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Some of the latest Mary scholarship focuses on her a the world, just as Jewish mothers light the Shabbat candles. “We see the relationship of Mary with us isn’t just any relationship—it’s sacred.”

I met Nabila Badr, 53, at a Coptic church along the Nile in a part of Cairo called Al Adaweya—one of the many places in Egypt where the Holy Family is said to have stopped. Badr is a married mother of three and an events organizer for the governor of a state near Cairo. Along with her Koran, she carries Christian medals of the Virgin Mary in her purse. In a small room in the back of the church Badr mingled with Coptic Christians praying there, lit candle after candle, bowed, and prayed to an icon of Mary on the wall that was claimed to have once wept tears of oil. Badr said she talks to Mary about her life and that Mary has answered her several times by showing her visions in dreams that later came true.

Remarkably, the image hasn’t deteriorated, according to the church, even though the cloth hung in the basilica for more than a century without protection, vulnerable to dirt and smoke. “She’s imprinted like a photo,” says Nydia Mirna Rodríguez Alatorre, director of the basilica museum, who explains that in 1785 a worker cleaning the silver frame accidentally spilled nitric acid on the image. It remained intact. An affidavit from several decades later says that the spill left only a vague mark like a water stain. In 1921 Luciano Pérez Carpio, who worked in an office of Mexico’s president tasked with weakening the grip of religion, placed a bomb in a bouquet of flowers below the image. The blast destroyed the altar and bent its bronze crucifix and the candelabra nearby. The image of the Virgin was untouched.