We fly to Thy protection,
O Holy Mother of God;
Do not despise our petitions
but deliver us always
from all dangers,
O Glorious and Blessed Virgin. Amen
The above hymn is titled, Beneath Thy Protection, or, in Latin, Sub Tuum Praesidium. This hymn to the Blessed Virgin Mary dates back to the fourth century:
“…the expression Our Lady of Grace is of medieval origin, especially well known in France, connected frequently with the Marian sanctuary of Cambrai, France… However, the roots of this title are much older. They are of biblical origin where Mary is called kecharitomene: the fully-graced one, the all-graced one (Lk 1:28). The Eastern tradition calls Mary Panhagia (the all-holy one).
The first meaning of Our Lady of Grace refers to her own holiness. But very early on, Mary was invoked as the uniquely blessed one (see the Sub tuum praesidium, fourth century) and as the mother of mercy (see the acathist hymn, perhaps around 530). She is also the one who intercedes for us with God to obtain his grace.” source
This beautiful hymn is
“…the oldest preserved extant hymn to the Blessed Virgin Mary as Theotokos. The hymn is well known in many Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox countries, and is often a favourite song used along with the Salve Regina.
The earliest text of this hymn was found in a Coptic Orthodox Christmas liturgy. The papyrus records the hymn in Greek, dated by scholar C.H. Roberts to the fourth Century.
The hymn is used in the Coptic liturgy to this day, as well as in the Armenian, Byzantine, Ambrosian, and Roman Rite liturgies. It was part of Sulpician custom that all classes ended with a recitation of this prayer. Besides the Greek text, ancient versions can be found in Coptic, Syriac, Armenian and Latin.
Henri de Villiers finds in the term ‘blessed’ a reference to the salutation by Elizabeth in Luke 1:42. ‘Praesidium’ is translated as ‘an assistance given in time of war by fresh troops in a strong manner.’
The former medieval and post-medieval practice in several dioceses, especially in France, was to use the Sub tuum as the final antiphon at Compline instead of the Salve Regina and in the Rite of Braga where it is sung at the end of Mass.” source
There are different versions of the text of the hymn which can be found at the source, above, but the general idea of being under the protection of the only pure one, the Blessed Virgin Mary, is the predominant theme in all of them.
The text at the beginning of this post is the English translation of the Latin text, and I’ll close today with the Greek version of the text (from the same source), in its English translation:
Beneath your compassion,
We take refuge, O Mother of God:
do not despise our petitions in time of trouble:
but rescue us from dangers,
only pure, only blessed one.
Image: painting by Bernardo Pereira Pegado, it is a “1784 processional banner of the Lisbon Holy House of Mercy depicting the Virgin of Mercy protecting all social classes; the first verse of the hymn* is quoted underneath,” source
*Sub Tuum Praesidium