Wendy Wright's newest book, The Lady of Angels and Her City, is part history, part memoir, part pilgrimage narrative. Over a period of several years, Wright journeyed back to her native Los Angeles and the churches, convents, and shrines of the city she knows so well. These spaces and the people who pray in them provide the framework for an extensive exploration of the endlessly rich and multifaceted dimensions of Marian devotion in Los Angeles. Many readers, (including this reviewer) may be unused to thinking of Los Angeles as "Mary's city" and may not have even remembered that it is named for Mary, Our Lady of the Angels. But Wright's unfamiliar reading of the city is undertaken with such awareness and attention that the reader [End Page 75] is soon caught up in Wright's vision of Los Angeles, eager to visit and understand these places with her.
One of the greatest strengths of the book is its vividly descriptive appreciation of Marian visual art and architecture. This volume is lavishly illustrated, with full color photographs of statues, altars, shrines, and stained glass windows on nearly every page. It is significant that most of these are found in the narthexes or courtyards of out-of-the-way urban parishes – everyday places frequented by believers, but otherwise unknown to all but a few. In bringing these "obscure" places and objects to the reader's attention, Wright reveals her acute awareness of the fact that Mary has never been encountered primarily through texts, but through visual images and in particular places and therefore it is impossible to really learn about her or understand what she means to believers through the written word alone.
The book is divided into eighteen chapters of various lengths, most dedicated to examples and exploration of Mary as she is known under different titles such as "Our Lady of Refuge" and "Our Lady of Sorrows," but it is not a systematic analysis of Marian devotion. Wright's own spiritual and personal narrative, her conversion, and her life experiences as a mother and a teacher are wound throughout the text. Because this is a personal narrative in addition to a reading of Mary's presence in a particular place, Wright also reveals the ways in which Mary is found in the relationships human beings have with each other, not only in art, architecture, and liturgy. This is another strength of the book: Wright's introduction of people, not just places, for whom Mary's presence has shaped their lives. The reader of this book meets many fascinating figures like Wright's spiritual advisor Fr. Virgil Cordano, or the immigrant Lourdes grotto builder Ryoko Fuko Kado, allowing a glimpse into the real way that Mary's presence shapes and informs both devotion and lived experience. Recommended to advanced students and general readers interested in the diversity and depth of Marian devotion in the United States. [End Page 76]