Mary, Mary, Why Ya Buggin’?

The Virgin Mary is having quite a year, and it’s only February. Last month, as you may have heard, a Chilean designer, Ricardo Oyarzun, put on a fashion show featuring sexy Virgins Mary. This story made its way through most of your major newspapers and blog type venues, for two obvious reasons:


Those two reasons, obviously, are that the story filled those hard-to-fill column inches in the “Faith and Spirituality” section of the paper and it gave news outlets in general excuse to feature large-breasted models and call it news. And, of course, this all comes hot on the heels of Mary’s appearance on the cover of the Mexican edition of Playboy back in December. Why, if I were a New York Times writer, these two occurences of Mary sexification would be all I’d need for a trend piece for the Sunday magazine.

Lest you all accuse me of bringing this up solely as an excuse to feature scantily clad women myself, there is an important medieval angle to all of this. Responding to the outraged Catholics (whose outrage he had, of course, intentionally courted), the designer, Ricardo Oyarzun, had this to say:

There is no pornography here, there’s no sex, there are no virgins menstruating or feeling each other up. This is artistic expression.

None of the news outlets that picked up the story record the reporter’s next question after this spirited defense, which surely must have been, “Menstrating virgins feeling each other up? What kind of porn, exactly, do you watch, Mr. Artistic Expression?”

But whatever the designer’s tastes in kink, as I discussed a few years ago when South Park went there, menstruating Virgins are entirely acceptable in a medieval context and not the slightest bit salacious. Indeed, the Virgin Mary’s menstrual cycle was the subject of much medieval theological disputation.* Ultimately, it was decided that the Virgin must have had one, because Jesus was born fully mortal, and according to medieval medical theories, a mortal body was created out of the matter provided by the mother, the same matter that is expelled once a month. Incidentally, this same matter they thought became the mother’s milk, so Jesus’s suckling was independent confirmation of the existence of Mary’s cycle.**

As for feeling Virgins up, that’s also medieval. Shall I remind you again of the medieval Corpus Christi play in which a skeptical midwife feels Mary up to prove she’s no virgin and gets her hand magically withered for her disbelief? Oh, I guess I just did. Stupid rhetorical questions.

At any rate, I popped over to the designer’s web page to see if I could find out more about his weird taste in porn the theological underpinings of his Virgin-inspired fashion, and I learned two important bits of information about the story that those other blogs left out. The first is that the tartification of Mary is really just a sideline interest for Mr. Oyarun. The real attraction to the Virgin comes from his love of improbable and uncomfortable hats. Take these three Marys from his site:

Only one of the three has immodest decolletage, but all three sport insane and enormous halo-esque hats.

The other thing I learned is that easily offended Catholics everywhere should consider themselves lucky. While the extra boobage might indeed be offensive, given the other fashions on display on his site, it could have been much worse. I mean, the Virgin Mary could have ended up looking like one of these two:

*Re-researching this, I discovered that “Did the Virgin Mary have that time of the month?” is a question that just won’t go away, even today. Check out this long consideration of the issue from the Rev. Mr. Bryce Andrew Sibley’s Mary page, for a contemporary analysis.
**Of course, it would be foolish to deny that the medievals would have had some problems with their Virgin baring so much cleavage as the lady a few pages up, unless there was a suckling baby involved. So deny it I shan’t.

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