01John Haldane20101220

Professor John Haldane of St Andrews University looks at the origins and meaning of the veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Catholicism, considering her unique status as chief among the saints, and looking at how her elevation has been received and sometimes criticised.

On the only two occasions on which papal infallibility has been invoked it was in the definition of dogmas regarding Mary: first, the Immaculate Conception (that she was conceived without the stain or wound of original sin) defined in 1854, and second the Assumption (that at the end of her life she was 'taken up' body and soul into heaven), defined in 1950.

Yet Mary has humble beginnings in the gospels where she is only mentioned in a handful of passages, which makes the large, complex and ornate edifice of Catholic 'Mariology' all the more intriguing in its evolution.

Professor Haldane explores the early textual sources and art history of her rise.

John Haldane on the origins and meaning of the veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

02Helen Bond20101221

The Virgin Mary cuts a familiar figure to us in her iconic blue cloak, but what would life be like for the original peasant girl from Nazareth? Senior lecturer in New Testament history at New College, Dr Helen Bond takes us into the turbulent times of the 1st century, and the Roman repression of Jewish revolts.

We look at the traumas and life events that the real Mary might have faced.

What kind of social stigma could she have faced for her unusual pregnancy? What manner of religious duties would she be expected to carry out as a Jewish mother? Is it possible to glean anything from texts and archaeology to bring us closer to her? Can we think more about how her life experiences might have shaped her mothering of Jesus?

Dr Helen Bond explores the life and times of Nazareth's most famous peasant girl, Mary.

03Dr Mona Siddiqui20101222

It might surprise you to know that the Virgin Mary has her own sura in the Qur'an, where she's mentioned more often than she is in the Gospels.

When the author was pregnant, her mother advised her read it over every day for comfort and to bless the unborn child.

Here we find the story of the annunciation and the birth of Jesus, but they're very different to the lessons being read in churches all over the world at Christmas, because Mary plays a very different role in Islam and gives birth to a very different baby.

The Islamic Jesus is fully human and a prophet, yet he is still the child of a sinless mother and immaculately conceived.

He just isn't the Son of God.

Dr Mona Siddiqui of Glasgow University meditiates on Mary in Islam.

Dr Mona Siddiqui of Glasgow University explains the important role of Mary in Islam.

04Prof Miri Rubin20101223

Professor Miri Rubin explores the Jewish response to the Christian cult of the Virgin Mary, and looks at how this devotion was used against medieval Jews in hurtful, powerful and prejudiced ways.

Gentle Mary meek and mild became an instrument of anti-semitic propaganda, the heroine of miracle tales about converting Jews, the emblem of Christianity triumphant against Judaism.

It's a painful legacy which can make ecumenical rapprochement difficult.

Professor Miri Rubin explores how the Virgin Mary was used against medieval Jews.

05 LASTProf Diarmaid Macculloch20101224

"How do you solve a problem like Maria?" sang the nuns in 'The Sound of Music', but 16th century Reformers faced a far trickier Maria problem.

They were trying to both have their cake and eat it on the Blessed Virgin Mary: they wanted to be exponents of the new doctrine of sola scriptura (that the Bible contains all knowledge necessary for salvation and holiness), without jettisoning the Catholic understanding of the creeds.

Very important things that lay at the heart of traditional Christianity could not be shown explicitly in the Bible.

One of those core beliefs was that of the perpetual virginity of Mary.

A few moments of scriptural perusal can tell you that this is a knotty proposition, as the Bible mentions Jesus's brothers and sisters, but to throw overboard centuries of church tradition was just too much for most Reformers.

Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch, author of the award-winning book, 'A History of Christianity' shows how this seemingly abstruse matter of doctrine actually opens a window onto the psyche of Reformers and their relationship with Mary.

Diarmaid MacCulloch on how 16th-century Protestants dealt with the Virgin Mary's role.