Mother, model or mentor, there is something about Mary that has always evoked the highest of human aspirations. Her image is probably among the most artistically rendered throughout the course of Christian history, leading some to wonder whether Mary is even more important than Jesus to Christians.

Certainly, it is the many images of Mary that have often inspired the Mariology or “theology” of Mary. Though it is increasingly difficult to find many Marian representations of artistic merit on contemporary Christmas cards, popular impressions of Mary have doubtless been shaped by them. The affection and joy of a mother in her newborn child is beautiful, and well captured in Marian paintings of artists of both the neoclassical and romantic traditions of more recent centuries.

Earlier renditions of the nativity, however, often tell different stories. Instead of the intimacy of mother-child love, where the focus is more on maternal affection, we see many images where Christ appears to be the central figure. Mary, as it were, is presenting Christ to the world; and Jesus, in turn, looks upon the world even as he leans or points protectively towards his mother.

I recently had the pleasure of preaching at the Episcopalian Cathedral of All Saints in Albany, which shares a more than 30-year-old covenant relationship with our own Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. The occasion was a Festal Evensong at which Our Lady of Walsingham was commemorated. (Read a story about the Bishop preaching at the Episcopal cathedral here.)

Perhaps the title “Our Lady of Walsingham” is unfamiliar to many Christians of different ecclesiological persuasion, but the history of this devotion is remarkable, reaching back to the 11th century.

As is often the case with Mary, a particular story of an apparition or miracle attributed to her inspires various images and, eventually, pilgrimages. Hardly a country among the 200 or so listed around the world does not contain some Marian church or shrine.

While Great Britain may not be the first European country that comes to mind as a place to which pilgrims today clamor, the history of devotion to Our Lady centering around the village of Walsingham is fascinating and has increasingly taken on an ecumenical significance.

Prior to the Reformation, Walsingham had for centuries been a place of pilgrimage. The ancient statuary depicting Mary and Jesus is currently housed in the Catholic shrine, which also includes the so-called Slipper Chapel. This chapel is thought to have derived its name from practice of pilgrims to doff their shoes there and to walk barefoot for the last leg of the journey to “the Holy House” in Walsingham, on or at the site of the Marian apparition in 1061 to an English noblewoman.

Although the original structure, like the Chapel of the Slipper, fell into a state of ruin following the Reformation, it is now occupied by an Anglican Shrine where Mary is also honored under this title. Today, there is also an Eastern Orthodox chapel nearby and, most recently, a Methodist presence. Pilgrims from many Christian denominations, as we can see, are drawn to this place of prayer, invoking the intercession of Mary. How biblical of them!

Popular devotion to Mary has often been criticized for being insufficiently “biblical” and overly preoccupied with following Marian apparitions around the world. It is true that references to the mother of Jesus are relatively sparse in the Scriptures. Yet, all of Mary’s appearances in the Bible are at significant moments in the life of Christ and almost always involve some very bold movement on her part.

Think of the mysteries of the Rosary! Although the prayer is directed to Mary, the focus is always on Jesus, in full accord with Mary’s mission. Mary is the model Christian and the mother of the Church in that she, as the first disciple — and the disciple we are all called to emulate — makes Christ’s presence felt in the world.

As Mother Teresa was often fond of saying, “No Mary, no Jesus.”

Just as Mary was actively present at the significant moments of the life of Jesus, so also is she present to us at moments throughout our lives, personally and in our ecclesial communion. She is a great connector and uniter! Little wonder that her ecumenical work should now be seen, even after a millennium, at the site of the apparition in Walsingham, now brought home to Albany.

One of my favorite paintings of Mary is that of Our Lady, Undoer of Knots. You may see a replica in Auriesville, in the small chapel by the visitors’ center at the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs. Although the image and the devotion it inspires is relatively recent, it was St. Irenaus, a renowned theologian of the second century, who first referred to Mary in this way.

Contemplating St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, where Christ is seen as the “new Adam,” Irenaus envisions Mary as the “new Eve” who reverses the disobedience and disorder of the “old” Eve, who entangled the human race in so many difficult knots — personal, domestic or public.

Mary has a way of bringing peace in the midst of noise, tension and discord. Do you think we need that today?

October is a Marian month. Even if you can’t do a pilgrimage right now, why not let Mary accompany you on your daily journey, wherever it may take you? Carry a Rosary with you, if you don’t already, and say it whenever you have a moment: in the car, on a line, on rising or before going to bed. Mary has a way of showing up when we need her. All she asks is that we let her proudly show us her Son.

And mark your calendar for the annual Marian consecration, Dec. 8, 11 a.m., in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. Each year, I also renew my own consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, beginning Nov. 5. Please join me. Find the details at www.rcda.org/marianconsecration.

(Follow the Bishop at www.facebook.com/AlbanyBishopEd and on Twitter @AlbBishopEd.)