The History Of The Blessed Virgin, Translated From The French By The Very Rev. F. C. Husenbeth, D.D., V.G. Part 22.

Chapter 7
Marriage Of The Virgin. Part 4.

Therefore, avoiding any show of negligence in her dress, which would have been taken very ill, since custom required of the married couple, as well as of their guests, a dress suitable to the occasion—as the gospel of the wedding garment would inform us, even if all the East, both ancient and modern, did not concur in the same—the young descendant of the kings of Juda was obliged to wear, on this occasion, rich and suitable costume, and authentic relics prove in fact that so it was. 1

Her robe, which was preserved as a precious treasure in Palestine, whence it was sent to Constantinople, about the year 461, as Nicephorus informs us, was of a texture precious from its design and ornaments. The ground was of the colour of nankeen, with flowers blue, white, violet, and gold: it is now the sacred relic of Chartres. 2

In memory of the ancient times and patriarchal manners of her fathers, she wore, like Rebecca, ear-rings and bracelets of gold, the modest and indispensable present which Joseph was to send a few days before the ceremony, 3 and to which the wealthy Hebrews added necklaces of pearls and magnificent sets of diamonds. Instead of an indented crown of gold, 4 which was worn by the brides of the opulent classes, there was placed upon the light hair and tresses 5 of Mary a simple garland of myrtle; in the spring time roses would have been added to it; 6 her nuptial veil covered her from head to foot, and floated around her like a cloud. 7

A canopy of precious materials awaited the future spouse outside; four young Israelites bore it. Mary had to place herself under it between two matrons, one of whom, who stood on her right, represented her mother; the other was perhaps that Mary of Cleophas, whom some others have made the elder daughter of St. Anne, but who was only sister-in-law of the Blessed Virgin. 9 After them walked, to the sound of timbrels, flutes, and harps, playing in unison 10 airs of grave and simple melody, which, perhaps, were the same as those of the choirs of music of King David; the entire nuptial procession waving, in token of joy, branches of myrtle and palm. 11 The bridegroom, with his brow adorned with a singular crown, transparent as crystal, and peculiar to his people, 12 advanced in the midst of a crowd of friends, who sung an epithalamium in imitation of the Canticle of Canticles of Solomon, that magnificent and mysterious nuptial song, the sublime metaphors of which have a hidden and divine signification. They celebrated the beauty of the new bride, whose "looks were like young palm-branches, and stature graceful and upright, like the branches of the erac, teeth white as a flock of sheep which come up from the washing, eyes mild, like the eyes of doves which sit beside the plentiful streams; they said that the sweet odour of her good name was like the perfumes which exhaled from her garments; that she was the lily of young virgins, and the object of the praise of women." Then, passing on to the eulogy of the bridegroom, they extolled his form, "majestic and imposing as Libanus, the sweetness of his voice, the urbanity of his manners;" and they added, " that he was distinguished from the crowd of men, even as the cedar is distinguished among all trees." Then, coming to more general and elevated considerations, they said that the spouse should be to his wife as "the nosegay of myrrh which she wears over her heart;" that she should pass through life leaning upon him, with no more care for other men than if she was passing through the desert; because " jealousy is as inflexible as death, and the lamps thereof are lamps of fire and flames." They added that tender affection was a thing so precious between married persons, that "the * wealthiest man in the world, if he gave all his riches for it, ought still to consider that he had given nothing."

From time to time, the young men who closed the procession formed dances of the same kind as the sacred dance which was originally associated with religious festivals, 13 or they uttered, in token of rejoicing, those shrill and prolonged cries which are still in use among the Arabs, t and which a modern traveller, who lately went all over Syria, compares to those loud cries which the vine-dressers of the south of France utter from hill to hill during the vintage. All in the procession scattered among the poor, who loaded them with blessings, a quantity of small pieces of silver 14 bearing a figure, either of a vine-leaf, or of three ears of wheat, which were the emblem of Judea. 15 The women of Israel, in groups along the way that the wedding couple passed, strewed palm branches under their feet, and from time to-time they stopped the bride to sprinkle essence of roses upon her attire. 16 Mary was to have also her own day of triumph in Jerusalem.

When they arrived at the house where the wedding was to be celebrated, the friends of the bridegroom and the companions of the bride cried out in chorus, " Blessed is he that cometh!" Joseph, covered with his taled, and Mary with her veil, were seated under the canopy side by side; Mary took the right,- because the psalmist has said, " Thy wife is on thy right hand," 17 and turned towards the south. 18 The spouse placed a ring on the finger of his partner, 19 "Behold, thou art my wife, according to the rite of Moses and of Israel." He took off his taled and covered his wife with it, in imitation of what passed at the marriage of Ruth, who said to Booz, " Spread thy coverlet over thy servant." 20 A near relative poured wine into a cup, tasted it, and then presented it to the bridegroom and bride, blessing God for having created man and woman, and instituted marriage. 

1 There are in existence two tunics of the Blessed Virgin, the material of which is very precious. Chardin saw one in Mingrelia covered with flowers embroidered with the needle on a nankeen ground. This tunic is eight Roman palms long by four wide; the neck is narrow, the sleeves a palm long ; it is kept in the Church of Copis.

2 This tunic was given by Charles the Bald to the Church of Chartres, in 877: numerous miracles are attributed to it.

3 The Christians of Damascus have kept up this custom. Some days before the nuptial festival, the bridegroom sends to his bride a pair of bracelets of gold, or let with diamonds, according to the fortune of the future spouse, a piece of stuff embroidered with gold, and 160 piastres for the expensed of the bath and the nuptial feast.— (Corresp. d'Orient, lettre 147.) 

4 The crown of the bride was usually of gold, and made in the . shape of a tower, like that of Cybele; this custom was abolished during the siege of Jerusalem by Titus, but they kept up the crowns of myrtle and roses.—(Basn., liv. vi. c. 21.)

5 Among the Hebrews, not even the dress of the women was independent of the empire of tradition. " The female hair-dressers were called in to dress the hair of young married women, because, said the rabbins, Jehovah himself curled the hair of Eve, when he united her to Adam in Paradise."—(Basn., liv. vii. c. 21, p. 393.)

6 Crowns of myrtle and roses were worn by the young betrothed women of the common people.—(Basn., liv. vii. c. 21; Misnah. Til. Sotah, c. 9, sect. 14.)

7 These nuptial veils, embroidered with gold and silver, are still in use in Syria.

8 The regulation of this nuptial pomp, which comes down from the earliest times, is still found in Egypt. Niebuhr thus describes an Egyptian marriage:—" The bride, covered from head to foot, walks between two women who conduct her beneath a canopy borne by four men. Several slaves go before, some of whom play on the tambourine, others carry fly-flappers, others sprinkle her with scented waters. She is followed by a number of women, and by musicians riding upon asses. The procession takes place in the night; some slaves carry torches."—(Niebuhr, Voyage en Arabie, t. i.)

9 According to M. Pignot, a conscientious historian who made numerous researches on this subject, this holy woman was the wife of Cleophas, the brother of St. Joseph, and consequently sister-in-law to the Blessed Virgin.—(See Becherches historiques sur la personne de Jesus Christ et celle de Marie, p. 249.)

10 The music of the Orientals is of a very different kind from ours; it is grave and simple, without any studied modulation: all the instruments play in unison, unless one or other should take a fancy to perform a continued bass by repeating incessantly the same note.— (Niebuhr, t. i. p. 136.)

11 See Fleury, Moeurs des Israelites.

12 This crown, which contained, say the Jewish doctors, a mysterious lesson, was composed of salt and sulphur; the salt was transparent like crystals-and they traced various figures upon it with sulphur.— (Codex. MS. apud Wagenseil in Mismam, Tit. Sotah, adult, de uxore suspect., c. 9, sect. 14.)

13 Dancing, which at first was intended to imitate the movements o£ the stars, was mixed up with all the religious festivals of antiquity: it was, no doubt, of antediluvian origin, and must even have preceded the invention of musical instruments.

14 See Niebuhr, loco citato. J Basn., liv. vii. c. 21.

15 Some of these Jewish coins have been found of the time of the Machabees and of Herod; they do not bear the effigy of any prince, but only of ears of wheat and vine leaves.

16 This custom was borrowed from Egypt, like many others.

17 Ps. xlv. 10.

18 Basn., liv. vii. c. 21.

19 It is said that this ring is at Perosa, where it is carefully preserved.—(Basn., liv. vii. c. 2.) 

20 See Buxtorf.