The prayer recited by the Pope at the Column of Maria in Marienplatz, shortly after his arrival, has a special symbolic value as the statue of the Virgin there depicts the country’s patroness.
During World War I, King Ludwig III and his wife Maria Theresa asked Pope Benedict XV to the declare the Virgin Mary Official Patroness of Bavaria. On April 26, 1916, the Pope changed the Kingdom of Bavaria to the “Kingdom of Mary” and established a proper feast in honor of the Patroness. In 1970 the Bishops’ Conference of Germany set May 1 as the feast day.
“Miracle of Munich”
The Column of Mary was erected in 1638 in the center of Munich Square. The construction of the marble column upon which sits a statue of the Virgin Mary was the result of a promise made by Prince Maximilian I. During the 30-years war, in 1632, the Prince promised to erect the column if Munich and Langsdorf were spared from destruction by the Swedish army. When his prayer was answered, the Prince considered it a true miracle.
Immediately after it was blessed in 1683, the Column became the focal point for the Marian devotion of Catholics in Bavaria, who honored the Mother of God with litanies and the recitation of the rosary. Throughout the centuries in times of danger or need, the Catholics of Bavaria have gathered at the foot of the Column.
There in 1782 they received the blessing of Pope Pius IV. It was there also that Maximilian Joseph was crowned the first King of Bavaria. In 1980 John Paul II stopped to pray there during his visit to Germany. Likewise, when then Cardinal Ratzinger was called to serve in Rome in 1982 as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he went to the Column and said goodbye to his beloved archdiocese.
Symbol of Hope
During the heavy bombardments of Munich during World War II, the statue was taken down and put in a safe place. After the war ended in 1945, it was placed on the Column again amidst a completely destroyed city, becoming a symbol of hope and peace. The four corners at the base of column are decorated with four bronze symbols: a lion representing war, a basilisk representing disease, a dragon representing hunger, and a serpent representing non-believers. These four plagues, according to popular belief, were overcome thanks to the intercession of the Mother of God.
The Column is also considered the geographical center of Bavaria and is the starting point for calculating distance on all the highways and roads that leave Munich.
Column of Mary in Munich, with the possible exception of the Marian Shrine of
Altötting, is the most popular symbol of Marian devotion in
Bavaria. Pope Benedict XVI chose this monument, which represents the keeping of a promise for a miracle which saved the city from certain destruction, as the place of his first public act in his native land.