It should be observed that if the conception of the dignity and glory of womanhood grew gradually even in Catholic Christianity, so it has lasted even where Catholicism has ceased to dominate thought. Many an English Protestant who, thank God, has an ideal of womanhood in his soul, from which springs the spirit of true chivalry, is altogether unconscious of the fact that this ideal comes down to him as a gift from the ages of Faith, when our Lady reigned, beautiful and pure, without earthly rival in the hearts of men. But so it is. England is another place to live in, and Englishmen have an altogether different outlook upon life from what could have been possible had England never been Catholic, and our Lady's Dowry. We have all of us, Protestant as well as Catholic, entered upon a rich inheritance —bequeathed to us by our fathers who were renowned throughout all Christendom for their devotion to the Holy Mother of God. In proportion as the Faith comes back is that inheritance safeguarded from loss and from further dissipation.
Space does not permit me to dwell on the influence of devotion to our Lady upon art and literature and civilisation. Suffice it to say that there was a time when the thought of our Lady and the love of our Lady, from early morn to eventide, was the glad possession of all who dwelt on English soil. Our Lady could never be forgotten. The flowers in the fields recalled the memory of Mary Most Holy by the names given them by the country-folk to whom she was so dear; sailors went forth to sea after placing their voyages under her protection, and on their return made their offerings of thanksgiving at her shrines; the bells in the churches recalled her mysteries; burghers and warriors and dames of high degree wore her rosary at their girdle (as may yet be seen in many an ancient brass in our churches); merchants and princes vied one with another, doing works of charity in her honour; great foundations of learning were made under her invocation. Even agriculture was her debtor. As the Cistercians—so popular once in England—made desert places habit able and fruitful, their white habits found a tongue wherewith to speak to those old Monks as they went about their toil, reminding them that they were vowed in a special manner to Mary's service, and that their labour should be sweetened, since it was dedicated to their Mother, their Lady and their Queen. Life under all its aspects in Merry England was filled with the thought of Mary which was the inspiration of all endeavour ; without the love of Mary, life would have seemed to our fathers to have been dull indeed and empty, for it would have been robbed of a joy that filled it with freshness and unearthliness and deep contentment—that made it a thing of perfect beauty, as, for example, when the Angelus bell broke upon their ears, it spoke to all who listened of the moment that God visited His Handmaiden and gave to us all the promise and the earnest of a Blessed Life to come. Devotion to our Lady super-naturalised all it affected, so that to those who loved Jesus and Mary, nothing henceforth, save only sin, could be without a rich blessing— nothing, save sin only, could be reckoned as unworthy of man, or as unclean and unfitted for his touch.