While many Protestants claim that the devotion to, and veneration of, Our Lady is a novelty developed by Papists in the Middle Ages, nothing can be further from the truth.
An ancient prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the “Sub Tuum Praesidium”, is the oldest known prayer to Our Lady asking her intercession, older than even the Hail Mary itself. The hymn has long been chanted in both the Western and Eastern Churches. But the antiquity of this prayer is attested to discoveries of a 3rd Egyptian Papyrus.
Likely written during the persecution of Valerian or of Decius, the prayer shows the early Church, in grave danger, confidently asking for the protection of the Virgin Mary.
The oldest known copy was published in 1938 by C.H. Roberts (cf. Catalogue of the Greek and Latin Papyri in the John Rylands Library, III, Theological and literacy Texts, Manchester 1938, pp. 46-47). His colleague E. Lobel dated the fragment to the 3rd century, likely between the years 250-280.
One significant element is that it shows early Christians using the term “Theotokos” or “Mother of God” centuries before the Council of Ephesus in 431. It also shows that, despite the claims of some Protestants, Christians were directly praying to Mary for her intercession and protection.
Under your patronage we take refuge Holy Mother of God!
The text of the prayer:
Sub tuum praesidium confugimus,
Sancta Dei Genetrix.
Nostras deprecationes ne despicias in necessitatibus,
sed a periculis cunctis libera nos semper,
Virgo gloriosa et benedicta.
Under your patronage we take refuge
Holy Mother of God; our petitions,
do not despise in necessities,
but of all dangers deliver us always
glorious Virgin & Blessed.