The History Of The Blessed Virgin, Translated From The French By The Very Rev. F. C. Husenbeth, D.D., V.G. Part 13.

Chapter 5

Mary In The Temple. Part 2.

Some old legendary writers have delighted in surrounding the early childhood of the Virgin with a number of prodigies: we pass over in silence these marvellous events, which are not sufficiently proved; but what we ought to call attention to, is an inaccurate assertion, or rather an inadmissible one, which has been adopted confidently and without examination by some holy personages and religious writers.* From the Virgin's having always been sanctity itself, which no one disputes, it has been inferred that she must have been placed in the most sanctified part of the temple, that is, in the Holy of Holies, which is materially untrue. The Holy of Holies, that impenetrable sanctuary of the God of hosts, was closed against the whole of the Hebrew priesthood, except the high priest, who went into it only once a year, after a number of fasts, vigils, and purifications. He did not present himself there without being enveloped in a thick cloud of perfumes, which interposed between him and the Divinity, " whom no mortal could see without dying," says the Scripture; in fine, he remained there only a few minutes, during which the people, prostrate with their faces to the ground, uttered loud sighs, for fear that he should there die. He himself afterwards gave a great feast to his friends, to rejoice with them for having escaped a danger so pressing and formidable. 1
After this, let any one judge if it be possible that Mary was brought up in the Holy of Holies 2
The local traditions of Jerusalem protest no less loudly than common sense against this opinion, thrown out at hazard: the Sakhra, which was originally a Christian church, built on the site of the apartments of the Virgin, is a distinct appendage of the mosque of Omar, and is not enclosed within that edifice; yet the mosque of Omar is built on the very place where the temple stood.
F. Croiset, in his Exercises de Piete, has not adopted this opinion; but, unwilling to reject it altogether, he has attempted a sort of compromise. According to him, the Mother of God was not brought up in the Holy of Holies,, but the priests, struck with her admirable virtues, permitted her to go and pray there from time to time. The Jesuit father has forgotten several things in adopting this mezzotermine first, that woman, among the Hebrews, was a being reputed unclean, likened to a slave, and hardly bound to pray at all; 3 one who was banished to an enclosure which she could not pass beyond, and that the interior of the temple was a forbidden place to her, even if she were a prophetess or the daughter of a king. Secondly, that the priests could not grant to Mary a privilege which they did not enjoy themselves, and that, moreover, it would have been exposing her to certain death. 4 Lastly, even supposing none of these prejudices and fears to have existed among the priests of Jehovah, they would not have suffered anyone, on any account, to go into the Holy of Holies, considering that it was important to withhold from the people the knowledge of the disappearance of the ark, which had been lost in some obscure cavern of the mountains of Judea ever since the days of Jeremias. 5

This second version, therefore, is no more admissible than the first.
The education which Mary received in the temple was as carefully provided as was compatible with the knowledge of the time and the manners of the Hebrews; it turned principally on domestic work, from which the wife and daughter of Augustus Caesar did not think themselves exempt in their imperial palace, and in the midst of the luxuries of Rome, 6 Brought up in the strict observance of the laws of Moses, and conforming to the customs of her nation, Mary rose at the song of the bird, at the hour " when the bad angels are silent, and when prayers are heard most favourably." 7 She dressed herself with extreme decency, out of respect for the glory of God, who penetrates everywhere, and beholds the actions of man, even in the darkest night; then she thanked the Lord for having added another day to her days, and having preserved her during her sleep from the snares of the evil spirit. 8 Her toilet was not long, and there was no refinement about it; she wore neither pearl bracelets nor gold chains "inlaid with silver," nor purple tunics, like the daughters of the princes of her race. A robe of hyacinth blue, of soft and velvet-like appearance, like that flower of the field—a white tunic confined by a plain girdle, with the ends hanging free—a long veil with its folds inartificially but gracefully arranged, and so formed as quickly and completely to cover the face—and, lastly, shoes to match the robe, composed the oriental costume of Mary. 9

After the customary ablutions, the Virgin, her companions, and the pious women who were responsible to the priests and to God for this sacred deposit, proceeded to the tribune surrounded with balconies, 10 where the almas seated themselves in the place of honour. 11 The sun was beginning to gild with his early rays the distant mountains of Arabia, the eagle was soaring in the cloud, the sacrifice burned upon the brazen altar to the sound of the morning trumpets, and Mary, with her head bowed down under her veil, after repeating the eighteen prayers of Esdras, besought of God, with all Israel, the Christ so long promised to the earth, and so slow to come. " O God! may thy name be glorified and sanctified in this world, which thou hast created according to thy good pleasure; let thy kingdom corns: may redemption flourish, and may the Messias come speedily." 12

And the people answered in chorus, " Amen! amen!" Then they sung the concluding verses of that beautiful psalm attributed to the prophets Aggeus and Zacharias:—

"The Lord looseth them that are fettered: the Lord enlighteneth the blind.

"The Lord lifteth up them that are cast down; the Lord loveth the just.

"The Lord keepeth the strangers: he will support the fatherless and the widow; and the ways of sinners he will destroy.

"The Lord shall reign for ever: thy God, 0 Sion, unto generation and generation." 13

The reading of the schema 14 and the blessing of the priest concluded this public prayer, which was made at night and morning. 15

1 St. Andrew of Crete, George of Nicomedia, &c.

2 Prideaux. Basnage, Histoire des Juifs, liv. v. c. 16.

3 The impurity of the woman, according to the Rabbins, dates from the seduction of Eve by the serpent, and cannot be expiated but at the coming of their Messias. Prayer is not so obligatory upon her as upon man; she is not even bound to the greater part of the positive commandments ; in fine, the Jews still say, in their morning prayer, " Blessed be thou, O Lord, King of the universe, for not having made me be born a woman." The woman in her humiliation says, on her part, with sorrowful resignation, " Blessed be thou, O Lord, who hast made me what thou hast pleased."—(Basnage, Hist, des Juifs, liv. vii. c. 10, p. 169.)

4 "The sanctuary is a place so holy," says Philo, " that there is no one among us but the high priest alone who is allowed to enter it, and that only once in the year, after a solemn fast, to burn perfumes there in honour of God, and humbly to beg of him that this year may be happy to all mankind. If any one, not only of the common people of our nation, but even one of the chief priests, dared to go in thither, or if the high priest himself went in twice a year, or more than once on the day when he is allowed to do so, it would cost him his life, without any possibility of saving him, so strictly has Moses, our legislator, commanded us to reverence this place and render it inaccessible."—(Philo, ad Cadjum, c. 16.)

5 The Jews are not agreed as to the fate of the ark after the ruin of their first people: some will have it that Jeremias hid it in a cavern in the mountains, the entrance to which it had never been possible to find again; others say that the holy King Josias, admonished by Holda, the prophetess, that the temple would be destroyed soon after his death, had this precious deposit placed in a subterranean vault which Solomon had had constructed.

6 Augustus never wore any other garments but those woven by his wife or his daughter; and Alexander the Great, by his mother and his sisters.

7 Basnage, liv. vii. c. xvii. p. 309.

8 Basnage, loco citato

9 The Annunciades of Genoa wore in the sixteenth century the costume of the Blessed Virgin, that is to say, white below, and sky blue above, that such a habit might cause a continual remembrance of her. The slippers of the choir nuns in like manner are covered with leather of sky-blue colour.—(Rule of the Annunciades of Genoa, c. 2.) M. de Lamartine found in those Eastern regions, where everything seems unchangeable, the costume of Mary in that of the women of Nazareth. "They wear," says the traveller poet, "a long tunic of sky-blue, fastened by a white girdle, the ends of which hang down to the ground; the full folds of a white tunic gracefully fall over the blue." M. D. Lamartine traces back this costume to the times of Abraham and Isaac, and there is nothing improbable in this supposition. We see but a very slight difference between the costumes adopted in the sixteenth century from the traditions of Italy, and that which the French traveller found in the very places themselves.

10 In the feast of the drawing of the waters, the men were placed above the galleries, which went all round the peristyle of the women.

11 Origen, St. Basil, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and St. Cyril have preserved to us the tradition which assigns to the virgins of the temple an honourable and separate place in the peristyle of the women.

12 This prayer, which is called Kaddisch, is the most ancient of all those which the Jews have preserved, and as it is read in the Chaldaic tongue, it is believed to be one of the prayers which had been made after the return from Babylon.—(Basn., Hv. vii. c. 17, p. 314.) Prideaux affirms that it was used long before our Lord's time, and that the apostles often offered it with the people in the synagogues. It was recited often in the service, and the assembly were obliged to answer Amen several times.

13 Leo of Modena. Maimonides.

14 Leo of Modena, c. 11, p. 29. By the schema is understood three different sections of Deuteronomy and Numbers. It is a kind of profession of faith which is recited night and morning, by which they confess that there is but one God, who delivered his people out of Egypt.

15 It is certain that the Blessed Virgin must have assisted very often at the public prayers of morning and evening: these prayers were considered more efficacious than others, and there are even Hebrew doctors who maintain that God hears none but these.