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Catholic Prayer: Sub Tuum


The fragment of papyrus reproduced as the frontispiece of this book was acquired by the John Rylands Library, Manchester, in 1917 and published in 1938.[1] In the following year it was identified as an early Greek version of the Sub Tuum, hitherto considered a medieval prayer.[2] The commentator, Dom Mercenier, based his judgement on comparison of the words on the torn fragment with the version of the prayer used in the Byzantine liturgy; he also attempted a reconstruction.

This is the first instance of a prayer to Our Lady, expressing belief in her intercessory power, applying to her the word "rysai," (deliver) of the "Pater Noster," Mt 6:13. The text contains the word "Theotokos" in the vocative case (qv), the title which was to provoke so much controversy at Ephesus.

The dating is debated.[3] M.C.H. Roberts, the editor, quoted E. Lobel, a papyrologist, as favouring the third century. He chose the fourth because he thought it "almost incredible that a prayer addressed so directly to the Virgin in these terms could be written in the third century."[4] G. Giamberardini, specialist in early Egyptian Christianity, maintains that there was no reason, literary or theological, why the papyrus should not be put back to the third century. His reconstruction may be translated thus: "Under your mercy, we take refuge, Mother of God, do not reject our supplications in necessity. But deliver us from danger. [You] alone chaste, alone blessed."[5] The common tr. of the accepted Latin version is: "We fly to thy patronage, O holy Mother of God, despise not our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us from all danger, O ever glorious and blessed Virgin."

LG VIII, 66, has: "Indeed from most ancient times the Blessed Virgin has been venerated under the title of 'God-bearer'. In all perils and difficulties the faithful have fled prayerfully to her protection." The note says "We fly to thy protection" (Sub tuum praesidium confugimus).

1. "Catalogue of the Greek and Latin Papyri in the John Rylands Library, Manchester," (Manchester, 1938) III, 46ff.

2. F. Mercenier, O.S.B., "L'Antienne mariale grecque la plus ancienne" in "Le Museon," 52(1939), 229-233.

3. Cf. O. Stegmuller, "Sub Tuum Praesidium. Bemerkungen zur altesten Uberlieferung" in "Zeitschrift fur kath. Theol." 74(1952), 76-82.

4. Op. cit., 46.

5. Pp. 348ff in "Il 'Sub tuum praesidium' e il titolo 'Theotokos' nella tradizione egiziana" in MM, 31(1969), 324-362.


We fly to your patronage, O Holy Mother of God: despise not our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us always from all dangers, O Glorious and Blessed Virgin.

Prayer Source: Theotokos: A Theological Encyclopedia of the Blessed Virgin Mary by Michael O'Carroll
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