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One of the prayers Pope Francis asked for this month is the most ancient Marian prayer


Courtesy of the John Rylands Library

A private copy of a prayer addressed to the Virgin Mary. Written in brown ink. Verso blank. Lines 4-9: "Mother of God (hear) my supplications: suffer us not (to be) in adversity, but deliver us from danger. Thou alone.... Aquired in 1917.

Philip Kosloski - published on 04/29/17

The "Sub tuum praesidium" was originally used in an ancient Coptic liturgy

Pope Francis has asked us all to unite at the People of God and pray three specific prayers during this month of October, asking God to protect the Church from the devil.

One of those prayers — the “We fly to thy protection” — is the oldest known Marian prayer, and it traces back to Egypt.

With the pope’s request, the Vatican released this translation of the prayer:

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

The oldest known Marian prayer is found on an ancient Egyptian papyrus dating from around the year 250. Today known in the Church as the Sub tuum praesidium, the prayer is believed to have been part of the Coptic Vespers liturgy during the Christmas season.

Read more:
Saint Mark: Father of Coptic Christianity

Courtesy of the John Rylands Library

The original prayer was written in Greek and according to Roseanne Sullivan, “The prayer is addressed to Our Lady using the Greek word Θεοτόκος, which is an adjectival form of Θεοφόρος (Theotokos, or God-bearer) and is more properly translated as ‘she whose offspring is God.'” This helps to prove that the early Christians were already familiar with the word “Theotokos” well before the Third Ecumenical Council at Ephesus ratified its usage.

Below can be found the original Greek text from the papyrus, along with an English translation as listed on the New Liturgical Movement website:

On the papyrus, we can read:
And an English translation could be:
Under your
we take refuge,
Mother of God! Our
prayers, do not despise
in necessities,
but from the danger
deliver us,
only pure,
only blessed.

A common translation is:

Beneath your compassion,
We take refuge, O Mother of God:
do not despise our petitions in time of trouble:
but rescue us from dangers,
only pure, only blessed one.

Several centuries later a Latin prayer was developed and is more widely known in the Roman Catholic Church:

Latin Text 
Sub tuum praesidium
Sancta Dei Genetrix.
Nostras deprecationes ne despicias
in necessitatibus nostris,
sed a periculis cunctis
libera nos semper,
Virgo gloriosa et benedicta
English Text
We fly to Thy protection,
O Holy Mother of God;
Do not despise our petitions
in our necessities,
but deliver us always
from all dangers,
O Glorious and Blessed Virgin. Amen.

The prayer is currently part of the Byzantine, Roman and Ambrosian rites in the Catholic Church and is used specifically as a Marian antiphon after the conclusion of Compline outside of Lent (in the older form of the Roman breviary). It is also a common prayer that has stood the test of time and is a favorite of many Christians, and is the root of the popular devotional prayer, the Memorare.

EgyptVirgin Mary
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