Our Lady of Sorrows

Our Lady of Sorrows

            Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows Day is a non-working holiday in Slovakia celebrated on 15 September.  It is a Catholic holiday devoted to the Virgin Mary in her incarnation as Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows, Patron of Slovakia. The main event of the holiday is celebrated at the National Basilica in the small town of Šaštín-Stráže in Western Slovakia.

            It traces its roots back to 1564 when the wife of a Hungarian nobleman commissioned a statue of the Sorrowful Mother in thanks for an answered prayer. This statue, the Šaštín Pieta, has become the ritual object of attention for pilgrims since that time. When Empress Maria Theresa noticed the large number of pilgrims coming to visit the statue, she requested that a larger church be built to house the Pieta. In 1764, with Maria Theresa in attendance, the cathedral in Šaštín was consecrated.

            Pope Benedict XIII proclaimed Our Lady of Sorrows patroness of Slovakia in 1717 at the request of the nation’s bishops. A small country in the heart of Europe, Slovakia was one of the first Slavic nations to embrace Christianity. Because of its size Slovakia was prone to invasions and pillaging. The Slovaks bore these afflictions with courage, strengthened by their faith in God and devotion to the Blessed Mother.

            The seven sorrows of Mary are represented by a series of bronze reliefs and a life-sized sculpture of the Mary with the crucified Christ (often called a “Pieta,” meaning mercy, in the theme of the famous statue by Michelangelo). The statue is the creation of Ernest Morenon and is noted for its simple lines, which reverently reveal the depths of Mary’s grief.

            In 1927, Pope Pius XI first proclaimed Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows as Patron of all of Slovakia, and in 1964, Pope Paul VI strengthened this proclamation by designating the Šaštín cathedral devoted to her as a Basilica Minor, the first basilica in Slovakia. In his 1995 visit to the country, Pope John Paul II added a golden crown to the statue.

            The seven sorrows are: The prophecy of Simeon that a sword of sorrow would pierce Mary’s heart (cf. Luke 2:25-38), Mary and Joseph flee to Egypt with Jesus to avoid King Herod’s murderous plot (cf. Mt 2:13-18), Jesus’ parents search for Him in Jerusalem (Luke 2:41-52), Mary’s encounter with Jesus on the way to Golgotha; and her witnessing His crucifixion (cf. John 19:16-30), Jesus’ body being placed in His mother’s arms (depicted by the statue), and the burial of her Son (cf. Luke 23:50-55).