The Theology and Cult of the Virgin Mary


The course will be partly historical and cultural, and partly theological.  It will examine the development of Marian doctrine and devotion -- mainly in the Western church -- from Christianity's earliest beginnings until the present day, drawing attention to Mary's central position in Christian theology and culture.

We shall pay particular attention to the visual arts, and will consider such varied questions as Mary's place in ecumenical dialogue, the character of Marian pilgrimage, and the relationship between the Virgin's cult and cultural constructions of gender.

Some sessions will consider detailed theological arguments, and others will be concerned with the history of popular devotion. There will be scope for students to pursue their own interests.

Programme details

Courses starts: 18th Apr 2023

Week 0:  Course orientation

Week 1:  Origins of the cult of the Virgin Mary

Week 2:  Mother of God: The foundations of Marian theology

Week 3:  The Dormition and Assumption

Week 4:  Ever-Virgin: History and mystery

Week 5:  Images and iconoclasm

Week 6:  Seat of Wisdom: Romanesque statues and their shrines

Week 7:   Immaculate Conception: Theology and art

Week 8:  Mary at the Reformation and in ecumenical dialogue

Week 9:  Apparitions: Devotion and politics

Week 10:  Mary in feminist and liberation theology


Students who register for CATS points will receive a Record of CATS points on successful completion of their course assessment.

To earn credit (CATS points) you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee per course. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Coursework is an integral part of all weekly classes and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework in order to benefit fully from the course. Only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard.

Students who do not register for CATS points during the enrolment process can either register for CATS points prior to the start of their course or retrospectively from the January 1st after the current full academic year has been completed. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee.


Description Costs
Course Fee £238.00
Take this course for CATS points £10.00


Dr Sarah Jane Boss

Dr Sarah Boss is an international authority on the theology and cult of the Virgin Mary, and the Librarian of the Centre for Marian Studies, at St Mary's University, Twickenham. She also works on the theology of creation, and teaches courses on a variety of topics in theology and religious studies.

Course aims

To give students an overview of the development and varying significance of Marian theology and devotion in Western Christianity.

Course Objectives

Students should understand the place of Mary within Christian theology more broadly, and the varied character of Marian devotion. They should also understand the changing relationship between Marian doctrine and devotion and wider changes in society.

Teaching methods

Lectures, mostly illustrated (with powerpoint, videos and podcasts); reading between classes, followed by discussion of the text at the next class; questions in class, to provoke thought and discussion.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course students will be expected to:

1. give a brief account of the Catholic Church's main teachings concerning the Virgin Mary;

2. illustrate these with examples from the visual arts;

3. explain the principal objections of Protestants to Catholic Mariology;

4. describe several manifestations of popular Marian devotion.  Ideally, the student will be able to relate these points to change over time.

Assessment methods

Students will be required to submit a short piece of work in Week 5.  This could be an outline of the longer piece that will be submitted at the end of the course.  Either the shorter or the longer piece of work may be substituted by a 15-minute recorded presentation.

Students must submit a completed Declaration of Authorship form at the end of term when submitting your final piece of work. CATS points cannot be awarded without the aforementioned form - Declaration of Authorship form


We will close for enrolments 7 days prior to the start date to allow us to complete the course set up. We will email you at that time (7 days before the course begins) with further information and joining instructions. As always, students will want to check spam and junk folders during this period to ensure that these emails are received.

To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee per course. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an application form.

Level and demands

It would be helpful if students already had a basic knowledge of Christian Scripture and doctrine.

Most of the Department's weekly classes have 10 or 20 CATS points assigned to them. 10 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of ten 2-hour sessions. 20 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of twenty 2-hour sessions. It is expected that, for every 2 hours of tuition you are given, you will engage in eight hours of private study.

Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS)