The History Of The Blessed Virgin, Translated From The French By The Very Rev. F. C. Husenbeth, D.D., V.G. Part 21.

Chapter 7

Marriage Of The Virgin. Part 3.

In fact, the lowest of the Hebrews considered himself a prince in comparison with strangers. 1
Still there were among the Jews, as among the Arabs, some tribes more illustrious and certain houses more noble than others; the tribe of Juda, which bore the national standard at the head of the thousands of Israel in the day of battle, and from which the sceptre was not to depart till the coming of the Messias, had always had the pre-eminence; and the family of David was the first and most honoured among the families of Juda. Now Joseph, though poor, was of the race of David; the blood of twenty kings flowed in his veins, and it was Zorobabel, one of his ancestors, who brought back the people of God from the land of exile. From that time the glory of his house had gradually become obscured; his family had become confounded with the people, like those of Moses and Samuel; but his illustrious origin was known: in our days, the lowest of the Abassides, who vegetate in the heart of the Hedsjaz, are no less respected as the descendants of Aaron-el-Raschid, and no Arab family would disdain to contract an alliance with them.

The holy daughter of Joachim did not then lower herself as much as might be supposed by marrying the carpenter. But if we take a higher view of this union, which at first seems so ill-assorted, we shall discover that it was in reality a noble alliance. God did not give as a spouse to the Virgin after his own heart, a man whose whole merit consisted in his fields, his vineyards, his sides of gold,—things which often change masters, and are no more inherent in the rich man than the garments which he puts off at night: he gave her a just man,—the most perfect of his works. The Lord is not taken with the vain baubles which dazzle the vulgar; in his eye all ranks are equal among poor creatures, who creep about the dust for a moment, to become in a short time the food of worms. "Man judges by those things that appear/' says the Scripture, " but the Lord regardeth the heart." If God chose the humble Joseph for the spouse of the Queen of angels, for the adoptive father of the Messias, it was because he possessed treasures of grace and sanctity, enough to excite the envy of the celestial intelligences; it was because his virtues had made him the first of his nation, and because he was placed much higher than Caesar in the book of life, those heraldic annals of eternity. The Virgin was not confided to the most powerful, but to the most worthy; thus the ark, which the princes and valiant men of Israel did not dare to approach, for fear of being struck dead, drew down the benedictions of heaven upon the house of a simple Levite, under whose poor roof it was sheltered.

The espousals of Mary were celebrated with all the simplicity of ancient times. Joseph, in presence of the guardians and a few witnesses, presented her with a piece of silver, the value of which is not known, 2 saying to her, "If thou consentest to be my bride, accept this pledge." Mary, by accepting this gift, was solemnly engaged, and a sentence of divorce alone could from that day restore her liberty. The scribes drew up the contract; it was short, and but little interlarded with technical terms. 3 The husband promised to honour his wife, to provide for her support, her food, her clothing, according to the custom of Hebrew husbands, and settled upon her a dowry of two hundred zuses (fifty-crowns), a portion alike for the daughter of a prince as for the daughter of the people, but to which they were free to add anything in proportion to their fortune. After having secured this dowry upon all that he possessed, and even upon his mantle, which the law nevertheless did not allow him to recover till after her death, 4 Joseph signed the contract, to which Mary also added her signature. A short benediction to the praise of God terminated this ceremony, which must precede that of marriage by several months.

The nuptials of the Blessed Virgin were celebrated at Jerusalem, and the persons of the highest quality of her family made it a duty to appear at it with that splendour which is peculiar to the East, and which travellers from Europe never mention without admiration and astonishment, even the common people displaying on these occasions a degree of luxury absolutely unheard of. 5 Not to invite all their relations on so solemn an occasion would have been refusing to follow the ancient customs of their forefathers,— a thing impossible to suppose in that traditionary nation, which was as immutable in its customs as in its religious practices, as was said in all truth by the Jew Philo to the Emperor Caius; it would have been wanting, moreover, in all the proprieties of Hebrew society, and the presence of Mary at the marriage of Cana proves, on the contrary, that she conformed to them.

One fine day in winter, 6 at the time when the new moon rose slowly behind the mountains, a long procession of women richly adorned was seen proceeding towards the habitation of Mary; the torches of resinous fir, borne by a number of slaves, made brilliant their golden girdles, their pearl network, the diadems of precious stones which they wore on their foreheads, and the diamonds of their Persian tiaras. 8 These daughters of Sion had kept up the use of paint, which was known as early as the time of Jezabel; their eyebrows and eyelashes were dyed black, and the tips of their fingers were red, like the berry of the eglantine. 9 Introduced into the interior apartment, where the young and holy betrothed one was in company with certain pious matrons, who were her relations, they blessed God, who gave her a protector in the person of a spouse, and complimented her upon her marriage, in the joy of which they came to participate.

Belonging to Jewish society, where all the details of the dress of young brides was a biblical reminiscence with which it was not lawful to dispense, Mary was obliged to submit for a short time to the requirements of oriental luxury, though this luxury had no charms for her. Gold, pearls, rich tissue, are not in themselves things to be condemned; it is the thoughts of pride and vanity to which they give rise in weak heads and light minds, which are bad. Beneath garments heavy with embroidery and adorned with precious stones, Queen Bathildes was more humble than the women clad in coarse cloth with whom she lived in seclusion after her glorious regency; the chroniclers of the time have informed us of this with candour and simplicity.

1 In losing their nationality, the Jews did not lose this opinion, which they still maintain.

2 Hillel and Schammay disputed warmly about the value of this piece of money at espousals, mentioned in the Talmud, without being able to come to an agreement.—(Basn., liv. vii. e. 21.)

3 The following is the literal form of Hebrew marriage contracts, which has come down from the most remote times, and which Joseph and Mary must have used:—" In the year .... the .... day of the month .... Benjamin, son of ... . said to Rachel, daughter of .... ' Become my wife, under the law of Moses and of Israel. I promise to honour thee, to provide for thy support, thy food, thy clothing, according to the custom of Hebrew husbands, who honour their wives and support them as it is befitting. I give thee at once .... (the sum adjudged by the law), and promise thee, besides nourishment, clothes, and whatever shall be necessary for thee, conjugal friendship, a thing common to all the nations of the world, Kachel consented to become the wife of Benjamin, who, of his full consent, to form a dowry in proportion to his own fortune, adds to the portion above-named the sum of . . . ."—(Institut. de Moise.)

4 Basn., liv. vii. c. 21.

5 "In Europe we have no idea of the luxurious display made on similar occasions in the East," says F. de Geramb, in his Pelerinage a Jerusalem: "the nuptial \ dresses of almost all wives is of red velvet embroidered with gold; they add to it decorations of diamonds, fine pearls, &c." M. de Lamartine was equally astonished at the splendid costumes, and the profusion of precious stones displayed by the women of Syria at the weddings of their fellow countrywomen.

6 In the middle of the sixteenth century, the Church permitted this feast to be kept; it is celebrated on the 22nd of January, the day on which it is said that the marriage of Mary and Joseph was celebrated. The city of Arras keeps this feast on the 23rd of January, and some churches in Flanders on the 24th of the same month.

7 All days were not chosen alike for celebrating the marriages of the Israelites: the time of the new moon was usually fixed upon, and a Wednesday in preference to the other days of the week.—(Basn., liv. vii. c. 21.)

8 Isaias, c. iii.

9 Throughout the East, the women stain the tips of their fingers with alkanna, lausonia inermis (linn.) This plant is very plentiful in the Island of Cyprus.