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Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary
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XIX. THE BURIAL AND ASSUMPTION OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN

The funeral procession followed the Way of the Cross set up by the Blessed Virgin right up to the last Station, and then went over the hill in front of that Station and stopped at the right of the entrance to the tomb. Here they laid down the holy body, and then four of them carried it into the burial-chamber in the rock and laid it in the place hollowed out for it. All those present went in one by one and laid spices and flowers beside the body, kneeling down and offering up their prayers and their tears.

Many lingered there in love and sorrow, and night had fallen when the Apostles closed the entrance to the tomb. They dug a trench before the narrow entrance of the rock-tomb, and planted in it a hedge of various shrubs brought with their roots from elsewhere. Some had leaves, some blossoms, and some berries. They made the water from a near-by spring flow in front of the hedge, so that no trace of the entrance to the tomb could be seen and none could enter the cave without forcing a way round behind the hedge. They went away in scattered groups, some remaining to pray and watch by the tomb, others stopping to pray here and there at the Stations of the Cross. Those who were on their way home saw from the distance a strange radiance over Mary’s tomb, which moved them to wonder, though they did not know what it really was. I saw it, too, but of all that I saw I remember only the following. It was as if a shaft of light descended from heaven towards the tomb, and in this shaft was a lovely form like the soul of the Blessed Virgin, accompanied by the form of Our Lord. Then the body of the Blessed Virgin, united to the shining soul, rose shining out of the grave and soared up to heaven with the figure of Our Lord. All this lies in my memory as something half realized and yet distinct.

In the night I saw several of the Apostles and holy women praying and singing in the little garden in front of the rock-tomb. A broad shaft of light came down from heaven to the rock, and I saw descending in it a triple-ringed glory of angels and spirits surrounding the appearance of Our Lord and of the shining soul of Mary. The appearance of Jesus Christ, whose wound-marks were streaming with light, moved down in front of her soul. Round the soul of Mary, in the innermost circle of the glory, I saw only little figures of children; in the midmost circle they appeared as six-year-old children; and in the outermost circle as grown-up youths. I could see only the faces clearly, all the rest I saw as shimmering figures of light. As this vision, becoming ever clearer, streamed down upon the rock, I saw a shining path opened and leading up to the heavenly Jerusalem. Then I saw the soul of the Blessed Virgin, which had been following the appearance of Jesus, pass in front of Him, and float down into the tomb. Soon afterwards I saw her soul, united to her transfigured body, rising out of the tomb far brighter and clearer, and ascending into the heavenly Jerusalem with Our Lord and with the whole glory. Thereupon all the radiance faded again, and the quiet starry sky covered the land.

I do not know whether the Apostles and holy women praying before the tomb saw all this in the same manner, but I saw them looking upwards in adoration and amazement, or throwing themselves down full of awe with their faces to the ground. I saw, too, how several of those who were praying and singing by the Way of the Cross as they carried home the empty bier turned back with great reverence and devotion towards the light above the rock-tomb.

Thus I did not see the Blessed Virgin die in the usual manner, nor did I see her go up to heaven; but I saw that first her soul and then her body were taken from the earth.

On returning to the house the Apostles and disciples partook of a little food and then went to rest. They slept outside the house in sheds built onto it. Mary’s maidservant, who had remained in the house to set things in order, and the other women who had stayed there to help her, slept in the room behind the hearth. During the burial the maidservant had cleared everything out of this, so that it now looked like a little chapel; and thenceforward the Apostles used it for prayer and for offering the Holy Sacrifice. This evening I saw them still in their own room, praying and mourning. The women had already gone to rest. Then I saw the Apostle Thomas and two companions, all girt up, arrive at the gate of the courtyard and knock to be let in. There was a disciple with him called Jonathan, who was related to the Holy Family. 196196     She recognized this disciple by a relic of him which was in her possession but had no name on it. She said of him on July 25th and 26th, 1821 ‘Jonathan or Jonadab received the name of Elieser in baptism. He was of the tribe of Benjamin and came from the region of Samaria. He was with Peter and then with Paul, but was too slow for him he was also with John, and came with Thomas from far away at Our Lady’s death. He was, like Thomas’ simple Tartar servant, very childish in character, but became a priest. I saw him still here in Ephesus three years after Mary’s death. Later I saw him left lying here, stoned and half dead, and then taken into the city, where he died. Afterwards his bones were brought to Rome, but his identity remained unknown. (CB)
   This Jonathan or Jonadab is not identifiable in any available document.
His other companion was a very simple-minded man from the land of the farthest of the three holy kings, which I always call Partherme, 197197     Partherme was indicated before (p. 114 ) as the land of Seir, though the land of Theokeno, Media, was stated (ibid.) to be the remotest. (SB) not being able to recall names exactly. Thomas had brought him from there; he carried his cloak and was an obedient, child-like servant. A disciple opened the gate, and Thomas went with Jonathan into the Apostles’ room, telling his servant to sit at the gate and wait. The good brown man, who did everything that he was told, at once sat quietly down. O, how distressed they were to learn that they had come too late! Thomas cried like a child when he heard of Mary’s death. The disciples washed his and Jonathan’s feet, and gave them some refreshment. In the meantime the women had woken and got up, and when they had retired from the Blessed Virgin’s room, Thomas and Jonathan were taken to the place where the Blessed Virgin had died. They threw themselves to the ground and watered it with their tears. Thomas knelt long in prayer at Mary’s little altar. His grief was inexpressibly moving; it makes me cry even now when I think of it. When the Apostles had finished their prayers (which they had not interrupted), they all went to welcome the new arrivals. They took Thomas and Jonathan by the arms, lifted them from their knees, embraced them, and led them into the front part of the house, where they gave them honey and little loaves of bread to eat. They drank from little jugs and goblets. They prayed together once more, and all embraced each other.

But now Thomas and Jonathan begged to be shown the tomb 198198     Thomas’ late arrival was the immediate occasion of Our Lady’s tomb being opened and found empty. This is also a feature of the general legend preserved by St. John Damascene and recited in the Breviary. (SB) of the Blessed Virgin, so the Apostles kindled lights fastened to staves, and they all went out along Mary’s Way of the Cross to her tomb. They spoke little, stopping for a short time at the stones of the Stations, and meditating on the Via Dolorosa of Our Lord and the compassionate love of His Mother, who had placed these stones of remembrance here and had so often wetted them with her tears. When they came to the rock-tomb, they all threw themselves on their knees. Thomas and Jonathan hurried towards the tomb, followed by John. Two disciples held back the bushes from the entrance, and they went in and knelt in reverent awe before the resting-place of the Blessed Virgin. John then drew near to the light wicker coffin, which projected a little beyond the ledge of rock, undid the three gray bands which were round it and laid them aside. When the light of the torches shone into the coffin, they saw with awe and amazement the grave-clothes lying before them still wrapped round as before, but empty. About the face and breast they were undone; the wrappings of the arms lay slightly loosened, but not unwound. The transfigured body of Mary was no longer on earth. They gazed up in astonishment, raising their arms, as though the holy body had only then vanished from among them; and John called to those outside the cave: ‘Come, see, and wonder, she is no longer here.’ All came two by two into the narrow cave, and saw with amazement the empty grave-clothes lying before them. They looked up to heaven with uplifted arms, weeping and praying, praising the Lord and His beloved transfigured Mother (their true dear Mother, too) like devoted children, uttering every kind of loving endearment as the spirit moved them. They must have remembered in their thoughts that cloud of light which they had seen from afar on their way home immediately after the burial, how it had sunk down upon the tomb and then soared upwards again. John took the Blessed Virgin’s grave-clothes with great reverence out of the wicker coffin, folded and wrapped them carefully together, and took them away, after closing the lid of the coffin and fastening it again with the bands. Then they left the tomb, closing the entrance again with the bushes. They returned to the house by the Way of the Cross, praying and singing hymns. On their return they all went into the Blessed Virgin’s room. John laid the grave-clothes reverently on the little table before the place where the Blessed Virgin used to pray. Thomas and the others prayed again at the place where she died. Peter went apart as if in spiritual meditation; perhaps he was making his preparation, for afterwards I saw the altar being set up before the Blessed Virgin’s place of prayer where her cross stood, and I saw Peter holding a solemn service there, the others standing behind him in rows and praying and singing alternately. The holy women stood farther back by the doors, behind the hearth.

Thomas’ simple-minded servant had followed him from the distant land which he had last visited. His appearance was very strange. He had small eyes, a flat forehead and nose, and high cheek-bones. His skin was of a browner color than one sees here. He had been baptized; apart from that he was just like an ignorant, obedient child. He did everything that he was told—stood still where he was put, looked in the direction he was told to, and smiled at everybody. He remained seated in the place where Thomas had said he was to wait, and when he saw Thomas in tears, he wept bitterly, too. This man always stayed with Thomas; he was able to carry great weights, and I have seen him dragging up enormous stones when Thomas was building a chapel.

After the Blessed Virgin’s death I saw the assembled Apostles and disciples often standing together in a group and telling each other where they had been and what had befallen them. I heard it all, and if it be God’s will I shall recollect it.

[August 20 th, 1820 and 1821:] After performing various devotions most of the disciples have taken leave and returned to their duties. The Apostles are still at the house, with Jonathan, who came with Thomas, and also Thomas’ servant; but they will all be leaving as soon as they have finished their work. They are working at freeing Mary’s Way of the Cross from weeds and stones and are planting it with beautiful shrubs, herbs, and flowers. While working they pray and sing, and I cannot express how moving it is to see them: it is as if, in their love and sorrow, they were performing a solemn religious service, sad but beautiful. Like devoted children they adorn the footsteps of God’s Mother and their Mother—those footsteps which followed, in compassionate devotion, her Divine Son’s path of suffering to His redeeming death upon the Cross.

They entirely closed up the entrance into Mary’s tomb by earthing up more firmly the bushes planted in front of it and strengthening the trench. They arranged and beautified the little garden before the tomb, and dug out a passage at the back of the hill leading to the back wall of the tomb, chiseling out an opening in the rock through which one could see the place where the Holy Mother’s body had rested—that Mother whom the Redeemer, when dying on the Cross, had entrusted to John and thus, to them all and to His Church. O, they were true and faithful sons, obedient to the Fourth Commandment, and long will they and their love live upon the land! Above the tomb they made a kind of tent-chapel with carpets; it had wattle walls and roof. They built a little altar in it, with a stone step and a big flat stone supported on another stone. Against the wall behind this altar they hung a little carpet on which the picture of the Blessed Virgin had been woven or embroidered, very plainly and simply. It was in bright colors, showing her in festal attire, brown with blue and red stripes. When all was finished they held a service there, all praying on their knees with uplifted hands. They made Mary’s room in the house into a church. Mary’s maidservant and a few women continued to live in the house; and two of the disciples, one of whom came from the shepherds beyond the Jordan, were left here to provide for the spiritual comfort of the faithful living in the neighborhood.

Soon afterwards the Apostles separated to go their different ways. Bartholomew, Simon, Jude, Philip, and Matthew were the first to leave for the countries of their missions, after taking a moving farewell of the others. The others, except John, who stayed on for a while, went all together to Palestine before separating. There were many disciples there, and several women went with them from Ephesus to Jerusalem. Mary Mark did much for the Christians there; she had established a community of some twenty women who to a certain extent led a conventual life. Five of them lived in her own house, which was a regular meeting-place for the disciples. 199199     Mary Mark’s house at Jerusalem, a meeting-place for disciples, was the natural place for Peter to go to after his escape from prison ( Acts 12.12). It is evident that this event was after the Assumption, because Peter’s arrest was part of the same persecution which caused the martyrdom of James the Great ( Acts 12.1) which, according to AC, happened after his return to Jerusalem from Ephesus (supra, p. 167 ). (SB) The Christians still owned the church at the Pool of Bethsaida.

[On August 22 nd she said:] John is the only one left in the house. All the others have already gone. I saw John carrying out the Blessed Virgin’s wishes and dividing her clothes between her maidservant and another girl who sometimes came to help her. Some of the stuffs given by the three holy kings were among them. I saw two long white robes and several long cloaks and veils, as well as coverings and carpets. I also saw quite clearly that striped over-dress which she wore at Cana and on the Way of the Cross—the one of which I possess a little strip. Some of these things became the property of the Church; for instance, the beautiful sky-blue wedding-dress, ornamented with gold thread and strewn with embroidered roses, was made into a vestment for the Holy Sacrifice for the Bethsaida church in Jerusalem. There are relics of it in Rome still. I see them, but do not know if they are recognized there. Mary wore it only for her wedding and never again.

All that I have described happened in stillness and quiet. There was secrecy but (unlike today) no fear. Persecution had not yet reached the stage of spies and informers, and there was nothing to disturb the serenity and peace.


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