However, the devotion to Mary has turned her into a powerful icon of religious folklore in many Catholic societies. In Ireland, the Virgin has often been used as a figure for cultural nationalism, characterised by its religious orthodoxy, rigid moral codes and a staunch defense of patriarchy. In The Testament of Mary (2012), Irish author Colm Tóibín, a lapsed Catholic and anti-traditionalist intellectual, rewrites the cultural icon of the Virgin and offers a humane, complex and highly subversive portrait of this legendary mother. Exiled in Ephesus, the Virgin feels repelled by the constant visits of her “guardians”, who want her to recount the event of the Crucifixion. It is soon revealed that the apostles are trying to appropriate her voice and experiences, as Mary readily intimates that one of the guardians “has written of things that neither he saw nor I saw” (5). The questions of voice, agency and performance become essential in the reshaping of narratives of cultural identity. Thus, the novel dramatises the importance of articulating one’s own voice through Mary’s urge “to tell the truth of what happened” (82) on her own terms.
Cultural icon; Virgin; Tóibín, Colm; The Testament of Mary