The commemorative issues of Pius XII's reign are remarkably uniform in their subject matter. With very few exceptions, they celebrate the anniversaries of important dates in church history; the birth, death, and canonization of saints; and religious observances such as the 1950 Holy Year and the 1954 Marian Year. Most of them are monochrome or bicolor (multicolor printing techniques were not regularly employed on Vatican stamps until the 1970s).
During the 1950s, however, some of the Vatican's commemoratives took on a distinctly political character. Three series honoring miraculous images of the Virgin Mary depicted sites behind the Iron Curtain. The 1954 series marking the end of the Marian Year illustrated the famed Madonna of Ostra Brama in Vilnius, Lithuania; a 1956 set showed the Black Madonna of Czestochowa, Poland; and a 1957 issue celebrates the 800th anniversary of the Mariazell Basilica, home of the statue of Mary known as the 'Great Mother of Austria.' All three of these stamp issues called attention to the persecution of Catholics in Eastern Europe and reflected Pius XII's belief that the intercession of Mary, the Mother of God, would protect and save the church in Eastern Europe. They were designed by Casimira Dabrowska (1890-1972), an expatriate Polish artist.