Her parents' strict observation of the Catholic faith played a large role in Madonna's childhood. "My mother was a religious zealot," Madonna explains. "There were always priests and nuns in my house growing up." Many elements of Catholic iconography-including her mother's statues of the Sacred Heart, the habits of the nuns at her Catholic elementary school, and the Catholic altar at which she and her family prayed daily-later became the subject of Madonna's most controversial works.
Another heavy influence on Madonna's early life was her mother, who was diagnosed with breast cancer during her pregnancy with Madonna's youngest sister. Treatment had to be delayed until the baby reached full term, but by then the disease had grown too strong. On December 1st, 1963, at the age of 30, her mother passed away. Madonna was five years old.
Her mother's death significantly affected Madonna's adolescence. Haunted by the memories of her mother's frailty and passive demeanor during her final days, Madonna was determined to make her own voice heard. "I think the biggest reason I was able to express myself and not be intimidated was by not having a mother," she says. "For example, mothers teach you manners. And I... [continues]
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