Millions venerate Mary, Jesus' mother, with such titles as "Mother of God" and "Queen of Heaven" without realizing that these are pre-Christian titles, condemned by Scripture. Why do so many treat Mary with the same veneration once given to pagan mother goddess figures? Scripture reveals the startling truth!
What is the true origin and significance of the "Madonna"? You may be surprised!
Every day, hundreds of millions of people pray to Mary, the mother of Jesus, whom they honor as the "Mother of God" and "Queen of Heaven." Every year, millions embark on pilgrimages to Marian shrines that dot the world—from Ireland to Portugal and Poland, from Bosnia and Gibraltar to Mexico and Sri Lanka. Pope John Paul II dedicated his pontificate to Mary, and "consecrated the world" to the "Blessed Virgin." On Catholic World Youth Days, he has urged millions of young people: "Do not be afraid to open the doors of your life to Mary!"
In recent years, Mary's devotees have reported apparitions with increasing frequency. With such titles as "Mother of the World," "Lady of All Nations" and "Queen of Peace," her appearance has been alleged in the United States, Australia, Chile and Japan. Palestinian Arabs and African Muslims report having seen her. In Bombay, India, hundreds of thousands paid homage to a supposed Marian image. But it is from Europe that devotees report her most urgent messages, insisting that people must say the rosary and become more spiritual, that Russia will be converted and that the religions of the world must unite if there is to be peace.
While the focus on Mary is a global phenomenon that is gaining momentum, it is not really new. Roman Catholic rulers in Europe have consecrated nations to Mary for a thousand years. Yet what is seldom mentioned is that religious practices associated with the worship of Mary originated long before the days of Jesus and His mother. Surprisingly, few ever question why so many adhere to beliefs and practices that Christ never taught—and the Bible does not mention. No prayers to Mary are found in the Bible, and no miracles are accorded to her in Scripture. And, amazingly, Mary is routinely given titles that—in the Bible and in history—clearly refer to someone else!
How did Mary, a humble Jewish girl, acquire such titles and such honor? What is behind the growing emphasis on the "Blessed Virgin," and just where is this emphasis leading?
Remarkable as it may seem, scholarly sources plainly acknowledge that this focus on Mary was totally absent in the early Church. The Catholic Encyclopedia states: "This doctrine is not contained, at least explicitly, in the earlier forms of the Apostles' Creed, there is perhaps no ground for surprise if we do not meet with any clear traces of the cultus of the Blessed Virgin in the first Christian centuries" (article: "Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary"). Mary was not given the titles "Mother of God" or "Queen of Heaven" until centuries after she had lived. There is no mention in the teachings of Christ or the Apostles of worship, adoration or prayers to Mary, and there is no biblical reference for saying the rosary. Jesus taught His disciples to pray to God the Father (Luke 11:1–2), and to petition in the name of Jesus Christ (John 14:13–14). The Bible lists no festivals devoted to Mary, and offers no examples of anyone praying before a statue of Mary. In the Bible—and the early Church—such practices were condemned as idolatry (see Exodus 20:4–5).
The Bible never refers to Mary's "Immaculate Conception"—the doctrine that she was born without sin. Nor does it teach the "Assumption"—the doctrine that Mary was bodily transported to heaven. Rather, Scripture clearly states that "no one has ascended to heaven" except Jesus (John 3:13). In the last century, apparitions and their supporters have promoted Mary as the "Mediatrix of All Mercies" (thus diminishing Jesus Christ's true role as revealed in the Bible), and as the "Queen of Peace," though the Bible never refers to her this way. If these beliefs and practices are not found in the Bible, where did they come from, and how did they become associated with what many today call Christianity?
To understand how worship of the Madonna developed, we must look at the early centuries of the Church. Jesus came into a world dominated by Greek and Roman culture. Pagan religions flourished, and people worshiped a variety of gods and goddesses that were known by different names in different regions. These deities were housed in magnificent shrines and temples, and were worshiped with elaborate ceremonies that sometimes included secret rites and temple prostitution. Festivals of the gods were public holidays that dominated the social calendar. In cities with major shrines and temples—such as Ephesus, location of the temple of Diana (Acts 19:21–40)—craftsmen prospered by making and selling images of the deities. The worship of pagan deities was popular in the Roman Empire, and continued well into the fifth century ad.
The pagan world tolerated the worship of different gods and goddesses, but true Christians stood out because they would not participate in pagan rituals. The early Christians followed the biblical admonitions "do not learn the way of the Gentiles\ (Jeremiah 10:2) and \do not be conformed to this world" (Romans 12:2) and "come out from among them and be separate" (2 Corinthians 6:17). Christians were pressured to conform, and persecuted when they did not participate in pagan customs. Yet between 300–400ad, dramatic changes occurred. The Roman Empire not only accepted what it called Christianity, but through its official endorsement made its form of Christianity the dominant religious force in the Roman Empire. It was during this era that worship of Mary first flourished.
The so-called "conversion" of Constantine was a crucial period in the transformation of "popular Christianity." The young emperor, a sun-worshiper, was attracted to the growing apostate Christian church. Although Constantine stopped persecutions and granted favor to professing Christians, he continued to approve of and follow pagan practices. He apparently "found it convenient to pay his respects to both Christ and Apollo" (A Chronicle of the Last Pagans, Chuvin, p. 26). Constantine's embrace of "Christianity," and promotion of his newly adopted faith, brought the church phenomenal growth—which changed its character. Imperial patronage colossally increased the wealth and status of the churches. Privileges and exemptions granted to the clergy precipitated a stampede into the priesthood (see The Conversion of Europe, Fletcher, p. 38). Yet many new "converts" were only nominal Christians who still retained and followed pagan ideas.
Some early church leaders, seeing the popularity of pagan customs, followed a "strategy of adoption" in their attempts to convert the heathen "into some semblance of Christian belief" (Fletcher, pp. 99, 354). Instead of requiring people to repent and give up their ancient customs, church leaders urged "the replacement of these pagan practices with Christian ones" (ibid., p. 54). Churches were built on or near pagan shrines, and ancient festivals were given a "Christian" name and content. Where the pagan "habit of popular attachment to a holy place was too great to break, it was sometimes possible for the church to disinfect the old site and to invest it with some Christian significance" (The Early Church, Chadwick, p. 168). A prime example was Ephesus, with its great temple of Diana—one of the wonders of the ancient world. In 431ad, the third ecumenical council met in Ephesus and proclaimed Mary the "Mother of God" and the object of prayers and devotions. But why was Mary given this title—and many others? Why was Ephesus chosen for this announcement?
The Diana of Ephesus was a goddess "whom all Asia and the world worship" (Acts 19:27). Diana was the Roman name for the Greek deity Artemis, the "goddess of the moon and the chaste and sister of the sun-god, Apollo" (Colliers Encyclopedia). Artemis was also the "protectress of chastity and patroness of childbirth" and the goddess of seafarers, who brought good weather and profitable voyages (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th edition). She is often portrayed as a virgin and mother goddess and the "Mistress of Animals." Her statues depict a multi-breasted figure wearing a turreted crown. Artemis incorporates many features of the great mother goddess who was worshiped under a variety of names in the ancient world (see The Oxford Companion to the Bible).
We also learn that "Artemis is a deity of very ancient origins who survived and attracted great popularity in Asia Minor and Greece into Christian times when… much of her ethos [beliefs & practices] was transferred to the Virgin Mary. Both figures enjoyed major sanctuaries at Ephesus" (Encyclopedia of Gods, Jordan, p. 26). By building a church for Mary in Ephesus and declaring her "Mother of God" near the great temple of the mother goddess Diana, the Catholic church simply borrowed and adapted ancient traditions that allowed new converts to continue pagan practices in a "Christian" context!
But where did the titles "Mother of God" and "Queen of Heaven" come from?
In central Asia Minor, more than a thousand years before the Romans, the Hittites also worshiped a great mother goddess. On the side of a hill near Sardis is a giant rock carving of a mother goddess that the ancient poets Homer, Ovid and Sophocles describe as the "Mother of the Gods, the oldest goddess of all" (The Hittite Empire, Garstang, pp. 176–177). On statues and carvings, this Hittite deity "assumes the aspect of a goddess of the skies, or Queen of Heaven, a familiar aspect of Astarte" (ibid., pp. 114, 204–205). Astarte was the Phoenician goddess of war, the evening star, sexual love and fertility. Temple prostitution was part of her worship. She was often depicted naked, "wearing a crown of cow's horns enclosing a solar disc"—similar to the Egyptian goddess Isis (Encyclopedia of Gods, p. 33). The Roman army spread the worship of this ancient Hittite goddess across Europe from Germany to Britain because her cult "found great favor among the soldiers" (Garstang, p. 302).
But what about the Madonna and child?
In Egypt, Isis was worshiped as one of the greatest deities. She was usually depicted seated on a throne "holding the child Horus… both official theology and popular belief proclaimed… Isis and Horus the perfect mother and son" (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th ed.). From Egypt, the worship of Isis spread to Greece and Rome, where she was called Stella Maris (star of the sea), the patroness of seafarers and the 'queen of heaven'" (The Gods of the Egyptians, Budge, p. 218). A shrine of Isis once "stood on Vatican Hill where now stands St. Peter's" (The Paganism in Our Christianity, Weigall, pp. 128–129). Numerous scholars note that "the Isis cult influenced the portrayal of the Christian Virgin Mary" (Jordan, p. 137), and that "it is clear that the early Christians bestowed some of her [Isis'] attributes upon the Virgin Mary… pictures and sculptures wherein she is represented in the act of suckling her child Horus formed the foundation for the Christian figures and paintings of the Madonna and Child" (Budge, p. 220).
This author continues: "Many of the heresies of the early Christian Church in Egypt were caused by the survival of ideas and beliefs connected with the old native gods which the converts to Christianity wished to adapt to their new creed" (ibid.). In parts of Egypt, by 400ad, "Mary the Virgin and Christ had taken the places of Isis and Horus, and the God-mother, or mother of the god, was no longer Isis, but Mary" (ibid., p. 221). This is how the worship of Mary became part of so-called Christianity. It entered the early church with the influx of nominal converts who brought their devotion to a mother goddess—and her titles—with them!
In the Bible we read that the ancient Israelites—including Solomon—turned from God and worshipped Baal and Asherah or Astoreth (Judges 2:11–13; 10:6; 1 Kings 11:1–11) whose rituals involved temple prostitution (2 Kings 23:6–7). The Bible speaks of women weaving garments for a statue of this goddess that had been placed in the temple of God (2 Kings 21:1–7; 23:6–7). Historians comment that "Aserah is the great mother goddess of Canaan, known as Lady Aserah of the Sea" (Jordan, p. 30–31). Scholars also connect Astoreth with the Babylonian goddess Ishtar, the Phoenician Astarte and the Greek Aphrodite—fertility goddesses whose worship also involved temple prostitution (see The Oxford Companion to the Bible).
Ishtar was the most important goddess in the ancient Middle East—especially in Babylon and Nineveh. She was the goddess of war and sexual love. She was called the "Queen of the Universe" and the "lady of the world," the "protectress of prostitutes and patroness of alehouses" (New Encyclopaedia Britannica). Her cult, which included temple prostitution, was widespread and popular (ibid.). Ishtar was also worshipped as Inanna the goddess of love and war, and called the "Queen of Heaven" (Dictionary of Gods & Goddesses, Devils & Demons, Lurker). Another Canaanite and Phoenician goddess was Anat, a fertility goddess and sister of Baal and daughter of the sun god. She was called "the Lady of the Mountain… mother of the gods… queen of heaven… the virgin Anat" (Jordan, pp. 18–19). The Bible and history plainly show that the Israelites and the early church adopted the worship of a mother goddess, complete with her titles, from their pagan neighbors. But what does all this have to do with us today, and why is it significant?
When God brought the Israelites out of Egypt, He commanded them: "You shall not make for yourself any carved image… you shall not bow down to them nor serve them… you shall not make idols for yourselves" (Exodus 20:4–5; Leviticus 26:1). Yet they soon began to worship a golden calf, and were punished for doing so (Exodus 32). The Israelites were also warned not to adopt pagan religious practices that God viewed as abominations. "You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way" (Deuteronomy 12:29–32; 17:9–13). However, these warnings were repeatedly ignored as the Israelites turned to the worship of Baal and Ashtoreth—the mother goddess of the Canaanites, their "queen of heaven." For these sins—including the practice of kissing their idols (see Hosea 13:2)—the Israelites incurred the anger of God and were carried off to captivity in Assyria!
The nation of Judah made the same mistakes. They provoked God to anger when they "burned incense to the queen of heaven and poured out drink offerings to her… [and made] cakes for her, to worship her" (see Jeremiah 7, 44). The image they worshiped as the queen of heaven was the Babylonian goddess Ishtar. Other rituals included "weeping for Tammuz" (the dead husband of Ishtar) and "worshiping the sun toward the east" (Ezekiel 8:10–18)—practices that continue today in making hot cross buns and holding sunrise services at Easter.
Israelite idols were decorated with jewelry, dressed in garments and housed in shrines just like the pagan gods of Babylon (Ezekiel 16:16–25). The apocryphal book of Baruch (in Roman Catholic versions of the Bible) warns the Israelites not to follow pagan Babylonian practices of worshiping gods made of gold, silver or stone, that "have golden crowns on their heads… [and] cannot speak" and are carried on the shoulders of men (Baruch 6:3–9)—yet this is all part of how Mary is honored today!
The Bible reveals these are not trivial matters in God's sight, but are abominations that God hates. The nation of Judah spent 70 years in captivity in Babylon as punishment for its idolatry. Leaders in the early church who allowed people to continue their pagan traditions under new "Christian" names simply followed this same misguided reasoning that ignored clear biblical instructions. The Bible warns that nations following this example—adopting and adapting pagan practices—will suffer a similar fate (see Jeremiah 16:10–13).
But what is behind the current emphasis on the Virgin Mary? Why is it growing, and where is it leading? Bible prophecies reveal that just before the return of Jesus Christ, a "beast power" composed of ten nations will emerge in Europe from the ashes of the old Roman (and "Holy Roman") Empire (see Daniel 2, 7; Revelation 13, 17–18). This confederation will be ridden by a woman—a rich and powerful church—described as a queen whose roots go back to ancient Babylon, and as a mother of harlots (other misguided churches) who has made the world drunk with her false doctrines (see Revelation 18:7; 17:1–6). This woman—called "daughter of Babylon" and the "Lady of Kingdoms"—will claim to be the one true church, saying: "I am, and there is no one else besides me." She will lead an end-time movement to bring her "separated children" back to the "mother" church (Isaiah 47:8–9; Revelation 18:7–8).
Worship of the "Queen of Heaven" would provide a "common ground" to unite nations and religions of the world, in an attempt to bring peace to mankind. Many nations in Old Europe have been consecrated to Mary: the Ukrainian and Hungarian peoples shortly after 1000ad, and England as Mary's "Dowry" in 1381. In the 1600s, Austria, France, Poland, Spain and Portugal and their colonies were dedicated to Mary (see A Woman Rides the Beast, Hunt, p. 457). In 1996, Pope John Paul II designated the shrine of Our Lady of Europe (set up in Gibraltar in 1309 by King Ferdinand IV of Spain) as a "potent symbol" for the unification of Europe and "a place where, under the patronage of Mary, the human family will be drawn ever more closely into fraternal unity and peaceful coexistence." This shrine is not far from a cave on Gibraltar where Phoenician seafarers set up a shrine to Astarte, the Queen of Heaven, seven centuries before Christ.
But the New Europe is also awash with Marian symbolism. The flag of the European Union—a ring of 12 gold stars on blue background—is drawn from pictures of the Madonna with 12 stars in halo around her head. In the cathedral at Strasbourg, France (site of the European Parliament), a stained glass window—designated the "window of Europe"—depicts the Madonna and child with a halo of 12 stars and crescent moons along the edges. May 5 has been designated "Europe Day"—it is also the feast day of Our Lady of Europe in Gibraltar.
Catholic leaders recognize the ecumenical potential of a mother goddess. Nearly 40 years ago, Bishop Fulton J. Sheen predicted the conversion of Islam to Christianity "through summoning of the Moslems to a veneration of the Mother of God" (see Hunt, p. 458). Sheen pointed out that Mohammed had a daughter named Fatima, that the Blessed Virgin appeared in the Portuguese village of Fatima and that, when a statue of Our Lady of Fatima is displayed in Muslim countries, thousands turn out to venerate her image. A shrine to Our Lady of Fatima is also being constructed in Russia—a stronghold of the Orthodox Church and home of a large Muslim population—to facilitate the return of many Russians to the "true" faith.
The female Madonna also appeals to feminists who reject the patriarchal flavor of traditional Christianity, and to New Agers who worship an "Earth Mother." The increasingly frequent reports of apparitions of one calling herself the "Lady of All Nations," and the growing Catholic emphasis on Mary as the "Queen of Heaven" fit well with an effort to pull the religions of the world together.
The worship of the Madonna is a significant thread that connects the ancient worship of Semiramis in Babylon, and the mother goddesses of Egypt, Greece and Rome, to the modern veneration of the Virgin Mary. It is an unbiblical practice that is actually condemned in Scripture. Worship of the mother goddess dominated the ancient world and played a key role in attracting pagans to the early church. The Bible reveals that devotion to the "Blessed Virgin," the "Lady of All Nations," the "Queen of Heaven" and the "Queen of the Universe" will play a significant role in key events that will fulfill end-time prophecies. We are watching those events take shape today!