The ribbon she wears around her waist symbolizes that she is with child.
Earlier this month, Pope Francis welcomed a group to the Vatican known as the Archconfraternity of the Virgen de la Cinta (Ribbon). The group, led by Bishop Enrique Benavent Vidal of Tortosa, Spain, was celebrating their founding 400 years earlier, during the 17th century.
Devotion to the Virgin of the Ribbon (the term girdle or belt is also sometimes used) is rooted in the Annunciation of Our Lady and the Incarnation of Jesus.
So how did the celebration of the Virgin of the Ribbon begin 400 years ago?
Contained in the archives of the Diocese of Tortosa are records of a spiritual event that took place on the night of March 24 and 25 in the year 1178. It was the Feast of the Annunciation and a priest was about to begin Matins (early morning prayer) in the cathedral.
As he began his prayer, the Blessed Mother appeared to him and said, “Since you have built this Church in honor of my Son and me, and because I love the people of Tortosa, I place this girdle of mine on the altar and I give it to you so that you may keep it as a sign of my love.”
The “girdle” (belt or ribbon) was wrapped around her mantle (a gown or tunic). It was probably something that the women of Mary’s day wore when they were expecting a child. She placed it on the altar. Then Our Lady was gone.
Bishop Benavent Vidal explained to the Holy Father how over the centuries women honored the Virgen de la Cinta, and many claimed how it was because of praying to her that their child was born healthy or saved from danger or illness. Groups began to form to honor the Virgen de la Cinta and then, during the 17th century, the Confraternity was founded to honor her.
In the early 1600s, Pope Paul V gave his blessing to the Confraternity of the Virgin of the Ribbon, and it has since been a steady and ever-growing force.
The bishop went on to say, “During my years here I have heard the testimony of pregnant mothers in difficulty, who have protected the lives of their children entrusted to the Virgin, and who have experienced God’s protection over his unborn children.“
Here are a few of the comments made by Pope Francis (full text here) at the ceremony. “Looking to the example of Mary, you are called to take that fraternity to every corner of our society. You are present in different ecclesial realities in your diocese: in this way you collaborate so that the Church is first of all a home, a family, a place of welcome and love, in which everyone, especially the poor and marginalized, can feel a part, and never feel that they are excluded or rejected. Lived in this way, fraternity becomes a mission, which challenges us and does not leave us indifferent, because the mutual love that reaches out and is directed towards others is our letter of presentation. Thus, even those who do not believe can repeat that eulogy of Tertullian: “See how they love one another!”
Bishop Benavent Vidal also shared the following words, “Devotion to the Virgen de la Cinta has been maintained and has grown.”
“It is a dedication that, from its origin (the feast of the Incarnation of the Lord) leads to the protection and care for the life of the unborn human being.”