Wendy WRIGHT. The Lady of the Angels and Her City: A Marian Pilgrimage. Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2013, pp. 247. ISBN 978-0-8146-34270-7.Reviewed by Anneris GORIS, La Esperanza Center, New York

The Lady of the Angels and Her City captures the rich historical devotion to the Virgin in the United States. The numerous pictures of shrines adorning the book portray the magnificent devotions of the Virgin, and tell the story of Mary in Los Angeles. In this book, Wendy narrates her personal pilgrimage to churches and shrines in her hometown, Los Angeles, documents the presence of Mary in her city, and makes up for her own... missed Marian Years (pags. 2 & 4). Los Angeles belongs both to the Virgin and to Wendy, for she is the main reason why the author became Catholic (pag. 3). In the book, the author tries to understand where she and the Virgin intimately intertwine (pag. 4) turning her personal pilgrimage into a narrative about American Catholic culture and a global Catholic experience (pag. 5). 

She used the “lived religion” approach to capture the interconnections between faith expressions, social structures, cultural horizons, bodily existence, everyday lives, and the local circumstances of practitioners (pag. 4), and surrounds herself with what she calls “colorful stories” to explore the different layers attributed to the Virgin (pag. 6). She interviewed pastors, sacristans, pastoral associates, missionaries, priests-in-training, seminary professors, abbots, women religious, parishioners, laity—young and old—along every part of the fiercely contested political, cultural, and theological spectrums (pag. 5); consulted monographs, scholarly histories, newspaper articles, and mission archives; participated in devotional practices associated with the Virgin in different places; and lived in the city from 1947 to 1984 (pags. 4 and 6). Hence, the book is not a personal memoir, but a spiritual peregrination taken in concert with other Catholics refracted through the seemingly infinite expressions of Mary's presence in a vast metropolitan basis, drawn together by spaces (profoundly and essentially Catholic) related to the different guises of Mary (pag. 7).

Every chapter is a socio-historical and religious account of how a particular devotion to Mary came to Los Angeles and the United States. Our Lady of Refuge came to the U.S. by way of northern Mexico, where she was one of the most popular of devotional images during the colonial era, but her arrival is credited to a Jesuit who was commissioned to go to Mexico in 1729 (pag. 12). The feast of the Lady of Angels of the Porciuncula was celebrated by explorers in Alta California. The devotion to Our Mother of Good Counsel and Saint Rita were brought to the city by the Augustinian order. The Immaculate of Heart’s incarnation arrived from Catalonia, a region in Spain, in 1848 when the Daughters of the Most Holy and Immaculate Heart of Mary came to Southern California (pag. 46). Our Lady of Hollywood came as a refugee in 1982 when a devastating fire gutted the public library. While the association of Mary with the mystical rose is obscure, the author states that it was complete by the medieval period. Wendy claims that “Among the most haunting of Marian appellations, and one rooted deep in tradition, is Mary as the star; she is Morning Star, Day Star, and Star of the Sea” (pag. 81). She was invoked by women of the Apocalypse and ancient Byzantine Akathist litany-like hymn (pag. 81). Some of the motifs of the Virgin Star in Santa Clara valley date back to the Hill Of Tepeyac outside Mexico City in 1531 (pag. 82). God Bearer refers to the intuition that Mary has comic importance (pag. 94). Our Lady of Perpetual Help’s origins include a tale of her miraculous beginnings, different versions of her adoption as a beloved Western Catholic Virgin, and a tale of her arrival at the city (pag. 108). The Miraculous Virgin, who reflects a symbol of cultural particularity and national pride, always accompanying her people, many of whom have come from the Philippine Islands, the Caribbean and Central and South America; nations which have their own virginal patroness with the power to rescue, heal, and transform sorrow into rejoicing (pag. 122). To appeal to the Lady of Victory, is to evoke a Virgin brought to the colonial territory of Spain in 1624 and the victories accomplished under her aegis (pag. 143). Our Lady of Peace depicts a young Mary cradling a dove which speaks to the faith of the parishioners of the Church which carries this name; they began a process of claiming the title as their own and letting her help with their specific situation (pag. 154). The Lady of Queen is a classic Marian antiphon dating back to the eleventh century (pag. 164). Our Lady of Sorrows is an ancient devotion which gained popularity in the Western church of the fifteenth century; fashioned from generations of communal reflection upon the fabric of the biblical narrative threaded together with the anguished signs of the faithful (pag. 178). The two conjoined hearts of the mother and son, Jesus and Mary, have biblical roots (pag. 190). The devotion to the New Creation, Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe, includes a procession with a lit torch, two huge painted pilgrim images of Juan Diego and the Lady of Guadalupe carried overland (pag. 203). The First Fruits, is about the Mary preserved from original sin from the moment of conception (pag. 219). The Epilogue (Return) describes the Virgin as a remarkable cultural artifact, a religious symbol of great significance, and a fount of faith and pastoral conundrum with which to wrestle (pag. 230). Wendy feels that Mary inspires, provides hope for her followers, and is the threshold where the divine “Other” invites (pag. 231).

Wendy’s reflection on questions raised by the different devotions to the Virgin Mary in Los Angeles is at the center of the globalization of religion and local religious culture. She raises important questions such as: What is our place in the vast multicultural Catholic world? How do we think about population devotion? Do ethnic celebrations belong to us as members of global tradition? What are contemporary theologians suggesting about this? (pags. 230 & 231). I agree with Wendy that all these questions are significant because devotions to the Virgin have enriched the American Catholic Church and the global Catholic experience.