The History Of The Blessed Virgin, Translated From The French By The Very Rev. F. C. Husenbeth, D.D., V.G. Part 9.

Chapter 4.

The Presentation Part 1.

The Cison proudly rolled its red waters, swelled by the equinoctial storms 1 and the great mountains of Galilee began to be covered with snow, when the parents of Mary began their journey to Jerusalem. We are ignorant of the motive which induced them to leave their native province during the rainy season. Perhaps it was the desire to assist at the great solemnities of the Dedication; perhaps they merely regulated their departure by the epoch of the service of Zachary, whose priestly functions called him to the temple only at regular times. 2

Obliged to make a journey of several days, during the inclement season, with a child quite young, the prudent and pious travellers did not make their way towards the holy city by the wild and rocky road which winds across the arid flats, the foaming torrents, and the deep ravines of the mountains of Samaria: there winter ruled with all his frosts. They descended, by the shrubby slopes of Carmel, into the charming and fertile plains which stretch out between the mountains of Palestine and the coasts of Syria, a land happy and forward, the temperature of which is so mild that the orange-trees blossom there in the heart of winter, and the flowers of May expand in the month of December. 3 After leaving behind them the rich pastures where formerly rose the tents of Issachar, a tribe of shepherd astronomers, 4 whom the burning breath of the Lord's anger had dispersed, like a handful of light straw, even to the wild and mountainous regions of Media;—after having admired, as they passed, the hills covered with palm, banana, and pomegranate-trees, which once formed the smiling inheritance of the sons of Joseph—a fine and warlike race, famous for their skill in shooting with the bow;—the travellers from Galilee went along by the side of the narrow stream of the Gaas, the willows of which love the bank; passed through the groves of Kamatha, a beautiful town, like a cameo fallen into a basket of roses; and reached at length the borders of the ancient territory of the Jebusites. There the aspect of everything was changed: no more flowers, no more verdure, no more odoriferous breeze wafting afar the sweet scent of the lemon-tree; barren rocks, deep ravines where the wind forced its way with lugubrious moanings; abrupt and bare mountains, resounding with the hoarse cries of the eagle: in a word, the grandest, most melancholy, most desolate, and most sterile land that could be seen.

The little caravan had followed, for some time, a stony path tracked along the flat of an arid mountain, when Joachim, stopping on a sudden at an abrupt turn, stretched out his arms towards the south with a movement of religious enthusiasm mixed with national pride. The object which he thus pointed out to the notice of his companions was worth remarking, for nothing more magnificent or more extraordinary existed at that time in Asia. It was a city of thirty-three stadia in circumference, enclosed in stone, like a ruby of Beloutchistan; a town of marble, cedar, and gold, its splendour having something in it sad, wild, and suspicious, which denoted an uneasy authority, permanent fears of some foreign power, and a state of things full of contrasts. There were seen in it enormous towers, magnificent as palaces, and palaces fortified like citadels. Its temple, glittering with gold, which shone brilliantly upon the narrow flat surface of the highest of its mountains, like the orb of the full moon when it skirts the snowy summits of Libanus, 5 was a fortress almost impregnable, which kept the holy people 6 of the Lord in awe; while the tower Antonia, from the top of its four elegant turrets of polished marble, kept an overshadowing and continued watch over the court of the temple. A triple enclosure of walls of enormous stones, in which were encrusted ninety forts, bound the sides of this city, which was surrounded by dark valleys of dizzying depths and rocks inaccessible. This proud and warlike city, which seemed to have been transported by magic from the fabulous regions of Ginnistan, 7 beneath the cloudless sky of Palestine; this paradise of the Jews (Ghangh-dix-houcht), so poetically regretted on the banks of the Euphrates; the city of David and of the Machabees; this Jerusalem, which, in its abject slavery, all the East still salutes with the antique name which the father of Mary then gave it— el Cods! (the Holy.)

The parents of the Virgin entered the capital of Judea by the gate of Rama, upon which fell the shadow of a tower, 8 so high that from its flat top were seen Mount Carmel, the Great Sea, and the Mountains of Arabia. The green standard of Judas Machabeus was still flying there with its religious device; bat the soldiers who surrounded it no longer understood it; for they were Thracians, Galatians, Germans, and the fair children of Gaul, whom Herod, who feared the Jews and depended upon foreigners, took into his pay, and who were detested at Jerusalem almost as much as himself.

The travellers next followed certain winding and gloomy streets, lined with heavy square houses, without windows, with terrace .roofs, which stood in melancholy lines, like citadels; and they stopped in the eastern part of the city before a house of modest appearance, which tradition points out as the dwelling of St. Ann. 9

After a purification of seven days, according to the custom of those who came to sacrifice in the temple, 10 Joachim provided himself with the lamb which he was to offer to the Lord, clothed himself in white, 11 collected together some of the relations and friends whom he had in Jerusalem, and ascended at the head of them to the temple with as much ardour as he would have gone up to the assault of a place in battle.12

1 The Cison is a small river, which runs between Nazareth and Mount Carmel; insignificant and impoverished during tho summer, like all the streams of water of Palestine, it becomes considerable during the rainy season. The troops of Sisara, the general of the army of Jabin, were drowned in this overflowed river in the attempt to force a passage.

2 According to the order established by David, the priests were divided into twenty-four classes, or turns, each of which served its week. Each class was subdivided into seven parts, which had each their week in turn to officiate; each part of this subdivision had that portion of the service which was assigned to him by lot.—(1 Paralip. c. xxiv.) Zachary was of the turn or service of Abia.—(Prid., Hist, of the Jews.)

3 Yolney saw orange-trees bearing fruit and flowers in the open air, in the month of January, on the coasts of Syria. " With us," he says, " nature has divided the seasons by months; there, one may say that they are separated only by hours. If we are annoyed at Tripoli by the heats of July, six hours' march transports us upon the neighbouring mountains to the temperature of March. On the other hand, are we incommoded with the frost of December, in the midst of the mountains, one day's march brings us back to the shore among the flowers of May."

4 St. Jerom assures us that the children of Issachar were the learned men who calculated times, and set down the feasts.—(Hieron., Quæst. in 1 Paralip. 112, p. 1390, et in Genes. 49.) This tradition is conformable to that of the rabbins, who affirm that those of the tribe of Issachar applied themselves assiduously to this knowledge of astronomy. — (Maimon., in Kiddosch. hachodesh, et Zachuth, in Juchasin.) In fine, the Scripture authorises this tradition, since it relates that the children of Issachar were expert in the science of the times, so as to order what Israel should do.—(1 Paralip. xii. 32.)

5 The exterior front of the temple was entirely covered with plates of gold, so thick that as soon as daylight appeared, it was as dazzling as the rays of the rising sun. As for the other sides, where there was no gold, the stones of them were so white, that this superb mass of building looked at a distance like a mountain covered with snow.— (Josephus, de Bello, lib. v. c. 13.)

6 "Extrema rupis abrupta; et turres, ubi mons juvisset, in sexaginta pedes, inter devexa, in centenos vicenoeque attollebantur; mira specie, ac procul intuentibus pares."—(Tacit. Hist. lib. v.)

7 Ginnistan, which the marvellous traditions of the Assyrians and Arabs place at the foot of Mount Caucasus, and on the borders of the Caspian Sea, was the abode of the Peris—a beautiful and fabulous race, which much resembles that of our fairies. These powerful beings, born before the deluge, disposed of the elements, and created everything that could afford them pleasure. Their capital city which they had carefully fortified, to defend it from the attacks of the Dives, who were wicked and formidable genii, was of marble, gold, rubies, and diamonds.

8 The tower Pæphinn.

9 A monastery has been erected over this house of St. Ann; this monastery has been turned into a mosque. Under the Christian kings it was inhabited by religious women.—(See Itin. de Paris a Jerusalem, t. ii. p. 211.)

10 It was not merely necessary to be presented in the temple with the victim: the law required that the person should remain outside for seven full days, and be solemnly purified on the third and seventh day with ashes and hyssop : that done, they might sacrifice.—(Philo, Tract, de Sacrific, c. 3.)

11 According to the rabbins, the sacrifice was of no avail when he who offered it was not clothed in white garments.—(Basn., liv. ix.

12 This was of obligation; the Hebrews were to go up to the temple with as much ardour as a soldier to an assault; they found this pretext in the 55th Psalm, where David said that he went to the house of (iod as to a strong city. (See Basn., Hist, des Juifs, liv. vii. c. 17.)