The principle patron saint of the cathedral is the Blessed Mother Mary. Already under her protection was the Merovingian church that predated the present-day cathedral and was probably erected on the same site. For centuries pilgrims have come to the cathedral to pray before the miraculous image of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Both the solemnity of the cathedral and its pilgrimage day are on the Assumption of Mary on the 15th of August.
In medieval times, the cathedral ranked among the most important places of pilgrimage in the empire. Pilgrims came to call upon the Mother of God for intercession and help. The original image of Mary that was presented in Salian times was an enthroned gilded Madonna. It is said that Bernard of Clairvaux, the eminent Cistercian abbot and saint, knelt before this image on Christmas 1146, and amended the “Salve Regina” with three invocations: “o clemens, o pia, o dulcisvirgo Maria”.
At the beginning of the 14th century the Romanesque sculpture was replaced by a standing Madonna, done in a Gothic style. It was renowned as a miraculous image and adorned with many votive offerings; for centuries it drew pilgrims from all classes and countries to Speyer. Miraculously it survived the cathedral fire of 1689, but a century later in January 1794, it, along with the entire inventory of the cathedral, was burnt by French revolutionary troops and the pilgrimage faded out. A reconstruction of the pilgrimage statue survived, along with Joachim Günther’s 1777 sculpture of the Madonna, which graced the western cupola until 1856. It remains in the cathedral, located in the imperial hall.
The present day miraculous image of the Speyer Mother of God was created by August Weckbecker. It was consecrated personally by Pius XI in Rome, and in honour of the 900th anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone of the cathedral, it was brought into the cathedral in 1930 with much festivity and ceremony. This signaled the revival of the age-old pilgrimage to the Patrona Spirensis. The most renowned pilgrim, Pope John Paul II, during his visit to Speyer on the 4th of May 1987, knelt before the Madonna.