She's inspired countless works of art, millions visit her shrines every year, and National Geographic has named her the most powerful woman in the world. She's the Virgin Mary.
In its December cover story, the magazine explores the influence of Mary, including the apparitions she is said to have appeared in and the miracles she is said to have bestowed.
There have been 2,000 reported sightings of the Virgin Mary since 40 A.D., according to Stanford University graduate Michael O'Neill, who documents them on his website Miracle Hunters. These include apparitions to both future saints and ordinary people. The Catholic Church has a strict process for making these sightings official, so only 16 apparitions have been recognized by the Vatican.
One of the most significant modern sightings is in Medjugorje, Bosnia and Herzegovina, where six children were said to have seen the Virgin Mary in 1981, telling them to spread the message to pray more often and repent sins. Since then 30 million faithful have made the pilgrimage to Medjugorje, many of them seeking the miraculous healing said to come in her aftermath.
Events like these, writer Maureen Orth asserts, are what makes her worthy of the "most powerful woman" title.
"No other woman has been as exalted as Mary," wrote Orth. "As a universal symbol of maternal love, as well as of suffering and sacrifice, Mary is often the touchstone of our longing for meaning."
Critics said the cover was written from too much of a pro-religion perspective. Orth, who is Catholic, said she wanted to capture both the emotional and academic reasons Mary is considered so powerful.
"Some people wanted more of an academic conversation. Others wanted much more about feelings. I was trying to give as much as I could to honor both of those requests," she told the National Catholic Reporter. "It was fascinating, interesting and I'm very glad I did it."