The Bracelet-Adorned Queen: The Virgin Mary in “Advent Lyric” IX

Another older essay (and one of my favorites): an examination of the Virgin Mary in the Anglo Saxon Crist, Advent Lyric IX, lines 275-347. Abstracted:   The Advent Lyric’s Virgin offers a unique vision of Christ’s mother. Conventional wisdom in the early Church held the Virgin Mary in esteem for her purity, maternity, mercy, and, above all, her passivity in conforming to God’s will, and the Old English Advent Lyrics celebrates each of these characteristics; in the early lyrics she is wondered at for her chastity, for which Christ chooses her as a mother; she is conflated with–some might say objectified as–the precious holy city of Jerusalem; and she is presented as a weeping virgin lamenting her betrothed’s doubt over her pregnancy. In each of these, the Virgin illustrates the idealized vision of demure femininity, yet she grows progressively stronger–and more active–within the Lyrics. By the end of the seventh set of Lyrics, she has confronted Joseph’s fears and chastised him for questioning her purity; however, it is Lyric IX that exemplifies the Virgin’s full strength and agency. The poet presents Mary as an active participant in the Incarnation in a celebration of the Virgin as “the glory of the world.”

Despite the Patristic teachings that stress the Virgin’s characteristics of chastity, humility, and submission, the Advent Lyrics’ poet chose to present her as a victorious Anglo-Saxon queen who was no passive, cowering virgin when she was alerted to her divine pregnancy, but a willing agent who consciously and willingly dedicated herself to God. In exchange, she is offered the opportunity to bear the Christ child. Mary, in the perspective, exchanges her earthly potential for sacred maternity. The Virgin, then, becomes an active participant in the Incarnation as well as the propagation of Christianity. To a degree, she mirrors Christ’s role as heavenly hero–Mary is his warrior bride, daughter, and mother in one. As the heavenly consort and heiress, the Virgin is mistress of all the universe and both protector of and entrance to the heavenly city. As the holy mother, she the universal nurturer who offers spiritual nourishment and who intercedes between her Son and mankind. Although this section closes with a plea for Christ’s return, thus returning the focus to the Advent Lyrics’ overall theme of Christ’s promise, Mary’s significance in the Incarnation and afterward is not subverted, for the poet leaves no doubt that without this woman, who was altogether unique, the Incarnation would not have been possible. This conquering queen is the first true Anglo-Saxon heroine.

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