Mary standing on a serpent

I was raised Protestant and converted to Catholicism last year.

Yesterday at mass I was sitting in a different part of the church and noticed a statue of Mary. She was barefoot with her left foot on the neck of a serpent holding an apple in its mouth.

OK, any thoughts? It is CHRIST who puts his foot on the serpent’s neck, not Mary. This statue is troubling to me.


I think Genesis would disagree.

"I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel. " Genesis 3:15

The icon of Mary crushing the head of the serpent is based on the book of Genesis, where God says that the serpent will strike at the woman’s heel, but the woman will crush the serpent’s head. As Catholics, we believe that Mary is the new Eve, and the woman referred to in Genesis, because she bore Jesus and brought him into the human race.

It is very common to see Mary standing on a serpent. It has to do with the part in Genesis where God says to the woman:

“I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: **she **shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.”

Mary is the “new Eve” according to Catholicism. When she said “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to thy word”, the entire process of redemption began.
That is why she crushed the serpent’s head.

Plus, Catholics believe that Mary’s sufferings in watching her only Son be murdered and die contributed to the Redemption. One of her titles is “Co-Redemptrix”.

Both Adam and Eve sinned in the garden of Eden…both Jesus and His Mother reversed the sins.

I believe that image come’s from Jerome’s translation of Genesis 3:15:

I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.
Inimicitias ponam inter te et mulierem, et semen tuum et semen illius: ipsa conteret caput tuum, et tu insidiaberis calcaneo ejus.

Bible translators can argue until the Lord returns whether Gen 3:15 reads “she shall”, “he shall” or “they/it shall”. The original Hebrew is very murky. I personally feel that Jerome was in a position to envy amongst scripture translators. He had access to old manuscripts which are now lost, and he had access to Hebrew scholars that still spoke and understood the old, archaic Hebrew. I put my money on Jerome’s translation.

Theologically, it also makes sense that the one crushing the serpent’s head would be Mary. A woman, Eve, disobeyed God and brought death to the world; another woman, Mary, obeyed God and brought life into the world. Also, Mary appeared to St. Catherine LaBoure in 1830 and she was (I think) standing on a serpent.

The Church uses the Septuagint…the same tradition of interpretation that Christ would quote, as well as the one used by the apostles and St. Paul.

Two hundred years after Christ, there were rabbis who came forward with their Hebrew version that did not anticipate the Messiah, this one Martin Luther chose in seeking a ‘pure’ version after his falling out with the Church. Of course Luther believed in Christ as Messiah…

But there are Hebrew texts from this source…correct me if I am wrong anyone…that did not use the imagery of the woman crushing the head of the serpent.

Everyone can say why they think Gen 3:15 should read, but the Bible from the Vatican Website uses the word ‘they’. If you want it to read something else, you need to discuss it with them!

writer12 - Part of the Catholic “both/and” attitude is that both translations really can be correct. The Woman steps on the snake, and so do all the Woman’s descendants, and so does Jesus.

As a Christian, you tread on the serpent, too. Okay, yes, the snake handling groups go too far, but there are a good number of verses which say that we will step or otherwise fiddle around with snakes. Jesus sets us the example, and Mary gives us hope that we can follow it, like her:

Ps. 90:13/91:13 - “You will tread on the lion and the cobra;
you will trample the great lion and the serpent.”

Yes, that’s a psalm about the Messiah, but it’s also a psalm about “whoever dwells in the shadow of the Most High.”

Isaiah 11:8-9 talks about all people in the Kingdom:

“The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.”

Moving along… heck, you can think of Eve as the Woman, or Mary as the Woman. You can think of Mary as one of the Woman’s descendants and as the Woman herself. Heck, the Woman can also be the Church, which is the Body of Christ, and then you REALLY kill two birds with one stone.

There’s a lot of room for contemplation and different layers of meaning in prophecies. This particular passage of Genesis is like an onion.

SJacob7 - There isn’t just one and only one Bible translation into English approved for Catholics, nor is the Nova Vulgata on the Vatican website the only approved Latin version.

There is one and only one English translation of the Bible approved for lectionaries in the US, just like there is one and only one English translation approved for lectionaries in the UK. (Not the same one.) But that’s because you have to pick some kind of standard lectionary, which is not the case with Bible translations in general.

So there isn’t really any way to prove your argument by quoting a Bible translation on the Vatican website.

This is an excellent commentary from a former protestant on why different translations exist.

God bless you.

Hello Writer12.

You are not the only one that is bothered by that statue. I too have been since first seeing it as a convert too many years ago. I’ve asked about it and been told it represents Mary as the “new Eve” and that it is she who crushes the head of Satan but I know that is not exactly how the original reads in the Protoevangelium. It is Christ’s heel that crushes the head of Satan as the devil strikes at Him. That is the original reading of the Genesis account and that statue is an interpretation of it that distorts the role of the Virgin. But it is only plaster and paint and no matter what spirituality it depicts, it cannot effect mine unless I let it. I don’t have to believe with divine and Catholic faith anything other than the real Marian dogmas and anything beyond that is optional. Mary as the “new Eve” is only a meditation and not a doctrinal statement although some will push for it because it contains a deeper spiritual meaning to them personally. It does still bother me. But then again, I wasn’t asked if I agree with every theological speculation and contemplation that comes along with the tides of popular devotions. I don’t and can’t and won’t. I’m happy with what I have and stick to it.


Fine, then. We’ll pretend the Proto-evangelion in Genesis doesn’t have two perfectly valid meanings, even though the Fathers and St. Jerome and St. Augustine were perfectly comfy using both. Doesn’t matter to this argument. We’ll just start somewhere else, since this message is woven throughout the Bible.

So. You’re saying that you don’t believe that Psalm 90/91 applies to anyone else except Jesus Christ, and that nobody else in the Body of Christ tramples on the serpent?

Even though it was a Psalm written for any Jew taking refuge in the Temple?

Wouldn’t that mean you’re spending a lot of time singing “On Eagle’s Wings” for nothing?

You who dwell in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
Say to the LORD, “My refuge and fortress, my God in whom I trust.”

God will rescue you from the fowler’s snare, from the destroying plague,
Will shelter you with pinions, spread wings that you may take refuge;
God’s faithfulness is a protecting shield.

You shall not fear the terror of the night nor the arrow that flies by day,
Nor the pestilence that roams in darkness, nor the plague that ravages at noon.
Though a thousand fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand,
Near you it shall not come.

You need simply watch; the punishment of the wicked you will see.
You have the LORD for your refuge; you have made the Most High your stronghold.
No evil shall befall you, no affliction come near your tent.

For God commands the angels to guard you in all your ways.
With their hands they shall support you, lest you strike your foot against a stone.

You shall tread upon the asp and the viper, trample the lion and the dragon.

Whoever clings to me I will deliver; whoever knows my Name I will set on high.
All who call upon me I will answer; I will be with them in distress;
I will deliver them and give them honor.
With length of days I will satisfy them and show them my saving power.

There’s a Biblical reason why St. Michael isn’t the only saint who’s depicted as a dragon-slayer, or why Jesus saw Satan losing everywhere when it was just Jesus’ totally human apostles casting out demons in His Name. There’s a reason why St. Margaret is shown killing a dragon by feeding it a Bible, or St. Martha is shown leading a dragon on a leash, or St. George is shown killing a dragon to save a princess.

The entire Book of Revelation is about Jesus not being the only one to conquer or to be given an iron rod of rulership. He died and rose so that we could also rise, so that we could also conquer sin and demons with His power, in His Body.

And Mary is also a Christian, which is why she can also trample the dragon or the serpent. She spurned sin, so she spurned the blandishments of the serpent. The devil is under her feet, just as he is under the feet of every saint in Heaven. You are supposed to look at Mary (or St. George, or St. Margaret), and want that victory for yourself as a response to Christ. Letting the dragon win and stand over us would be stupid, since Christ has already fought him and won. If we keep fighting in Christ, we can tell the truth and shame the devil. We can beat the devil. We can conquer.

Don’t panic. Read your Bible and go to Mass, and it’s all there.

Not all that murky. In the Hebrew, both the pronoun (HW’ = “he”) and the verb (Y-ShWF = “he-shall-bruise”) are masculine. “By the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established.” (Deut: 19:15)

Hi David…

I think that is the reference…I read some time ago…and it is reflected in responses above as well.


The gender of the word has nothing to do with the gender of the person it refers to, but rather to the noun it refers back to “the seed.”

Since it is the “seed” we are discussing, and Eve’s seed at that, we can draw legitimate conclusions that it refers either to the Virgin Mary, OR her Son Jesus Christ. Either way it ultimately refers to Jesus Christ. This was noted in the 1609 edition of the Douay Rheims Bible too.

But as many ECFs and long tradition of the Church had the Virgin Mary crushing the serpents head (as the new Eve) it is perfectly legitimate to translate the verse, as it was done in Jerome’s Vulgate, and our own English translation of the Vulgate (the Douay Rheims)

The Masoretic texts have obscured this image and in fact almost changed the entire meaning of this verse. However, in the early Western Church the Vulgate interpretation was universally understood as prefiguring the Triumph of the Virgin Mary (through her Divine Motherhood, and Immaculate Conception). :thumbsup:



Just to add to the Biblical backup, it is rarely (if ever) Christ/God directly crushing the head of the enemy, but Him working through someone else, often a woman.

In addition to Mary, two other women are called blessed among all women and predicted to be praised by all generations, Jahel and Judith, and both by the power of God strike at the head of the chief enemy of the people of God and defeat him.

Likewise, St. Paul writing in Romans exhorts the Church (often personified as a woman) to trample the serpent by the power of God.

Mary stands on the the serpent, both because she herself trampled him by the power of her Son, and because she represents the Church, who also crushes the serpent.

Hello Mintaka.

Thanks for your comments. I’ve learned Latin and the problems with translations sometimes turn into gender bending adventures. In Latin, there are three genders, masculine, feminine and neuter. The items listed in a sentence must match, so you could be talking about a male person, but because of the sentence structure and the object discussed, you may have to use a feminine ending. If you understand this, you know that the Genesis accounts are true and that it is Jesus who is mentioned in the Protoevangelium no matter what or who translates it into meaning someone else.

Primarily the Protoevangelium refers to the coming Messiah and is called the Protoevangelium because it is the first mention of the good news of our Salvation and Redemption by Jesus Christ, not Mary. You are correct to mention that there is a “crushing” of the serpent’s head by anyone engaged in spiritual combat, whether that is Mary, the Mother of God or any other person as is mentioned in the Scriptures by St. Paul, but that in no way supercedes the original and most important meaning of the Genesis accounts. If others do this “crushing” of the head of Satan, it can only be in a figurative sense, not a literal one, because it is ultimately God who conquers Satan and not these others, and that includes Mary. And Mary would be the first to let you know that it is her Divine Son who obtains the victory, not herself.

That being said, I can say why I don’t like that statue - it has the symbol of ultimate evil touching a woman who never had even the shadow of sin touch her from the moment of her Immaculate Conception, through her entire human life and at the moment of her passing from this life to the next. It says something about Mary that isn’t true. It says the devil touched her. If you believe the accounts of her in the book of Revelation, then you know that there was a place prepared for her after the birth of her Son and that even though the devil pursued her as well as her children, he never touches her because if he did, then it would be like saying God failed to protect her. THAT is exactly why I have a problem with that statue. I could say more, but I won’t because some folks thing wonderful things about that silly bit of plaster. Art is interpretive and says different things to different people. I hope by explaining what I see when I look on that statue you understand that we can see different things in art and will look at that statue with an eye to other interpretations.


If that is what is disturbing you… well, that part is supposed to be a warning to us.

St. Michael never sinned, but he had to fight with the most admirable angel of them all. Lucifer might have been a friend, might have been a personal hero. The war of the angels was a civil war, and it couldn’t have been fun for the good angels to have to fight those who had been so close. There is something very terrible about an artist drawing St. Michael fighting a scaly dragon or an ugly demon, when you know that Satan used to be more noble in appearance than St. Michael. But that’s part of what we need to learn and remember.

Never being touched by sin doesn’t mean never being touched by temptation, or never having sinful people come near.

Jesus was tempted, and tempted plenty by the devil in person, and tempted and tried throughout His life by all the rest of us humans (except maybe His mom).

So I’m fairly sure Our Blessed Mother was tempted, too. People tried to make her angry. Sleazy guys tried to hit on her. She probably had people step on her toes and say nasty things to her whenever she went to Jerusalem with the family, and I’m sure she heard nasty things about her Son.

But unlike the First Adam and the First Eve, Jesus and Mary didn’t fall for temptations. They stomped on 'em.

Purity is not a passive quality, necessarily. Judith was pure, and she expressed it by chopping off a general’s head. Like the Bride in the Song of Songs, Mary is “bright as the sun, lovely as the moon, terrible as an army with banners flying.” It is scary that the Old Snake dared to approach her, but it’s the Old Snake that’s in trouble now!

Hello Mintaka.

I appreciate your trying to reach into your own experience to bring Mary and Jesus closer to you as human persons, the fact is there is no way of knowing if Mary was ever tempted to sin. I’m inclined to say she never was and I find it disturbing to even think of “sleazy guys” trying to hit on her! That comment is a little too profane for me. I cannot think that way about the Blessed Mother. Sorry. Not for me to talk that way. I know she experienced her unique trials as the mother of God, and they are unique to her. We do have a devotion to her as our Lady of Sorrows and it is a very deep and meaningful devotion. But it is wrong to speak of her in a profane way. I hope this helps.


*inimicitias ponam inter te et mulierem et semen tuum et semen illius ipsa conteret caput tuum et tu insidiaberis calcaneo eius

I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel. *
Genesis 3, 15 [The Latin Vulgate]

St. Paul has taught that all members of the Church strike the devil’s head by their obedient acts of faith in and through Christ. ‘The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet’ (Rom 16:20). Mary is the pre-eminent member and prototype of the Church, since it was by her salutary and meritorious consent that her offspring came into the world to save mankind. Through Mary’s collaboration with the Holy Spirit, we have received the grace which Christ merited for us in our opposition with the devil. We defeat him (crush his head) in each battle when we resist his temptations and observe the will of God. The presence of the female pronoun in the Vulgate reflects the Marian theology of the ECFs who drew a parallel between Eve and Mary. Our Lady has crushed the serpent’s head by providing the fruit of her womb as opposed to the forbidden fruit which Eve offered Adam in her disobedience. Mary undid Eve’s disobedience by having borne her offspring in total opposition with Satan together with her Son through his grace by her obedient act of faith. ‘Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb’ (Lk 1:42). The serpent had vanquished Eve through whom mankind (Adam) fell from the original state of holiness and justice. Mary, on the contrary, slew the serpent by hearing the word of God and observing it (cf. Lk 11:28). ‘Behold, the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word’ (Lk 1:38). So through her our Saviour came into the world to reconcile mankind with God.

Hence, Mary crushed the head of the serpent by divine mediation through her act of faith working through love; so the reading “She (Ipsa) shall crush your head” doesn’t equate her with Jesus or elevate her to Godhood. The final victory is still attributed to her Son, by God having become incarnate because of Mary’s faith and charity in her enmity with Satan in the fullness of God’s grace. Theologically there is no difference, despite the philological changes. Thus, depending on where one wishes to place emphasis, either the woman or her offspring can be said to crush the head of the serpent. As Catholic apologists have pointed out, this isn’t an “either-or” proposition, but rather a “both-and” proposition. The seed of the woman (ipse) will crush the serpent’s head , or the woman (ipsa) will crush the serpent’s head because she will bring the Messiah into the world by her humble act of faith and charity in God’s grace. Both statements are true, and the latter doesn’t take away from Jesus being the ultimate cause of the devil’s destruction by way of universal rectification in strict justice. Only by divine mediation could Mary have crushed the serpent’s head as the mother of our Lord. It was through the incarnation that God actually reconciled the world to Himself. And it was through Mary that the incarnation occurred. Jesus redeemed the world in his assumed humanity which he received from his mother through her act of faith.

“Blessed are you” (ευλογημενη — eulogēmenē), perfect passive participle, is a Hebraistic equivalent for the superlative; “Blessed are you among women” is a Hebraism for “You are the most blessed of all women.” Certainly Luke doesn’t mean to merely say that Mary is a blessed woman or that she is just as blessed as any other women would be in her position. By the deference she shows, Elisabeth subsequently acknowledges that her kinswoman is greater and more highly favoured than even her, who is to give birth to John the Baptist, in the order of grace, because she is the mother of her Lord, the divine Messiah (cf. Lk 1:43). For this reason Mary is blessed above all women in the order of grace. In the words of the Baptist: ‘After me is coming someone who is more powerful than I — I’m not worthy even to bend down and untie his sandals’ (Mk 1:7).

Observe the following OT passage:

תְּבֹרַךְ֙ מִנָּשִׁ֔ים יָעֵ֕ל אֵ֖שֶׁת חֶ֣בֶר הַקֵּינִ֑י מִנָּשִׁ֥ים בָּאֹ֖הֶל תְּבֹרָֽךְ׃

Blessed of women shall Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite be, blessed shall she be above women in the tent.
Judges 5, 24 [Hebrew OT: Westminster Leningrad Codex]

The second clause qualifies the first clause. The expression “blessed of women” implies Jael is blessed above women because of her singular deed in collaboration with YHWH. And how is it that Jael is “blessed above women”, or “most blessed”?

She put her hand to the nail, and her right hand to the workmen’s hammer; and with the hammer she smote Sisera, she smote off his head, when she had pierced and stricken through his temples.
Judges 5, 26