"The world is governed by its ideals, and seldom or never has there been one which has exercised a more salutary influence than the medieval concept of the Virgin. For the first time woman was elevated to her rightful position, and the sanctity of weakness was recognized, as well as the sanctity of sorrow.
No longer the slave or toy of man, no longer associated only with ideas of degradation and sensuality, woman rose, in the person of the Virgin Mother, into a new sphere, and became the object of reverential homage, of which antiquity had no conception... A new type of character was called into being; a new kind of admiration was fostered. Into a harsh and ignorant and benighted age, this ideal type infused a conception of gentleness and purity, unknown to the proudest civilizations of the past.
In the pages of living tenderness, which many a monkish writer has left in honor of his celestial patron; in the millions who, in many lands and in many ages, have sought to mold their characters into her image; in those holy maidens who, for the love of Mary, have separated themselves from all glories and pleasures of the world, to seek in fastings and vigils and humble charity to render themselves worthy of her benedictions; in the new sense of honor, in the chivalrous respect, in the softening of manners, in the refinement of the Virgin. All that was best in Europe clustered around it, and it is the origin of many of the purest elements of our civilization."
-William Lecky, historian, non-Catholic, non-Christian, self-professed rationalist.