Lady Madonna

As I was reading the chapter “The Meanings of the Devotion to the Madonna of 115th Street” in the Robert A. Orsi book, I couldn’t help but imagine a picture of the Madonna in my mind. And this picture looked oddly like the Statue of Liberty to me. I couldn’t get rid of it even by looking up the Madonna on Google Images because there were none. In fact, only the book cover had a picture of the Madonna and since it’s just a drawing, it didn’t really eliminate the image that I had created in my mind.

As I was wondering why I couldn’t get rid of this image, I started looking over the reading. The first thing that stuck out to me was that both the Madonna and the Statue of Liberty were brought over from Europe. While the Madonna was brought over from Italy and not as a present but as an icon, the Statue of Liberty was brought over from France as a present to the United States. Both of these feminine statues came from the old world to the new, to represent something to the immigrants. And what they represented wasn’t so different from one another.

Lady Liberty has always been a beacon to the immigrants arriving in New York and on her base are the words of the Emma Lazarus, “give me your tired, your poor…” The Statue of Liberty is an invitation to the immigrants of the world. While the Madonna of 115th Street was never an international invitation to immigrate to the United States, as I was reading I realized that it was an invitation to people to come to East Harlem, to settle there and make their Italian enclave there. On p. 164, Orsi quotes a 1928 parish souvenir journal that new Italian immigrants were directed to the church on 115th Street and after finding comfort “the never forgot the Madonna of 115th Street…” While The Statue of Liberty wasn’t a religious icon, I can’t help but think about stories I’ve heard of immigrants about how, simply by seeing the icon of freedom, they felt comforted after their horrendous journey.

Additionally, I have always felt that the Statue of Liberty being a woman was intentional by the designers, since a woman is more welcoming than a man. As her worshipers see the Madonna as the eternal mother, this connection also was very obvious to me. As I was reading descriptions throughout the chapter about how devoted the worshipers were, I knew that they were in no way talking about anything similar to how people viewed the Statue of Liberty, however I felt as if that initial welcoming to the United States could be seen from both statuettes and that there is a real connection between the two.

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