Merry Christmas! – Breastfeeding Baby Jesus

Posted on 23. Dec, 2010 by in Breastfeeding, Cerise

So I got this fantastic idea this morning.  I decided to celebrate Christmas on the Mother Nurture facebook page by sharing images of Mary breastfeeding baby Jesus.  I “googled” Mary breastfeeding Jesus and, WOW, so many beautiful images appeared.  As I have been sitting at my computer copying images and taking notes, I imagine that 2010 years ago (or so) that Mary has a beautiful, peaceful birth, welcomed her child into her own arms and I’m going to take a wild guess here and say that the first thing she did was put him to the breast.  This gave me a bit of spiritual enlightenment into my own birth experience.  Is it possible, that Mary and I share a common birth experience?  Granted, I had a skilled midwife in attendance, but I was left in peace to labor and birth as I desired.  As far as I know, Mary labored alone in a barn with her husband.  I’m guessing he knew little about birth but I can also imagine that God would have chosen a supportive partner for His mother.  My own husband knew little about birth, mostly stayed out of the way, but was right there quietly supporting me in the way that I needed him.  My children came out of my body, into my arms and never left my body.  No one wisked them away for tests or procedures, we were left as one and supported as a dyad.  I can only imagine that that is God’s design and desire for every mother and baby: to enter the world together in peace and love.

My experience with art is that it is very symbolic.  While, no doubt, Jesus was actually breastfed, these images are meant to portray deeper ideas and meanings.  (Hence, the latch and positioning is often appalling – or near impossible – when viewed by us lactation professionals!)  In my research, I came across some articles from 2008 that indicate that the Catholic church was promoting more images of Mary breastfeeding Jesus so as to promote the true humanity of Jesus. Sometimes Mary and Jesus gaze lovingly at each other.  Other times they both stare off into space.  Occasionally, she has an expression of annoyance.  Been there, done that…  I am constantly amazed by the ability of art to portray the deepest and widest range of human emotion.  I can feel a connection with each one of these pictures.  Breastfeeding is not just a way to feed the baby, it is a way of Mothering.  Your breastfeeding relationship can represent all aspects of your parenting:  love, fear, concern, annoyance, compromise, struggle, success, failure, anger, growth, nourishment and spirituality.

So, here are my questions to you:

What do these images portray to you?  What do you think is the deeper meaning portrayed by the artist?  Does this art give you a connection to the humanity of Jesus?  Has your birth or breastfeeding experience had a spiritual dimension to it?  Do you have a favorite piece of breastfeeding art?  Please share!

Many of these images are from http://www.fisheaters.com/marialactans.html.

And some of my personal favorites:

One of the earliest depictions (if not the earliest depiction) of Mary, this is Our Lady as painted in the Priscilla Catacombs, ca. A.D. 250

An early Coptic nursing Mary

Anonymous French sculpture, ca. A.D. 1335 Anyone else experience standing while nursing???

From "Les Très Belles Heures du Duc de Berry," ca. A.D. 1409, illustrated by the brothers Jean, Paul, and Hermann Limbourg. Clearly also a genius child – my kids have definitely multi-tasked while nursing but they’ve never written while nursing!

da Vinci, ca. A.D. 1500

"The Miraculous Lactation of St. Bernard." This painting depicts the spiritual nourishing of St. Bernard by the milk of Our Lady, based on this legendary mystical experience: Bernard prayed before a statue of the Madonna, asking her, "Show yourself a mother" ("Monstra te esse Matrem"). The statue came to life and and squirted milk from the breast onto the Saint's lips. Artist: Unknown Master, Netherlandish, 1480-85 Apparently, Mary has a sense of humor and a skill I have always envied in other women!

Another version of St. Bernard’s squirt in the mouth.

Notice the dripping milk!

The Virgin Mary breastfeeding the Christ Child at his Circumcision in the east window of St Peter Mancroft, Norwich. Breastfeeding during circumcision – ouch!

Morales, A.D. 1520 Ah, the breast provider of food, nourishment, love, bonding and playtime.

Nuestra Señora de Leche y Buen Parto (Our Lady of Milk and Good Birth). This statue, ca. A.D. 1600-1620, is kept in the shrine devoted to Nuestra Señora de Leche y Buen Parto in St. Augustine, Florida -- the first Marian shrine in the United States. Also the statue from which La Leche League got their name!

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3 Responses to “Merry Christmas! – Breastfeeding Baby Jesus”

  1. Naira M.

    16. Apr, 2011

    Hi Cerise, my name is naira, the video is wonderful, I wanted to share it in facebook with my family and friends. The only thing that the picture where the Virgin is breastfeeding St. Bernard, left a very bad impression. Actually the Story of St Bernard is that the virgin from far, squirt some milk, there are several stories, and many people don’t know the story well, so when they see the virgin with her breast inside this man, not knowing the story of st Bernard, is repulsing. It was a shock looking at the beautiful pictures and then this comes along, ruined my inspiration, somewhat, or a lot. Enough to bother you and leave you this comment. I wish I could have a video with out this photo, but I simply do not have the time. Would you please let me know if you ever decide to show just the ones with the baby Jesus. Thank you Cerise, your friend in Jesus. Naira.

  2. Cerise

    20. Apr, 2011

    Naira,
    I actually did not create the video. It was created by another organization, Peaceful Parenting. The story of St. Bernard is indeed that he was squirted from afar. I believe the purpose of these images are to depict the life-giving nourishment and human nature of the Mary. I personally view them from as symbolic pieces of art. The artist is not trying to portray anything sexual, but, rather, is using breastfeeding or breast milk as a representation of nurturing and spiritual nourishment.

    Cerise

  3. Clark

    05. Nov, 2012

    Actually, as Cerise has shown, the image of “Maria Lactans” (Mary Nursing) is as old as the church. This was a favorite medieval theme, and while it may shock our modern sensibilities, images of Mary nursing fully-grown men (often two at once) were not uncommon. The original story of how Dominic received the rosary involved drinking milk from Mary’s breast. That version has been sanitized by the church so that we get the relatively tame doctrine-heavy story that now exists in most rosary manuals.

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