Carol Engelhardt Herringer
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The Virgin Mary
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From the 1830s to the mid 1880s, Victorian Christians fiercely debated whether the Virgin Mary was – as Catholics said – a sinless ever-virgin mother who was Jesus’ closest confidante and a model for all Christians, or whether Protestants were correct when they described her as an ordinary woman who had other children and who had no special role in Jesus’ life or in the devotional lives of believers. Revived confessional conflict helps to explain why the Virgin Mary became a controversial figure in England at this time. I have explored this already in Victorians and the Virgin Mary (Manchester, 2008). This essay extends that work, considering debates about Mary in the context of anxieties about female power, politics and women’s maternal roles. That debates were at their most intense when Queen Victoria occupied the throne is deeply suggestive. In surveying Victorian attitudes to Mary, both Protestant and Catholic, this chapter seeks to place religious contention in context of these broader concerns.

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