Nostre Dame

Our Lady – مريم العذراء – Maryam al adhraa
The Monophonic Repertoire of the Famous Notre Dame School, Paris, 13th Century

«O Mary, Allah has chosen you and purified you,
and He has chosen you above the world’s women.«
Koran, surah 3:42


At the Council of Ephesus in 431 CE, the doctrine of Mary as the Mother of God was elevated to dogma, laying the foundation for the adoration of the Virgin Mary. In Asia Minor, the female goddess Artemis, the virgin goddess of hunting, the forest, and the moon, had been venerated since ancient times in Greek mythology. The ruins of Ephesus are today found near Selçuk, Turkey, approximately 70 km south of Izmir on the Aegean Sea.

In the first centuries of Christianity, Mary was venerated in the form of a female figure with her arms raised toward heaven. Only with the incipient Middle Ages did she receive the form of the Mother of God. In the period around 1000, the image of Mary solidified and, in the few preserved pieces of gold work from the Ottonic period, the Madonna with the child (for example, the Golden Madonna in Essen, Germany) appeared not only as the Birth Giver of God, but also as the Ruler of Heaven – removed from any tangible materiality and devoid of all gravity. From this detached depiction of otherworldliness, the image of the Virgin Mary of the French cathedrals emerged during the course of the 13th century and moved closer to the world, nearer to the human beings. During this period, the impressive pietá statues were created, and also the music of our program stems from this time.

Mary, the Mother of Jesus, also occupies an unusual special place in Islam: a whole surah, no. 19, even bears her name. There it is reported how she bore a son by the name of Isa bin Maryam (Jesus, Son of Mary) under a palm. Surah 21, which originates from the same time, reports of the virgin birth: “And her who guarded her chastity, so We breathed into her Our spirit, and made her and her son a sign for all the nations” (21:91). The Muslims venerate Jesus as the last prophet before Mohammad, and therefore Mary enjoys special esteem. She is considered one of the “best women,” alongside Khadijah, Mohammad’s first wife, and Fatimah, his daughter.

In the New Testament and in the Koran, we encounter the figure of Mary in very similar descriptions, yet in spite of many correspondences, one should not overlook the differences between the two religious texts: in the Bible, Mary receives central importance through the role of her son as God’s Son: Mary as the Mother of God – the concept of the Son of God and his Mother of God is entirely foreign to Islam.

Only in a few passages and only marginally does the Mother of God appear in the Gospels of the New Testament. In the Koran, she is the only woman to be mentioned by name. It fascinates me that there exists, with Meryemana (House of the Virgin Mary) in Turkey, an Islamic Marian shrine that also attracts Christian pilgrims – including three popes in the 20th century alone. Here the Muslims venerate the mother of the prophet Isa bin Maryam, and Christians their Mother of God: Nostre Dame – مريم العذراء – Maryam al adhraa.