priest and victim in the sacrifice
that will save mankind, the sacrifice that the Mass recalls. This
combining of "humanizing" features with foreshadowings of the Passion
is seen in many Madonna and Child images of the time -- for example,
the Veneziano Madonna
in which the child plays with a goldfinch whose red marking looks
forward to the blood he will shed at the Crucifixion.
contemporary work with a similar weaving together of Marian and
incarnational themes is the English "I
Sing of a Maiden that is
Makeles," which closes with the paradox, "Well may such a maiden
God's mother be."
Detail: Mary and the child
the Virgin Mary
Photographed at the
site by Richard Stracke