Carol King

Date of Award


Degree Name



College of Arts and Media

Type of Degree


Document Type


First Advisor

Dr. Susan C. Power

Second Advisor

Michael I. Cornfeld

Third Advisor

Susan Jackson

Fourth Advisor

Leonard J. Deutsch


The Virgin Mary is rarely mentioned in the Bible yet legends about her abound throughout the centuries. Worship of the Virgin is recorded as early as the 3rd century, and soon thereafter visual representations emerged to serve as devotional objects for her patrons. Mary’s popularity among the people left the Church with a fundamental problem: they must either sanction her worship and bring the pagans into their fold; or they must diminish her role in salvation, totally rid Christianity of the female divine, and risk losing converts to older-world traditions. This dilemma was settled at the Council of Ephesus in 431 C.E. when the Church proclaimed Mary Theotokos, the Mother of God. Thus in a single decree Mary became the conduit for the resurfacing of the ancient Mother Goddess: the same Goddess that the Christian religion had been trying to eradicate for hundreds of years. But in order to promulgate this dogma to the faithful, as well as to the rest of the world, the Church needed to produce a type of visual representation of the Virgin to support its claim that she is truly the Mother of God. The result of this fusion of theology and art are the Sedes Sapientiae, the Thrones of Wisdom These small, wooden, portable, free-standing sculptures exemplify Mary as the Goddess in her own right. Traditionally, these images have not been studied by art historians because they were considered idols and left to the realm of theologians. Yet the Sedes Sapientiae is obviously rooted not only in female mythology but in art history as well. The images were created not only to illustrate Church doctrine but to satisfy a deeply internalized need from within the human psyche for a female figure in a male-dominated religion.


Mary, -- Blessed Virgin, Saint – Art.

Christianity and art.

Christianity and other religions.

Paganism – Relations – Christianity.