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XIV. THE HOLY FAMILY IN BETHLEHEM AFTER THE DEPARTURE OF THE KINGS.
1. MEASURES TAKEN IN BETHLEHEM AGAINST THE KINGS. JOSEPH IS EXAMINED AND BLACKMAILED.
[December 25 th:] The angel had warned the kings just in time, for the authorities in Bethlehem—perhaps on a Secret order from Herod, but I think from their own zeal of office—meant to arrest today the kings who were sleeping in the inn at Bethlehem and to imprison them in the cellars deep under the synagogue. They were then going to denounce them to Herod as disturbers of the peace. However, when their departure became known this morning, they were already near Engaddi, and the valley where they had encamped was quiet and deserted as usual, with nothing but the trodden grass and a few tent-poles to show that they had been there. In the meantime the appearance in Bethlehem of the kings and their train had caused a considerable stir. Some regretted that they had refused Joseph a lodging; others said that the kings were strange fanatical adventurers; while others connected their arrival with the rumors of what the shepherds had seen. The authorities of the place (perhaps as the result of a warning from Herod, but of this I am not sure) decided that steps must be taken to deal with the situation. In the center of the town, in an open place with a fountain surrounded by trees, I saw near the synagogue a large house with steps leading up to it. All the inhabitants were summoned to the square in front of the house, and I saw a warning or command being given to them from the steps. They were told that all perverse talk and superstitious rumors must be stopped, and from now onwards there must be no more running backwards and forwards outside the town to the dwelling of the people who had been the cause of all this talk. After the assembled people had dispersed, I saw St. Joseph summoned by two men and being examined in that house by some aged Jews. I saw him go back to the Crib and then again go to the court-house. When he went there the second time, he took with him some of the gold from the kings’ gifts and gave it to them, upon which they let him go in peace. It seemed to me that the whole examination was a sort of blackmail. I saw, too, that a path leading towards the Crib was blocked by the authorities by felling a tree across it. This was not the path through the town-gate, but the one which led over a hill or rampart to the Cave of the Nativity from the place where Mary had waited under a big tree on arriving at Bethlehem. They even put up a guard-house by the tree, and stretched ropes across the road which were attached to a bell in the guard-house, so that they could hold up anyone who tried to pass. In the afternoon I saw a band of sixteen of Herod’s soldiers talking to Joseph; they were probably sent on account of the kings, who had been accused of being disturbers of the peace. Finding, however, everything quiet and lonely, with nobody but a poor family in the cave, and having been warned not to alarm these in any way, they went quietly back to report what they had found. The presents and other things left by the kings had been hidden away by Joseph partly in Maraha’s grave and partly’ in some secret places in the hill of the Cave of the Nativity, which he knew of since his boyhood when he had often hidden there from his brothers. These separate hiding-places dated from the time of the patriarch Jacob, who had once set up his tents here on this hill. At that time there were only a few tents on the site of Bethlehem.
This evening I saw Zechariah of Hebron coming to see the Holy Family for the first time. Mary was still in the cave. He wept with joy, took the Infant Jesus in his arms, and repeated (in part or somewhat altered) the hymn of praise which he had uttered at the circumcision of John.
2. ST. ANNE RETURNS WITH ELIUD.
[December 26 th:] Today Zechariah went away again, but Anna came back to visit the Holy Family with her eldest daughter, her second husband and the maidservant. Anna’s eldest daughter is bigger than her mother and really looks older than Anna. Anna’s second husband is taller and older than Joachim was. His name is Eliud, and he had a post at the Temple connected with the supervision of the sacrificial animals. Anna had a daughter by him, also called Mary. At Christ’s birth she must have been six or eight years old. This Eliud died soon after this, and it was God’s will that Anna should marry for the third time. Of this marriage there was a son, who was called one of Christ’s brethren.
The maidservant brought by Anna from Nazareth a week ago is still with the Blessed Virgin. While the Blessed Virgin was living in the Cave of the Nativity, this maidservant lived in the little cave at the side; but now, as Mary is in the cave at the side, the maidservant sleeps under a shelter put up for her by Joseph in front of the cave. Anna and her companions sleep in the Cave of the Nativity.
The Holy Family is now deeply joyful. Anna is blissfully happy. Mary often lays the Infant Jesus in her arms for her to nurse. I did not see her do that with anyone else. I saw, to my great wonderment, that the Infant’s hair, which is yellow and curly, ends in little fine rays of light intersecting each other. I think they make his hair curly, for I see them rubbing his head after washing it. They put a little cloak round him the while. I always see in the Holy Family the most touching and devout honor being paid to the Infant Jesus, but it is all quite simple and human, as it always is with holy and elect ones. The Child turns to His Mother with love such as I have never seen in one so young.
Mary told her mother all about the visit of the three holy kings, and Anna was greatly moved on hearing that the Lord God had summoned them from so far to acknowledge the Child of the Promise. She was shown the gifts of the kings, which were hidden in a wicker basket in a covered niche in the wall. She recognized them as tokens of homage and gazed at them with deep humility. She helped to give away some of them and to arrange and pack up the rest. All is now quiet in the neighborhood; all the paths except the one through the gate of the town have been closed by the authorities. Joseph no longer goes to Bethlehem for what he wants; the shepherds bring him everything needful. The kinswoman with whom Anna stayed in Benjamin is Mara 136136 Sometimes A.C. mistook this Mara in the narration with Anna’s younger sister (Maraha) or niece, called Enue. As you read farther, the terms “brothers” and “sisters” are more frequently used. , the daughter of Elizabeth’s sister Rhoda. She is poor, and later had several sons, who became disciples. One of them was called Nathanael and was later the bridegroom at Cana. This Mara was present at the Blessed Virgin’s death at Ephesus.
This Nathanael is not the one whom Jesus saw under the fig tree. Nathanael, Mara’s son, was present as a boy at the children’s festival given by Anna for the twelve-year-old Jesus, when He came home after His first teaching in the Temple. The boy Jesus told on this occasion a parable of a wedding where water was to be turned into wine, and of another wedding, where wine was to be turned into blood. He told the boy Nathanael, as if in jest, that one day He would be present at Nathanael’s wedding. The bride of Cana came from Bethlehem, from Joseph’s family. After the miracle at Cana the bridegroom and the bride made a mutual vow of continence. Nathanael at once became a disciple and received the name Amator in baptism. Later he was made a bishop and was in Edessa; he was also on the island of Crete with Carpus. He then went to Armenia, and because of the many conversions he made he was captured and sent into exile to the shores of the Black Sea. On being set free he came into Mensor’s land, where he worked a miracle (which I have forgotten) on a woman and baptized so many people that he was done to death, in the city of Acajacuh on an island in the River Euphrates. 137137 Nathanael under the fig tree: John 1.45-51; the Marriage of Cana: John 1.45-51. Of the subsequent events there is no documentary record, unless Carpus in Crete is to be identified with St. Paul’s friend at Troas ( II Tim. 4.13). For the city of Acajacuh, see n. 121, p. 114 . (SB)
Today Anna sent away her husband Eliud with a loaded donkey and the maidservant, her relation, with two big packs. She carried one on her back and one in front. These contain part of the kings’ gifts, stuffs of various kinds and golden vessels, which in later years were used at the first Christian religious services. They are sending everything away in secret, for some sort of investigation is always going on about here. It seems as though they are only taking these things to some place on the way to Nazareth whence they will be fetched by servants, for in earlier visions I saw Eliud back in Bethlehem at Anna’s departure thence, which will soon take place. Anna was now alone with Mary in the side-cave. I saw that they were working together, plaiting and knitting a coarse blanket. The Cave of the Nativity is now completely cleared out. Joseph’s donkey is hidden behind wicker screens. Today there were again officers of Herod in Bethlehem, searching in a number of houses for a newborn child.
3. THE HOLY FAMILY HIDES IN THE BURIAL CAVE OF MARAHA.
Soldiers came, too, looking for a newborn son of a king. They were particularly persistent in their questioning of a distinguished Jewish woman who had lately given birth to a son. They did not go near the Cave of the Nativity; they had been there before and found only a poor family, so took for granted that it was nothing to do with these. Two old men, shepherds I think, came to Joseph and warned him of these inquiries. That was why I saw the Holy Family and Anna escaping into Maraha’s grave with the Infant Jesus. There was nothing left in the Cave of the Nativity to show that it had been lived in; it looked quite deserted. I saw them going through the valley in the night with a covered light. Anna held the Infant Jesus before her in her arms, Mary and Joseph walking beside her. The shepherds accompanied them, carrying the blankets and other things to make resting-places for the holy women and the Infant Jesus. (I had a vision meanwhile; I do not know whether the Holy Family saw it, too. Round the Infant Jesus at Anna’s breast I saw a glory of seven figures of angels, intertwining and superimposed on each other. Many other figures appeared in this glory, and beside Anna, Joseph, and Mary I saw figures of light who seemed to be leading them by the arms.) On reaching the passage into the cave, they shut the door and then went into the cave itself and prepared their resting-places there.
4. JOSEPH TAKES THE BABY JESUS FROM MARY BECAUSE OF DANGER.
[December 27 th:] The Blessed Virgin told her mother all about the three kings, and they looked at all the things that the latter had yesterday left behind in Maraha’s grave. I saw two shepherds come and warn the Blessed Virgin that people were coming from the authorities to look for her Child. Mary was in great distress at this, and soon after I saw St. Joseph come in and take the Infant Jesus from her arms. He wrapped Him in a cloak and took Him away; I can no longer remember where to. I now saw the Blessed Virgin for at least half a day alone in the cave without the Infant Jesus and full of a mother’s fear and anxiety. When the time came near for her to be called to give suck to the Child, she did as all good mothers are wont to do after being alarmed or upset: before suckling the Child she pressed out from her breast the disturbed milk, letting it fall into a little hollow in the white stone bench in the cave. This she told to a good devout shepherd who came to her (probably to lead her to the Child). He, deeply sensible of the holiness of the Mother of the Redeemer, afterwards scooped carefully out with a sort of spoon the virgin milk enclosed in the little white hollow of the stone. In his simple faith he brought it to his wife, who was suckling a child but had not enough milk to feed it. The good woman drank this holy nourishment with reverent trustfulness, and at once her faith was rewarded, so that she was able to feed her child abundantly. Since then the white stone in this cave was given a similar healing power, and I saw that right up to our own day even Mohammedans, though unbelievers, use it as a remedy in this as in other bodily ailments. The earth from this place was for ages cleansed and pressed into small moulds by the guardians of the Holy Land and distributed throughout Christendom as a pious remembrance. These relics bear the inscription ‘de lacte sanctissimae Virginis Mariae’ (‘of the milk of the Most Holy Virgin Mary’).
5. COMMEMORATION OF MARY’S WEDDING.
Joseph did not remain hidden in the grave of Maraha. I saw him making all sorts of arrangements in the Cave of the Nativity with the two old shepherds. I saw the shepherds carrying in wreaths of leaves and flowers, but did not at first know why they were doing this; afterwards I saw that they were the preparations for a very touching ceremony. I saw Eliud, Anna’s second husband, there once more, and also the maidservant. They had brought two donkeys with them. They had probably met Anna’s menservants when the latter had come only part of the way from Nazareth with the animals, and had then sent the men and the baggage back to Nazareth and brought the donkeys to Bethlehem themselves. When I saw them on their way back here, I thought for some time that they were people from an inn outside Jerusalem where I saw the Holy Family staying later. Joseph had made use of the absence of the Blessed Virgin in Maraha’s grave to decorate the Cave of the Nativity, with the help of the shepherds, in honor of the anniversary of their wedding. When all was in order, he fetched the Blessed Virgin with the Infant Jesus and Anna, and led them into the decorated Cave of the Nativity. Eliud and the maidservant and the three old shepherds were already there. How moving it was to see their joy when the Blessed Virgin carried the Infant Jesus into the cave! The roof and wails of the cave were hung with wreaths of flowers, and a table was set for a meal in the center. Some of the three holy kings’ beautiful carpets were spread on the floor and table and hung on the walls. On the table a pyramid of foliage and flowers rose to an opening in the roof: on the topmost twig there was a dove which had, I think, been made for the occasion. I saw the whole cave full of lights and brightness. They had put the Infant Jesus sitting up in His basket-cradle on a stool. Mary and Joseph, crowned with wreaths, stood beside Him and drank out of one goblet. Besides the relations the old shepherds were present. They sang hymns and partook happily of a light meal. I saw choirs of angels and heavenly powers appearing in the cave. All present were filled with emotion and fervor. After this ceremony the Blessed Virgin with the Infant Jesus and Anna again betook themselves to the grave of Maraha.
6. PREPARATIONS FOR THE DEPARTURE OF THE HOLY FAMILY.
[December 28 th to 30 th:] In the last few days and again today I have seen St. Joseph making various preparations for the approaching departure of the Holy Family from Bethlehem. He got rid every day of some of his household belongings. He is giving the shepherds all the light wicker screens and other contrivances for making the cave comfortable, and they are taking them all away. This afternoon there were again many people at the cave on their way to Bethlehem for the Sabbath, but finding it forsaken they soon went on. Anna is going back to Nazareth after the Sabbath. Today they are arranging and packing up everything. Anna is taking with her on two donkeys many of the gifts of the three holy kings, especially carpets, coverings, and stuffs. They kept the Sabbath this evening in Maraha’s grave, and continued keeping it the next day (Saturday), when all was quiet in the neighborhood.
[Saturday, December 29 th:] When the Sabbath was ended, all preparations were made for the departure for Nazareth of Anna and Eliud and their servants. Once, and again tonight for the second time, I saw the Blessed Virgin carry the Infant Jesus in the dark from the grave of Maraha into the Cave of the Nativity. She laid Him on a carpet at the place of His birth and knelt down in prayer beside Him. I saw the whole cave full of heavenly light as at the moment when Our Lord was born. I think that the dear Mother of God must have seen that, too.
[Sunday, December 30 th:] At early dawn I saw Anna, with her husband and servants, start for Nazareth after taking a tender farewell of the Holy Family and the three old shepherds. Anna’s maidservant went with them, and I was again astonished by her strange cap, which was almost like a ‘cuckoo-basket’, the name given by our peasant children at home to a pointed cap they plait from reeds in their games. (The reason why I thought for some time that Anna’s husband and maidservant were people from the inn outside Jerusalem may have been that I had seen them spending the night in that inn and conversing with its owners.) They took all that still remained of the kings’ gifts and packed them on their beasts. While they were doing this, I was very much astonished to see them taking with them a package belonging to me. I felt that it was there, and could not at all make out what had induced Anna to take my property away with her.
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