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Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary
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VII. MARRIAGE OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN TO JOSEPH

The Blessed Virgin lived with other virgins in the Temple under the care of pious matrons. The maidens employed themselves with embroidery and other forms of decoration of carpets and vestments, and also with the cleaning of these vestments and of the vessels used in the Temple. They had little cells, from which they could see into the Temple, and here they prayed and meditated. When these maidens were grown-up, they were given in marriage. Their parents in dedicating them to the Temple had offered them entirely to God, and the devout and more spiritual Israelites had for a long time had a secret presentiment that the marriage of one of these virgins would one day contribute to the coming of the promised Messiah. 7575     Although in general late Jewish writers contest the statement that women or virgins were engaged in the service of the Temple, we find confirmation that this was so partly on the authority of the Church (which celebrates the Feast of Our Lady’s Presentation on Nov. 21st) and partly in the Bible and in ancient writings. Already in the time of Moses (see Exod. 38.8), and again in the last days of the Judges (1 Sam 2.22), we find women or virgins employed in the service of the Temple; and in the description in Ps. 68 of the bringing of the Ark of the Covenant to Mount Sion, there is an allusion in verses 25-26 to ‘young damsels playing on timbrels’. The statement that virgins were dedicated to the Temple and brought up there is confirmed by Evodius, a pupil of the Apostles and successor of St. Peter at Antioch (it is true that this is in a letter first appearing in Nicephor, II, c. 3), who expressly refers to Our Blessed Lady in this connection. Gregory of Nyssa and John Damascene, amongst others, also mention this, while Rabbi Asarja states in his work Imre Binah, c. 6o, that virgins devoted to God’s service lived in community in the Temple. We are thus able to quote a Jewish authority for the existence of these Temple maidens. (CB)
    Nicephor is the fourteenth-century Byzantine historian Nicephorus Callistus, who wrote Ecclesiasticae Historiae, libri XVIII. Rabbi Azarias ben Moses de’Rossi (1513/4-1578) was an Italian Jew. The treatise Imre Bina (‘words of understanding’) forms a part of his chief work, Meor Enayim (‘light of the eyes’), published at Mantua in 1574. Both are therefore very late authorities. (SB)

    In the Old Testament the state of virginity was, at least in general, not considered as meritorious. Among the countless forms of vows, which according to the Mishnah were usual amongst the Jews of old, we find no trace of any vow of chastity. As long as the coming of the Redeemer was in expectation only, a marriage rich in children was the height of blessedness and godliness on earth. See Ps. 126.3: ‘The inheritance of the Lord are children; the reward, the fruit of the womb’: and, for one of God’s early blessings, see Deut. 7.14: ‘Blessed shall you be among all people. No one shall be barren among you of either sex.’ This explains why the priests did not yield to Mary’s wish, even though instances of persons vowed to chastity, especially among the Essenes, were by no means unknown. (CB)

When the Blessed Virgin had reached the age of fourteen and was to be dismissed from the Temple with seven other maidens to be married, I saw that her mother Anna had come to visit her there. Joachim was no longer alive and Anna had by God’s command married again. When the Blessed Virgin was told that she must now leave the Temple and be married, I saw her explaining to the priests in great distress of heart that it was her desire never to leave the Temple, that she had betrothed herself to God alone and did not wish to be married. She was, however, told that it must be so.’

Hereupon I saw the Blessed Virgin supplicating God with great fervor in her praying cell. I also remember that I saw Mary, who was parched with thirst as she prayed, going down with a little jug to draw water from a fountain or cistern, and that she there heard a voice (unaccompanied by any visible appearance) and received a revelation which comforted her and gave her strength to consent to her marriage. This was not the Annunciation, for I saw that happen later in Nazareth. I must, however, once have thought that I saw the appearance of an angel here too, for in my youth I often confused this vision with the Annunciation and thought that I saw the latter happening in the Temple. 7676     It is remarkable that the apocryphal ‘Protevangelium of James’, which the Church has pronounced not to be genuine, states among other things that Mary journeyed from the Temple to Nazareth accompanied by several maidens. These had been given by the Temple various threads to spin, of which the scarlet and purple ones had fallen to Mary’s lot. Taking a jug, she went out to draw water, and lo, a voice said to her, ‘Hail, Mary’, etc. Mary looked to right and left, to discover whence this voice came, and went into the house in alarm. She put down the jug, took the purple thread and laid it on her chair to work, and lo, the angel of the Lord stood before her face and said, ‘Fear not, Mary’, etc. Thus here, too, there is an allusion to a voice while Our Lady was fetching water, but all happens in Nazareth and is connected with the Annunciation. This event is similarly described in the apocryphal ‘History of Joachim and Anna and of the birth of Mary the blessed Mother of God ever virgin and of the Childhood of the Redeemer,’ printed by Thilo from a Latin MS. in the Paris library; except that in this case an interval of three days elapses between the voice at the fountain and the appearance of the angel in salutation. (CB)
    CB’s note needs clarifying. AC distinguishes two angelic visits, the first here at the well, at Jerusalem, with no apparition and no recorded voice (not in the Gospel), and the second, later at Nazareth, after the wedding, the Annunciation proper ( Luke 5.26-38). Among the Apocryphal Gospels Nat. Mar. 9 simply follows St. Luke (one visit at Nazareth), while Ps-Matt. 9 gives the two visits, at the well and the Annunciation, at one day’s interval, but with no exact indication of place, and Protev. II (as given here by CB) combines the episode at the well and the Annunciation, and places it all at Nazareth. J. C. Thilo published a collection of apocryphal texts at Leipzig in 1832. (SB)

I saw, too, that a very aged priest, who could no longer walk (it was doubtless the high priest), was carried on a chair by others before the Holy of Holies, and that while the incense-offering was being kindled, he read prayers from a parchment scroll lying on a stand in front of him. I saw that he was in a spiritual ecstasy and saw a vision, and that the forefinger of his hand was laid upon the passage of Isaiah in the scroll: "And there shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse; and a flower shall rise up out of his root." [ Is. 11.1.]

When the old priest came to himself again, he read this passage and apprehended something from it.

Then I saw that messengers were sent throughout the land and all unmarried men of the line of David summoned to the Temple. When these were assembled in large numbers at the Temple in festal garments, the Blessed Virgin was presented to them. Among them I saw a very devout youth from the region of Bethlehem; he had always prayed with great fervor for the fulfillment of the Promise, and I discerned in his heart an ardent longing to become Mary’s husband. She, however, withdrew again into her cell in tears, unable to bear the thought that she should not remain a virgin.

I now saw that the high priest, in accordance with the inner instruction he had received, handed a branch to each of the men present, and commanded each to inscribe his branch with his name and to hold it in his hands during the prayer and sacrifice.

After they had done this, their branches were collected and laid upon an altar before the Holy of Holies, and they were told that the one among them whose branch blossomed was destined by the Lord to be married to the maiden Mary of Nazareth. While the branches lay before the Holy of Holies the sacrifice and prayer were continued, and meanwhile I saw that youth, whose name will perhaps come back to me, 7777     He is by tradition called Agabus, and in Raphael’s representation of the Betrothal of Our Lady (generally called ‘Sposalizio’) he is pictured as a youth breaking his staff over his knee. (CB) in a hall of the Temple crying passionately to God with outstretched arms. I saw him burst into tears when after the appointed interval their branches were given back to them with the announcement that none had blossomed, and therefore none of them was the bridegroom destined by God for this maiden. The men were now sent home, but that youth betook himself to Mount Carmel, to the sons of the prophets who had lived there as hermits ever since the time of Elijah. From then on he spent his time in continual prayer for the fulfillment of the Promise.

I then saw the priests in the Temple making a fresh search in the ancestral tables to see whether there was any descendant of David’s who had been overlooked. As they found that of six brothers registered at Bethlehem one was missing and unknown, they made search for his dwelling-place, and found Joseph not far from Samaria in a place beside a little stream, where he lived alone by the water and worked for another master. On the command of the high priest, Joseph now came, dressed in his best, to the Temple at Jerusalem. He, too, had to hold a branch in his hand during the prayer and sacrifice, and as he was about to lay this on the altar before the Holy of Holies, a white flower like a lily blossomed out of the top of it, and I saw over him an appearance of light like the Holy Ghost. 7878     The miracle of Joseph’s rod (with the dove issuing from the rod) appears in Protev. 9, Ps-Matt. 8, and (with the dove alighting on the rod) in Nat. Mar. 8. The name Agabus for the unsuccessful suitor is not found elsewhere. (SB) Joseph was now recognized as appointed by God to be the bridegroom of the Blessed Virgin, and was presented to her by the priests in the presence of her mother. Mary, submissive to the Will of God, accepted him meekly as her bridegroom, for she knew that all things were possible with God, who had accepted her vow to belong to Him alone, body and soul.

1. ABOUT MARY AND JOSEPHS WEDDING AND NUPTIAL CLOTHES.

[In the course of her continuous visions of Our Lord’s daily ministry, Catherine Emmerich (on September 24 th, 1821) saw Jesus teaching in the synagogue at Gophna, four days before His baptism. He was dwelling with the family of a head of the synagogue related to Joachim. On this occasion she heard two widows, his daughters, exchanging remembrances of the wedding of Jesus’ parents, at which they had been present in their youth with other relations. Of this she told what follows.]

While the two widows were recalling the wedding of Mary and Joseph as they talked together, I saw a picture of this wedding and in particular of the beautiful wedding garments of the Blessed Virgin, of which these good women could not say enough. I will tell you what I can still remember.

The wedding of Mary and Joseph, which lasted for seven or eight days, was celebrated on Mount Sion in Jerusalem in a house which was often hired out for festivities of this kind. Besides Mary’s teachers and schoolfellows from the Temple school many relations of Anna and Joachim were present, amongst others a family from Gophna with two daughters. The wedding was very ceremonious and elaborate. Many lambs were slaughtered and sacrificed. The Blessed Virgin’s wedding garments were so remarkably beautiful and splendid that the women who were present used to enjoy speaking about them even in their old age. In my vision I heard their conversation and saw the following:

I saw Mary in her wedding-dress very distinctly. [Please refer to Figure 7.] She wore a white woolen undergarment without sleeves: her arms were wrapped round with strips of the same stuff, for at that time these took the place of closed sleeves. Next she put on a collar reaching from above the breast to her throat. It was encrusted with pearls and white embroidery, and was shaped like the under-collar worn by Archos the Essene, the pattern of which I cut out not long ago [see pp. 12 - 13 ]. Over this she wore an ample robe, open in front. It fell to her feet and was as full as a mantle and had wide sleeves. This robe had a blue ground covered with an embroidered or woven pattern of red, white, and yellow roses interspersed with green leaves, like rich and ancient chasubles. The lower hem ended in fringes and tassels, while the upper edge joined the white neck-covering. After this robe had been arranged to fall in long straight folds, a kind of scapulary was put on over it, such as some religious wear, for instance the Carmelites. This was made of white silk with gold flowers: it was half a yard wide, and was set with pearls and shining jewels at the breast. It hung in a single width down to the edge of the dress, of which it covered the opening in front. The lower edge was ornamented with fringes and beads. A similar width hung down the back, while shorter and narrower strips of the silk hung over the shoulders and arms; these four pieces, spread out round the neck, made the shape of a cross. The front and back pieces of this scapulary were held together under the arms by gold laces or little chains; the fullness of the robe was thus gathered together in front and the jeweled breast-piece pressed against it; the flowered material of the robe was a little puffed out in the openings between the laces. The full sleeves, over which the shoulder-pieces of the scapulary projected, were lightly held together by bracelets above and below the elbow. These bracelets, which were about two fingers in breadth and engraved with letters, had twisted edges. They caused the full sleeves to puff out at the shoulders, elbows, and wrists. The sleeves ended in a white frill of silk or wool, I think. Over all this she wore a sky-blue mantle, shaped like a big cloak, which in its turn was covered by a sort of mourning cloak with sleeves made after a traditional fashion. These cloaks were worn by Jewish women at certain religious or domestic ceremonies. Mary’s cloak was fastened at the breast, under her neck, with a brooch, above which, round her neck, was a white frill of what looked like feathers or floss silk. This cloak fell back over the shoulders, came forward again at the sides, and ended at the back in a pointed train. Its edge was embroidered with gold flowers.


Figure 7. Mary in her wedding dress.

The adornment of her hair was indescribably beautiful. It was parted in the middle of her head and divided into a number of little plaits. [Please refer to Figure 8.] These, interwoven with white silk and pearls, formed a great net falling over her shoulders and ending in a point half-way down her back. The ends of the plaits were curled inwards, and this whole net of hair was edged with a decorated border of fringes and pearls, whose weight held it down and kept it in place. Her hair was encircled by a wreath of white unspun silk or wool, three strips of the same material meeting in a tuft on the top of her head and holding it in place. On this wreath rested a crown of about a hand’s-breadth, decorated with jewels and surmounted by three bands of metal crowned by a knob. This crown was ornamented in front with three pearls, one above the other, and with one pearl on each side.


Figure 8. Mary's hair adorned for her wedding.

In her left hand she carried a little silken wreath of red and white roses, and in her right hand, like a scepter, a beautiful gilded torch in the shape of a candlestick without a foot. Its stem (thicker in the middle than at the ends) was decorated with knobs above and below where it was held. It was surmounted by a flat cup in which a white flame was burning.

The shoes had soles two fingers thick heightened at toe and heel. These soles were made entirely of green material, so that the foot seemed to rest on grass. Two white-and-gold straps held them fast over the instep of the bare foot, and the toes were covered by a little flap which was attached to the sole and was always worn by well-dressed women.

It was the Temple maidens who plaited Mary’s beautiful hair arrangement; I saw it being done, several of them were busy with it and it went quicker than one would think. Anna had brought the beautiful clothes which Mary in her humility was unwilling to wear. After the wedding the network of hair was thrown up over her head, the crown was removed, and a milk-white veil put on her which hung down to her elbows. The crown was then put on again over this veil.

The Blessed Virgin had very abundant hair, reddish-gold in color. Her high, delicately traced eyebrows were black; she had a very high forehead, large downcast eyes with long black lashes, a rather long straight nose, delicately shaped, a noble and lovely mouth, and a pointed chin. She was of middle height, and moved about in her rich dress very gently and with great modesty and seriousness. At her wedding she afterwards put on another dress of striped stuff, less grand, a piece of which I possess among my relics. She wore this striped dress also at Cana and on other holy occasions. She wore her wedding-dress again in the Temple several times.

Very rich people used to change their dresses three or four times at weddings. Mary in her grand garments looked like the great ladies of much later times; for instance, the Empress Helena, or even Cunegundis, although the manner in which Jewish women muffled themselves up on ordinary occasions was very different and was more after the fashion of Roman women. (In connection with these clothes I observed that very many weavers lived near the Cenacle on Mount Sion, who made many kinds of beautiful materials.)

Joseph wore a long full coat of pale blue, fastened down the front from breast to hem with laces and bosses or buttons. His wide sleeves were also fastened at the sides with laces; they were much turned up and seemed to have pockets inside. Round his neck he wore a kind of brown collar or rather a broad stole, and two white strips hung over his breast, like the bands worn by our priests, only much longer. [See Figure 9.]

I saw the whole course of the marriage of Joseph and Mary and the wedding banquet and all the festivities, but I saw so many other things at the same time, and am so ill and so disturbed in many ways, that I do not venture to say more about it for fear of confusing my account.

2. MARY’S WEDDING-RING.

[On July 29 th, 1821, Catherine Emmerich had a vision of the separate grave-clothes of Our Lord Jesus and of images of Our Lord which had been miraculously imprinted on cloths. Her visions led her through various places in which these holy relics were sometimes preserved with great honor and sometimes forgotten by men and venerated only by the angels and by devout souls. In the course of these visions she thought that she saw the Blessed Virgin’s wedding-ring preserved in one of these places, and spoke of it as follows:]

I saw the Blessed Virgin’s wedding-ring; it is neither of silver nor of gold, nor of any other metal; it is dark in color and iridescent; it is not a thin narrow ring, but rather thick and at least a finger broad. I saw it smooth and yet as if covered with little regular triangles in which were letters. On the inside was a flat surface. The ring is engraved with something. I saw it kept behind many locks in a beautiful church. Devout people about to be married take their wedding-rings to touch it.


Figure 9. Saint Joseph in his wedding garments.

[On August 3 rd, 1821, she said:] In the last few days I have seen much of the story of Mary’s wedding-ring, but as the result of disturbances and pain I can no longer give a connected account of it. Today I saw a festival in a church in Italy where the wedding-ring is to be found. It seemed to me to be hung up in a kind of monstrance which stood above the Tabernacle. There was a large altar there, magnificently decorated, one saw deep into it through much silverwork. I saw many rings being held against the monstrance. During the festival I saw Mary and Joseph appearing in their wedding garments on each side of the ring, as if Joseph were placing the ring on the Blessed Virgin’s finger. At the same time I saw the ring shining and as if in movement. 7979     When the writer copied down these words of Catherine Emmerich—on Aug. 4 th, 1821, he could not think of any reason why she should have seen this picture on Aug. 3 rd. He was therefore greatly surprised at reading, several years after Catherine Emmerich’s death, in a Latin document about the Blessed Virgin’s wedding-ring (which is preserved in Perugia), that it is shown to the public on Aug. 3 rd (III nonas Augusti). Of this probably neither of us knew anything. (CB)
    Our Lady’s wedding-ring is preserved at the Cathedral of Perugia in a chapel which also has a fine tabernacle (mentioned by AC) by Cesarino del Roscetto, of 1519. Cf. Baedeker. (SB)

To the right and left of this altar I saw two other altars, which were probably not in the same church, but were only shown to me in my vision as being together. In the altar to the right was an Ecce Homo picture of Our Lord, which a devout Roman senator, a friend of St. Peter’s, had received in a miraculous manner. In the altar to the left was one of the grave-clothes of Our Lord.

When the wedding festivities were over, Anna went back to Nazareth with her relations, and Mary also went there, accompanied by several of her playmates who had been discharged from the Temple at the same time as her. They left the city in a festal procession. I do not know how far the maidens accompanied her. They once more spent the first night in the Levites’ school at Bethoron. Mary made the return journey on foot.

Joseph went to Bethlehem after the wedding in order to settle some family affairs there. He did not come to Nazareth until later.

3. FROM MARY’S RETURN HOME TO THE ANNUNCIATION.

[Catherine Emmerich always had these visions of the story of the Holy Family on the days appointed by the Church for their celebration; nevertheless, the date on which she saw some of these events sometimes differed from the ecclesiastical feast days. For instance, she saw the real historical date of the birth of Christ a whole month earlier, on November 25 th, which according to her visions coincided with the tenth day of the month Kislev in that year. Fifteen days later she saw Joseph keeping for several days the Feast of the Dedication of the Temple, or the Feast of Lights (which began on the 25 th day of the month Kislev) by burning lights in the cave of the Crib. From this it follows that she saw the Feast of the Annunciation also a month earlier, i.e. on February 25 th. It was in the year 1821 that Catherine Emmerich first gave an account of this event. She was seriously ill at that time, and her statement was therefore somewhat fragmentary to begin with.

[She had stated earlier that Joseph did not go to Nazareth immediately after the wedding, but had journeyed to Bethlehem to arrange certain family affairs. Anna and her second husband and the Blessed Virgin with some of her playmates went back to Galilee to Anna’s home, which was about an hour’s distance from Nazareth. Anna arranged for the Holy Family the little house in Nazareth, which also belonged to her, the Blessed Virgin still living with her in the meantime during Joseph’s absence. Before communicating her vision of the Annunciation, Catherine Emmerich recounted two fragments of earlier visions, whose significance we can only conjecture. Some time after the marriage of the Blessed Virgin to Joseph she recounted, still in a very weak state after a serious illness:]

I had sight of a festival in Anna’s house. I noticed her second husband, some six guests besides the ordinary household, and some children collected with Joseph and Mary round a table on which stood goblets. The Blessed Virgin was wearing a colored cloak, woven with red, blue, and white flowers like ancient chasubles. She had a transparent veil and over it a black one. This festival seemed to be a continuation of the wedding festival.

[She related no more about this, and one may suppose that it was the meal taken when the Blessed Virgin left her mother after Joseph’s arrival and moved into the house in Nazareth with him. Next day she related:] Last night in my vision I was looking for the Blessed Virgin, and my guide brought me into the house of her mother Anna, which I recognized in all its details. I no longer found Joseph and Mary there. I saw Anna preparing to go to the near-by Nazareth, where the Holy Family now lived. She had a bundle under her arm to take to Mary. She went over a plain and through a thicket to Nazareth, which lies in front of a hill. I went there, too. Joseph’s house was not far from the gate; it was not so large as Anna’s house. A quadrangular fountain to which several steps led down was near by, and there was a small square court before the house. I saw Anna visiting the Blessed Virgin and giving her what she had brought. I saw, too, that Mary shed many tears and accompanied her mother, when she returned home, for part of the way. I noticed St. Joseph in the front part of the house in a separate room.


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