The History Of The Blessed Virgin, Translated From The French By The Very Rev. F. C. Husenbeth, D.D., V.G. Part 23.

Chapter 7

Marriage Of The Virgin. Part 5.

While the married couple put the sacred nuptial cup to their lips, they sung to the God of Israel a canticle containing six benedictions. After this, Joseph poured out the rest of the wine as a sign of bounty, and handfuls of wheat as a symbol of abundance: then a young child broke the cup in pieces. 1

The whole assembly surrounding the new married couple with torches, blessed the Lord, and went forward into the dining-room, where they proceeded—according to a very ancient Bishop of Brescia, 2 who derives this Hebrew tradition from the time of Jesus Christ—to nominate a king of the feast, taken from the priestly race, who was to preside over the viands and the wine, and to oblige the guests to behave with all that decorum required by religion and propriety. Joseph and Mary rose also; but, before they followed their company, there were exchanged between them some secret words in presence of heaven and the stars, which declare the glory of the Most High. 3 "Thou shalt be as my mother," said the patriarch to the Blessed Virgin, "and I will respect thee even as the altar of Jehovah." From that moment they were no longer, in the eye of the religious law, any more than brother and sister in marriage, although their union might be fully maintained. 4
The festivities, among which figured the religious ceremony of sacrifice, lasted seven days, as in the time of the .patriarchs; the week of the nuptials being expired, Joseph and Mary, under the escort of a number of their relations, who formed around them a brilliant cavalcade, went again on their way to Galilee. The little caravan went forward to the sound of cymbals, and was not interrupted till near the fountain of Anathoth, 5 where those of Jerusalem took leave of the bride and bridegroom, with tears in their eyes, blessings in their mouths, and their hands laid solemnly upon their hearts. The Nazareans continued their journey; they crossed the mountains of Samaria, where the eagle from the height of his nest beheld them pass, indifferent to their presence. Sichem next presented itself to the travellers, with its evergreen groves, its streams of limpid water, and its majestic edifices rising above the foliage. They left behind them Garizim, with its red-tinted sides, where the ruins of the schismatical temple were observable, the disgraceful rival of the house of holiness, which John Hircanus delivered to the avenging flames, and which was to be replaced later on by a church dedicated to Mary herself; then the high summits of Mount Hebal; then Sebaste, which reared its new palaces under the protection of Augustus, and which Herod delighted servilely to embellish, as the only altar where he could sacrifice to the genius of Borne.
Towards the middle of the second day's journey they distinguished Mount Thabor, whose verdant head was traced upon the pale silvery sky of Galilee: and beyond it the high tops of Libanus, which hid their pointed tops of stone, covered with eternal snows, in the clouds. From the woody slopes of Hermon, where the goats browsed upon the tender shoots of the shrubs, they descended into the delightful plain, which was displayed like an immense basket of flowers, between hills covered with green oaks, myrtles, plots of vineyards, and magnificent woods of olive-trees. Fields of barley, wheat, clover, and doura in full verdure, gently waving with the breeze, warmed by the approach of a spring more speedy and genial than that of our western regions. A pure and golden light favoured this fertile land, where a vigorous vegetation was unfolding itself, and blue waters, which the summer would soon dry up, ran in silvery ribands in this new Eden. Here and there opulent villages appeared beneath high colonnades of palm-trees, and then, at different distances, on the rugged crest of a rock, a solitary fortress of soldiers, still national and entrusted with a mission entirely protective, measured their Damascus sabres only with nocturnal depredators, or the Arabs of the desert. This valley, with its charming freshness, and enclosed within a dark border of high mountains, was the valley of Esdrelon, at the extremity of which appeared a little city, seated with picturesque effect on the back of a hill, and which shone like a flower amidst the neighbouring hamlets: this smiling and beautiful town was Nazareth, the native town of the Virgin, the cradle of Christ ! 6
Doubtless, Mary could not behold again without emotion that city where she had first opened her eyes to the light. She had left it when quite a child for the splendid walls of the temple; she returned to it beautiful, young, accomplished, and a virgin on her return even as on her departure.
The travellers stopped at the house of St. Ann, an ancient and mysterious dwelling, partly hollowed out of the rock, like the prophetic grottoes of ancient times, and which was shortly to become more holy than the temple of Jerusalem, the very house of Jehovah. 7 The women of Nazareth greeted with blessings the arrival of the young bride, who advanced modestly, and veiled like the Rebecca of Isaac; and Mary, in the midst of the congratulations of those who had witnessed her birth, entered this peaceful paternal habitation, which seemed still perfumed with the sweet odour of the virtues of Ann and Joachim.

1 Bam., liv. vii. c. 21; Institut. de Moise, liv. vii. c. 1, p. 336.

2 Gaudent., Serm. 9. B. P., t. ii. p. 38.

3 St. Thomas is of opinion that it was immediately after the celebration of their marriage that St. Joseph and the Blessed Virgin made a tow of virginity, by mutual consent.

4 This vow of continency in marriage, which has given occasion to so many impious sarcasms to the philosophies of the school of Voltaire, was not a thing unheard of among the Hebrews; only it was a vow dictated by passion and anger, while that of the two holy spouses was suggested by piety. If a husband said to his wife, " Thou art as my mother," it was no longer lawful for him to consider her but as such in marriage; and still more when he had introduced into his vow the altar of Jehovah, the temple, or the sacrifice. The wives sometimes did the same thing; and although these vows were not much approved, because they hardly ever came but at the end of fits of anger and curses, they were not less obliged religiously to fulfil them when they were made.—(Basn., liv. vii. c. 19, p. 352; Leo of Modena, Ceremon. et. cont. des Juifs, c. 4.)

5 All the relations escorted the bride on horseback to the house of her husband, when he did not live at too great a distance from the place of their feasting; this custom still continues among the Arabs. We have made the nuptial caravan separate at Anathoth, a small town five leagues from Jerusalem, because it is the first halting place.

6 The philosophies of the last century studiously laboured to depreciate Palestine; the impression which they have given of it still remains, and the state of poverty and depopulation of that country, which hardly breathes beneath the sabre of the Mussulmans, has often made them appear right in the eyes of superficial readers. Yet it is certain that with the exception of the environs of Jerusalem, the sterility or which has never been denied, the promised land of Moses is still found in that country, and especially in the part which formerly belonged to the Canaanites. We will give two descriptions of Galilee, written at the distance of eighteen centuries between thorn, in proof of this assertion. " Galilee," says Flavius Josephus, " is divided into upper and lower, both very fertile; the soil is at once rich and light abounding in pasturages, fitted for all sorts of produce, and covered with trees of all kinds; there are to be seen particularly large plantations of vines and olive-trees. It is watered by torrents, which, fall from the mountains, by a great number of springs and rivulets, which afford a constant supply of water, and make up for that of the torrents, when the heats of summer dry them up. The goodness of the land is such, that it invites men to labour who are the least disposed to it. Thus every part is cultivated, and no tract of land is seen unproductive. The inhabitants are robust and warlike, the towns numerous, and so populous that the smallest can reckon as many as fifteen thousand souls."—(Joseph., de Bello, lib. ii. c. 2.) "If one desired to give an idea of the aspect (of Galilee," says a modern, traveller in his turn, " France would not serve to compare it with, but VAgro Romano ; round about Nazareth, as in the environs of Home, there is everywhere the same brightness, the same formation of the soil. Nature is there sublime, like the gospel. Galilee is an abridged picture of the Holy Land, and when it has been seen under its day and night aspects, we understand what it was in the time of Jesus Christ. For an artist, Galilee is an Eden; nothing is wanting: neither the accidental advantages of the land of Judea, nor the bright solitudes of Palestine, nor the green fecundity of Samaria. Garizim and the Mount of Olives are not more sublime than Hermon and Thabor, nor are the blue shores of Ascalon more solemn than the odoriferous borders of the Lake of Tiberias, where the air vanishes beneath the light. The soil of Galilee presents to us everywhere history and miracles, traces of heroes and the footsteps of a God; and we feel as we contemplate Galilee from the heights of Thabor, that it was the country which the God-man inhabited, so much are religious recollections, the wonders of earth and heaven, commingled there interminably. M --(Corresp. d'Orient, t v.)

7 "There are still found at Nazareth," says F. de Geramb, " some houses like that of St. Joseph, that is to say, small, low, and communicating with a cave hollowed out of the side of a mountain."