Veneration of the Virgin Mary in Livonia and Riga

Veneration of the Virgin Mary in Livonia, i.e. in the territory of Latvia and Estonia, began with the spread of Christianity. There are churches, chapels and altars named after the Virgin Mary, as well as feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary; besides, several ancient fraternal orders were created and lived under Her protection. The whole Livonia was placed under the patronage of Our Lady. The Chronicle of Henry indicates that Albert, the Bishop of Riga, during the third year of his reign (1199 – 1229), dedicated the Cathedral of the Bishop of Riga and the whole Livonia to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Since then, Livonia was called Terra Mariana (the Land of Mary). Dedication of Livonia to the Virgin Mary was confirmed by the Pope Innocent III during the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) where he stated that Livonia, i.e. Latvia and Estonia, would be the Land of Mary.

The first church in Riga was consecrated under the name of the Virgin Mary. It was located near to the present St. John’s Church. When the Church of the Virgin Mary was destroyed by the fire in 1215, construction of a new church with the same name was initiated near Daugava River, outside the fortification of the city in 1216. This new church named after the Virgin Mary has experienced some changes, but has survived until nowadays, and we know it as the Dome Cathedral.

An important evidence proving veneration of the Virgin Mary in the ancient Riga is the fact that many organisations of the city were established and dedicated to the patronage of Our Lady. The Big Guild of Riga has always been called “St. Mary’s Guild” and Our Lady has been its Patron Saint. One of the duties of the members of this Guild was to give presents to the Church on feasts of the Virgin Mary and to promote as much as possible veneration of Our Lady outside the Guild.

Veneration of the Virgin Mary constituted an important part of the life of the Livonian Order. The Blessed Virgin Mary was chosen to be the Patron Saint both of Livonia and the Livonian Order. Similarly to the main seat of the German order in Marienburg (Prussia), the residence of the Master of the Livonian Order in the Riga Castle was beautifully decorated with sculptures and paintings of Our Lady. In the main hall of the castle, there was an expensive sculpture of the Virgin Mary, and new knights, when entering the order, made solemn vows in front of it. The seal of the Master of the Livonian Order has always been decorated with an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Plettenberg’s Thaler, coined in Cesis

There was an image of the Virgin Mary on the flags of the Order as well. The favourite songs of the brothers or knights of the Livonian Order that they were singing when going to war were songs dedicated to the Virgin Mary, such as „Salve Regina”, „Ave, Maris Stella”, „Alma Redemptoris Mater”.

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