A “Madonna amidst the Ruins,” the COVID-year 2020 included

In the center of Cologne, Germany, there is a tiny chapel in what was once the tower of the largest parish church of the city. Bombings from 1941-1945 reduced the beautiful church to rubble. The last two bombing raids in 1945 destroyed the choir, high altar, tower, and nave. Everything was in ruins, including the surrounding houses of the parish, of which only 4 still stood. It seemed like a miracle then, and still does today, that one pillar of the church remained standing in the rubble, and, leaning against it, a Madonna. The child this Mary was holding had been badly injured by the bombs, but she still cradled him in her arms. For survivors of the bombings of the city and of World War II more generally, this Mary seemed to hold a message: She was in their midst, one of them, a survivor of unimaginable horror, and still cradling badly damaged life. Divine life.

This Madonna – now the centerpiece of a small chapel where the large sanctuary once stood – quickly became known as the Madonna “amidst the ruins.”

When I prayed in the church recently, it seemed to me that people had rediscovered — 75 years after the nightly bombings toward the end of WWII — what it means to pray to someone standing amidst ruins, and cradling badly damaged life. Or, maybe it was me who discovered this Madonna afresh. I began to wonder: what Madonna will we cherish that lived through all the ravages of 2020, and survived with us? What does she look like? What does she need to cradle? How does she gesture toward life, Divine life that seeks to be present in our ruins? If you have no ready answers to these questions, may I humbly suggest that this “Madonna amidst the ruins” is for you, too?


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